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Oscar Pistorius--the man, the athlete.


Oscar Pistorius was born on November 22, 1986, without the fibula, the long, slender bone running along the outside of the leg from below the knee joint and down to the ankle, in each of his legs. His parents, Henk and Sheila, consulted with some of the leading doctors in the world. They were advised by doctors that having the amputation done before Oscar learned to walk would be less traumatic for him and would greatly improve his chances of mobility in later life. They made the heart-wrenching decision to have his legs amputated below the knee by South African orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Gerry Versveld. Six months later he received his first pair of prosthetic legs, and within days he had mastered them.

Supported and encouraged by his sports-mad family, Oscar lived an active life, leading him to become a keen sportsman during his school years. Whatever the sport, Oscar played it, with his main focus being waterpolo and rugby in secondary school. He also played cricket, tennis, took part in triathlons, Olympic club wrestling, and was an enthusiastic boxer.

In June, 2003, he shattered his knee playing rugby for Pretoria Boys High School and feared that his sporting career was over at the age of 16. On the advice of Dr. Versveld, Oscar took up running track to aid his rehabilitation. He began training under the guidance of coach Ampie Louw at the Sports Science Institute at the University of Pretoria (see Table 1).

Proud Paralympian

After a few months in the gym, Oscar took part in his first track session on New Year's Day, 2004. Three weeks later he entered a school 100 m race on the prompting of one of his teachers and won in a time of 11.72 s. After the race his father looked up how Oscar's time compared to the best in the world and discovered his 17-year-old son's time was faster than the existing Paralympic world record of 12.20 s (see Table 2).


In June 2004, he was given his first pair of Ossur manufactured Flex-Foot Cheetahs. Eight months after first stepping onto the track, the South African created a sensation in the athletics world by winning the T44 200 m gold medal at the Athens Paralympics, breaking the world record with a time of 21.97 s. He also returned home with a bronze medal in the 100 m. Overnight he was propelled onto front and back pages around the world.

Oscar is a proud Paralympian and believes the Paralympic Games in London (2012) will be a high watermark for the Paralympic movement. Oscar has ambitions to continue to promote the Paralympic movement and educate and inspire people around the world about the Paralympic Games.

Bridging The Gap

Spurred on by his achievements at the Paralympic Games, Oscar set his sights on competing against able-bodied athletes. During the South African Championships in March, 2005, he finished sixth in the 400 m final. His performances continued to gain attention and headlines across the world. After he had won gold in the T44 100 m and 200 m distances at the Paralympic World Cup in Manchester, England, he was invited by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to run in a Grand Prix meet in Helsinki, but was unable to attend due to school commitments.

It was at the IAAF Golden Gala event at the Olympic Stadium in Rome on July 13, 2007, that Pistorius first competed internationally against athletes without disabilities. In the 'B' race, he finished second across 400 m in a time of 46.90 s. His demonstrated prowess stirred-up controversy over whether or not his prostheses gave him an unfair performance advantage over fellow competitors without disabilities.

IAAF Ruling

In November, 2007, Oscar was invited to take part in a series of scientific tests at the Cologne Sports University under the guidance of Dr. Peter Bruggemann, Professor of Biomechanics, in conjunction with Mr. Elio Locatelli, who was responsible for all technical issues within the IAAF. After two days of tests Bruggemann reported on his findings to IAAF. The report claimed Pistorius was able to run at the same speed as athletes without disabilities, while using less energy, and that his prosthetic limbs gave him an advantage over those athletes.

Pistorius strongly challenged the report, claiming the tests were biased and scientifically flawed. Following an IAAF vote, Pistorius was banned from all able-bodied athletics competitions. He employed the services of the law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf to challenge the ruling via an appeal and travelled to America to take part in a series of further tests carried out at Rice University in Houston, TX, by a team of scientists, including Hugh Herr, PhD and Rodger Kram, PhD. After a two-day hearing, on May 16, 2008, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld Oscar's appeal and the IAAF Council decision was revoked with immediate effect.

The CAS panel unanimously determined that Dr. Bruggemann only tested Oscar's biomechanics at full-speed when he was running in a straight line (unlike a real 400 m race), that the IAAF did not consider the disadvantages Oscar has during the start and acceleration phases of a race. Furthermore, Dr. Bruggemann's study did not consider the disadvantages Oscar has, and that overall there was no evidence Oscar had gained any net advantage over athletes without disabilities when competing with them.

