UW Professor, Equipment Aid Amputee Sprinter's Victorious Olympics Appeal
June 3, 2008 — Oscar Pistorius' hopes of competing in the Olympics were revived last month, thanks to a little help from University of Wyoming professor Matthew Bundle and a piece of equipment from his laboratory.
Bundle, an assistant professor in the UW Department of Kinesiology and Health, was one of seven experts in biomechanics and physiology who aided Pistorius' appeal after the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruled him ineligible in January.
Pistorius, a South African bilateral amputee whose speciality is the 400-meter dash, won his appeal May 16 at the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) in Switzerland to attempt to compete in the 2008 Olympics at Beijing. Pistorius, who runs on specially-adapted carbon fiber blades after having his legs amputated below the knees at 11 months old, would be the first disabled athlete to compete in an Olympic event.
"Throughout this whole ordeal, I was impressed with his maturity," Bundle says. "He was on record in a number of publications as saying what he really wanted was for the truth to be known. If he had an advantage, he was willing not to run or to find a way to take away any advantage he had.
"He wanted to be given a chance, and it is gratifying to know he'll be given that chance."
After hearing his appeal was successful, Pistorius told the Agence France-Presse, France's largest news agency, that he was "blown away" and touted the court's ruling as a historic victory for "the equality of disabled people."
"Today, I can pursue my dream of competing in the Olympic Games," Pistorius added. "If it's not for Beijing, it will be for London in 2012."
Pistorius' quest to represent his country in the Olympics is off to a good start. He won two races over the weekend at the Dutch Open for paralympic athletes, timing 47.92 seconds in the 200 meters and 11.48 seconds in the 100 meters.
Bundle, who specializes in the energetics and mechanics of sprinting performance, was part of a world-renowned team of experts from six universities -- led by Hugh Herr of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) -- that conducted experimental tests to assess the scientific validity of the evidence that formed the basis of the IAAF ban.
The 21-year-old Pistorius, nicknamed "Blade Runner," had been disqualified by the IAAF following an investigation by German professor Gert-Peter Bruggemann. In his study, Bruggemann reported Pistorius used 25 percent less energy in his limbs than able-bodied runners at the same speed, leading to a 30-percent drop in mechanical work for lifting the body.
To refute Bruggemann's findings, Bundle and his colleagues administered a battery of tests at the Rice University Locomotion Laboratory in Texas and reached two major conclusions:
-- Pistorius' ability to maintain speed over the course of longer sprints -- his speed-duration relationship -- is essentially identical to that of able-bodied runners, indicating that he fatigues in the same manner as able-bodied sprinters.
-- Pistorius' rates of metabolic energy expenditure do not differ from elite non-amputee runners. In particular, he has nearly the same running economy, or rate of oxygen consumption at submaximal speeds, and a similar maximal rate of oxygen consumption as elite non-amputee runners.
"The study commissioned by the IAAF claimed that Pistorius has a 25-percent energetic advantage at 400-meter race speeds. That claim is specious because anaerobic energy supply cannot be quantified," said Rodger Kram, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and one of Bundle's colleagues.
Added Bundle, "This is really a precedent-setting condition and we felt like it was really important for us to get the science side of it right."
The scientific tests were conducted in the laboratory of Rice professor Peter Weyand, Bundle's former postdoctoral adviser, and used several pieces of specialized equipment to evaluate Pistorius, including a high-speed motion analysis system from UW. The system was bought and paid for with UW and state funds.
Proudly, Bundle said, "A lot of the testing wouldn't have been possible without the UW equipment."
Craig McGowan of the University of Texas, Alena Grabowski of MIT and Jean-Benoit Morin of the University of Saint-Etienne in France rounded out the seven-person panel of experts. All worked without compensation.
The scientists plan to publish their findings in a prominent journal in the next few months, Bundle said.
To view video of the scientific team's testing, go to the Rice University Web site at www.rice.edu/nationalmedia/news051608oscar.shtml.