After many months of waiting, and about one year too late to be deemed scientifically credible, the research on the “Blade Runner” has finally been published. Amazingly, the title of the research is: The fastest runner on artificial legs: different limbs, similar function? [cite]10.1152/japplphysiol.00174.2009[/cite].
This is amazing because the study finds, among other things, that Pistorius uses 17% less oxygen than elite 400m runners. Incredibly, he also uses LESS oxygen (3.8% less, to be exact) than elite distance runners! Given that this is at sub-maximal speeds, where the differences are likely smaller anyway, it is absolutely extra-ordinary that he used this in his defence.
Further, the study concludes that running on the prostheses is “mechanically different from running on intact limbs” and that Pistorius is “physiologically similar” even though the metabolic costs are 17% lower – that’s not similar, Dear scientists. Again, extra-ordinary “science”…and what is even more amazing is that this is the scientific evidence that somehow got him cleared to compete by the CAS. That, unfortunately, is the consequence of allowing legal experts to make a judgement on a scientific matter.
The background and the prospect of some interesting discussion
Those who follow this site, and have followed the argument, will know the development of this story, and you’ll know my opinion on it. I have no doubt at all that he receives an advantage from the use of the high-tech, carbon fibre blades that he uses to run on. In October 2007, the IAAF commissioned research in Germany that showed this, and he was banned.
His response was to find scientists in the USA who would support his claim, and Professor Hugh Herr of MIT obliged by doing a study that formed the basis for Pistorius’ defence, which was taken to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, where he was cleared.
Unfortunately, the scientific process, where research is peer-reviewed and evaluated was never followed. And so whereas Pistorius got to view the IAAF research and spend two months preparing a case, the same was never true for Pistorius’ claims. His research was presented on one single morning, and a judgement was delivered by a panel that was frankly incapable of evaluating the scientific argument.
At the time, everyone was left speculating as to the nature of this “research” (the quotation marks are used for a reason there). The CAS hearing revealed little, other than that Pistorius has punched holes in the IAAF findings (which was not difficult to do – welcome to science), and that legally, he was cleared.
I heard from various journalists who had insight into the testing and the findings, and frankly, it was appalling what was being reported – systematic selection of control subjects so that Pistorius would look more similar to them than was the case, for example. That was rumour, but now there are facts, thanks to the publication of the research in JAP.
The research shows some extra-ordinary differences – how did they win the argument?
And it’s just as appalling, mystifying and extra-ordinary that he got away with it. To borrow the words of Amby Burfoot over at Peak Performance at RunnersWorld.com, “frankly, we don’t see how they won the argument. Pistorious apparently uses 17 percent less energy than similar 400-meter specialists, and runs with a stride that is “mechanically different than running with intact limbs.””
I’m going to have a detailed look at that paper, and try to summarize the implications of the findings over the course of the next few days. Having started with this story back in 2006, the next step needs to be taken, and this paper in a scientific journal is that next step.
To end off, a quote from the paper, just to set the scene:
We conclude that running on modern, lower-limb sprinting prostheses appears to be physiologically similar (My comment: This is not true – his metabolic cost is 17% lower), but mechanically different than running with intact limbs.
Join us in the week, when I’ll unpack the findings in more detail. All findings will lead to the same point – Pistorius does not “run” as we know running, and there is no reason to doubt the theoretical basis for an advantage, and the CAS bunged the decision.