Pistorius' ability to train sufficiently for Beijing had been hampered by the scientific testing and court proceedings, and yet he finished third at the Spitzen Leichtathletik meet in Lucerne with a personal best time of 46.25 s, just 0.70 s below the Olympic qualifying time. Pistorius concentrated on the Paralympics in Beijing, and became the first athlete in history to win gold in the 100,200, and 400 m events in the T43/T44 category, the latter in a new Paralympic record of 47.49 s.

Career In Progress

On February 21,2009, Oscar suffered serious head and facial injuries in a boat accident on the Vaal River in Johannesburg. He was airlifted to the hospital and was in intensive care for five days. The accident altered his lifestyle and strengthened his focus. He recovered from his injuries and turned his attention to continuing to break Paralympic records, while working to achieve the required time for Olympic qualification.

In January of 2011, a slimmer, trimmer Pistorius won three IPC Athletics World titles in New Zealand, but was beaten for the first time in seven years in the 100 m by American Jerome Singleton. Oscar subsequently won the T44 400 m in 47.28 sec and the 100 m in 11.04 sec at the BT Paralympic World Cup in May to reassert himself as the world's leading Paralympic sprinter.

Oscar competed across a number of open races during the summer of 2011, posting times under 46 seconds on three occasions. However, it was in Lignano, Italy, on July 19, that Oscar set a personal best of 45.07 sec in the 400 m, attaining the World Championships and Olympic Games 'A' standard qualification mark. Oscar represented South Africa in both the 400 m and 4 x 400 m relay in Daegu, Korea, at the end of August.

To be selected for the South African team to compete at the Olympic Games in London, Oscar must again run inside the 400 m 'A' standard of 45.25 s between January and June, 2012. He will also be looking to represent South Africa in the Paralympic Games to defend his T44 100,200, and 400 m titles.

Oscar Pistorius and the Ossur Flex-Foot Cheetah[R]

Do Flex-Foot Cheetahs give Oscar Pistorius a competitive advantage over non-disabled athletes?

Flex-Foot Cheetahs have been used by Paralympic athletes since 1996 and have been scientifically proven not to give a net advantage over athletes not wearing prostheses. Oscar Pistorius has been competing with the same Ossur manufactured blades since 2004.

What was the CAS ruling?

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled in 2008 that Oscar Pistorius can legally compete in International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) athletics races wearing Ossur Flex-Foot Cheetahs.

Who was involved in the CAS ruling?

Two scientific teams presented their findings to the CAS. One team of scientists, led by Peter Bruggemann had been hired by the IAAF. Findings of an American team of scientists were presented by Hugh Herr and Rodger Kram. Three judges presided: one from the IAAF, one chosen by Oscar Pistorius' team, and one who was neutral. It was a unanimous decision by all three judges to overturn the IAAF ban on Oscar Pistorius competing in events under their jurisdiction

Is the Flex-Foot Cheetah in any way bionic or motorised?

No. Running-Specific Prostheses (RSPs) are passive-elastic springs that are designed to emulate biological legs. They store and return elastic energy, but cannot generate net positive power or absorb negative power.

Do Flex-Foot Cheetahs transmit more or less force than biological limbs?

Force is one of the key components in generating running speed, and extensive research has found that uni-lateral amputees cannot transmit as much force on the ground with their RSP as can be achieved with biological legs. Pistorius and other bilateral amputees are also unable to transmit as much force with either of their RSP-equipped legs.

As Oscar does not have any muscles and joints below the knee does it make him less susceptible to injury?

Studies have shown Paralympic athletes suffer more injuries (9.3 per 1,000 hr) during training compared to non-amputee sprinters (5.6-5.8 injuries per 1,000 hr). The Paralympic figure is nearly the same as the rate of injuries sustained in collegiate American football, which is obviously a contact sport. Athletes with RSPs also have to cope with additional running injuries generated from the friction of their limbs and the prostheses which can limit their training time when compared to other athletes.

Are Oscar's improved times over the course of his career due to his ability or the improved technology of his RSPs?

Flex-Foot Cheetah has changed very little since 1997. and Pistorius' RSPs have remained the same since he underwent rigorous testing as part of the IAAF and CAS assessments in 2007 and 2008. Oscar has competed on the same RSPs for the past three years. Oscar's improved times over the course of his career are due to his ability, his coaching, and his hard work.

As Amy Mutlins. American Paralympic pioneer and a double amputee herself said in 2010, "If it was the legs that were making us superfast. I would have done a decade ago what he's doing now. and so would others. Oscar is not running with any different technology than what I ran with 14 years ago."

Do Flex-Foot Cheetahs give Oscar Pistorius any additional energy advantage?

RSPs have an elastic energy return of 92%, whereas biological tendons offer between 93% and 95%. Flex-Foot Cheetah blades emulate the elastic function of tendons, but they cannot do what a leg can do. Brtiggemann's initial report suggested the mechanical energy return of RSPs was greater than biological ankles, but it did not take into account that in biological legs energy is transferred from the quadriceps to the ankle during push-off. Elasnc energy is most important for long distance running; whereas, sprinting is about force production and minimizanon of foot-ground contact time.

Does Oscar Pistorius use less metabolic energy than other runners?

Tests have proven that while his running economy is better than an average nonamputee runner, it is well within the range expected for elite and sub-elite non-amputee runners. The initial claim of 25% tess energy consumption has been discredited and was never published in a scientific journal. Two subsequent studies on some 20 amputees have shown metabolic equivalence to non-amputees.

Is Oscar Pistorius' stamina affected in the same way as an athlete running without a prosthesis over the course of 400 m?

In the early part of his career. Pistorius' split times showed he did run the second half of his races faster than the first: however. as he has matured as a sprinter, his split times have reversed and are now similar to elite non-amputees. He now runs slower in the second half of his races. When he ran a personal best time of 45.07 s in Lignano, Italy, on July 19, 2011, his split times were 21.9/23.2 s.

Do Flex-Foot Cheetahs give their users a longer stride length than other athletes?

IAAF spokesman Nick Davies has confirmed that when the initial video analysis was made of Pistorius' running style in Rome in 2007. his stride length was the same as his nearest competitor. Further studies have demonstrated that Pistorius actually takes shorter strides than his non-amputee competitors.

Does Pistorius have a shorter leg swing time than other athletes?

It has been claimed because the Flex-Foot Cheetahs are lighter (approximately 2.8 kg) than a human foot and calf. they facilitate an unnaturally shorter swing time which enables more strides to be taken. Some studies have compared video footage from the 100 m Olympic finals in Beijing, showing bronze medallist Walter Dix ran with a leg swing-time of 0.274 s. faster than 0.297s generated by Pistorius in his 100 m race win. The 2008 Paralympic silver medalist, Jim Bob Bizzell. who is a single amputee, had a shorter leg swing time for his heavier biological leg than his RPSs in the same race.

Are the Flex-Foot Cheetahs widely available to all Paralympic athletes who require them?

75%-80% of Paralympic athletes with amputations wear Ossur's Flex-Foot Cheetahs. which have been in existence since 1996.

Kate Silvers is the Account Director for Fast Track, a sports marketing agency with a home office in London, UK. She is responsible for compiling and summarizing the material contained within this article, and acts as Oscar Pistorius' spokesperson. Questions may be addressed to her at:; 10 + 44 (0) 20 7593 5200. NOTE: For more information contact: Hugh Herr, Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences and head of the Biomechatronics Research Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, or Rodger Kram, Associate Professor in the Integrative Physiology Department at the University of Colorado, Boulder, CO.
Table 1
Fact File

Born: November 22, 1986

Place of Birth: Johannesburg, South Africa

Hometown: Pretoria, South Africa

Amputation Level: Bi-lateral, below the knee

Main Events: 100, 200, & 400 m

Competitive Class: T43/T44
T43: Double below knee amputees and other athletes with
impairments equivalent to a double below knee amputation
T44: Single below knee amputees and other athletes with
impairments equivalent to single below knee amputee

Personal Bests:
100 m: 10.91 s (South Africa; April, 2007)
200 m: 21.41 s (South Africa; March, 2010)
400 m: 45.07 s (Italy; July, 2011)

Sponsors: Nike, BT, Oakley, Thierry Mugler

Table 2
Oscar Pistorius Timeline


June 21       Shatters his knee playing rugby for Pretoria Boys
              High School and is ruled out of sport for three

November      Begins injury rehabilitation at the Sports Science
              Institute at the University of Pretoria under the
              guidance of athletics coach Ampie Louw.


January 1     Takes part in his first sprint session with Louw
              on New Year's Day.

January 28    Runs in his first competitive 100 m race for
              Pretoria Boys High School in a time of 11.72 s.
              The existing Paralympic world record was 12.20 s.

March         Improves his time further to 11.51 s at an open
              competition at the Pilditch Stadium, Pretoria.

June          Invited by family friend Chris Hatting to the U.S.
              to try 0ssur manufactured Flex-Foot Cheetahs for
              the first time.

September     Wins Paralympic gold in the T44 200 m in a
              Paralympic world record in 21.97 s and wins bronze
              in the T44 100 m final in a time of 11.16 s.


March         Finishes sixth in the able-bodied 400 m at the
              South African Championships.

May           Wins gold in T44100 m and 200 m events at the BT
              Paralympic World Cup in Manchester.

August        Invited to attend IAAF international event in
              Helsinki, but declines due to school commitments.
              The following year is devoted to athletics
              training and his education.


March         Runs a breakthrough 400 m time of 46.56 s in the
              South African Championships.

26 March      IAAF Council introduces amendment to Rule 144-2(e)
              regarding "technical aids" after meeting in
              Mobasa, Kenya.

April 4       Breaks the T43 100 m world record in a time 10.91
              s at the Nedbank Championships for the Physically
              Disabled, in Gauteng, South Africa.

July 13       Finishes second in the Golden Gala event at the
              Olympic Stadium in Rome, in a time of 46.90 s.
              IAAF installs high definition cameras around the
              track to analyze Pistorius' running style.

July 15       Competes at the British Grand Prix in Sheffield,
              but bad weather hampers his race and he finishes
              in a time of 47.65 s.

November      IAAF conducts tests with Oscar at the Cologne
12-13         Sports University under the guidance of Professor
              of Biomechanics Dr. Peter Bruggemann in
              conjunction with Mr. Elio Locatelli, who is
              responsible with the IAAF for all technical

December 9    Receives the BBC Sports Personality of the Year
              Helen Rollason Award, which is awarded for
              outstanding courage and achievement in the face of

December 20   IAAF sends Pistorius a report saying that he has
              an unfair advantage. Pistorius given until January
              10 to respond.


January 10    Pistorius responds to IAAF report claiming that
              the tests were unfair and biased.

January 11    IAAF Executive Council votes to ratify the
              decision and Pistorius is banned from all
              able-bodied athletics competitions.

February 13   Law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf challenges the IAAF via
              an appeal on behalf of Oscar Pistorius.

February      Oscar takes part in scientific tests at Rice
              University in Houston, USA. Research team includes
              Hugh Herr, PhD and Rodger Kram, PhD.

May           Selected for Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential
              People in the World list.

May 16        Court of Arbitration for Sport rules in Pistorius'
              favor citing that "the athlete is eligible to
              compete in IAAF- sanctioned events while wearing
              0ssur Flex-Foot Cheetah [R] prosthesis model." The
              report states there is no evidence that Oscar has
              any net advantage over able-bodied athletes.

July l6       Pistorius finishes third at the Spitzen
              Leichtathletik meeting in Lucerne with a 400 m
              personal best time of 46.25 s but 0.70 s outside
              the Olympic qualifying time.

September     Wins T44 100, 200, and 400 m Paralympic golds in
              Beijing, setting a new Paralympic record of 47.49
              s in the 400 m.


August        Competes in the London Aviva Grand Prix, setting
              a new 400 m T44 world record of 47.04 s in the
              Paralympic race, before finishing 7th in the able
              bodied event.


January       Wins gold medals in the 200, 400, and 4400 m relay
              at the IPC Athletics World Championships in New
              Zealand, but gets the silver medal as he loses his
              first 100 m in seven years to Jerome Singleton.

March 23      Sets personal best of 45.61 s to win 400 m at
              Provincial Championships in Pretoria, inside the
              B' qualification standard for the Olympic Games
              and World Championships.

May 27        Wins the T44 100 m race in 11.04 s and the 400 m
              in 47.28 s at the BT Paralympic World Cup.

May 13        Competes in the IAAF Golden Spike meet in Ostrava,
              running 46.19 s for 400 m.

June 11       Runs his second fastest 400 m time of 45.69 s at
              Adidas Grand Prix in New York.

July 8        Finishes fifth in time of 45.81 s at the Paris
              Diamond League 400 m event.

July 17       Runs 46.65 s for 400 m in Padova, Italy.

July 18       Wins in a time of 45.07 s for 400 m in Lignano,
              Italy to qualify for the IAAF World Championships
              in Daegu, Korea and meeting the 2012 Olympic Games
              qualification time.
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Author:Silvers, Kate
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Date:Sep 22, 2011
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