Scientist claims Oscar has ‘big advantage’
South African sport scientist Ross Tucker says there is enough evidence to suggest double amputee Oscar Pistorius' carbon-fibre blades give him a “significant advantage” over able bodied athletes.
This comes after Pistorius qualified in the men's 400m sprint for next month's World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea at a track and field meeting in Italy on Tuesday.
“I think the current evidence already suggests that he has a significant advantage,” Tucker said over the weekend.
“He keeps falling back on the CAS ruling, and telling people that the science has cleared him.
“That is completely untrue. What has happened is the lawyers were able to clear him because the Court of Arbitration (CAS) process was flawed in that it did not allow all the science to be presented.”
Pistorius suffered a number of setbacks when he first attempted to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) initially banned him from competing in able bodied races after it was found that his blades gave him an unfair advantage.
He took his case to the CAS and was cleared to run shortly before the Beijing Games.
Tucker said Pistorius had been “door-to-door, looking for scientists to assist with his defence”.
Tucker was approached by the Ministry of Sport to assist with scientific testing, but Tucker declined as he believed Pistorius had an advantage over able bodied competitors.
Pistorius assembled a panel of seven scientists and formed a case against the findings made by the IAAF, and was ultimately cleared.
The proof put forward by Pistorius' scientists, however, came into question when two of them, Peter Weyand and Matthew Bundle, published findings 18 months later, suggesting he enjoyed a 10-second advantage.
“That was not new research at all – it was the same research, but for some reason, they did not mention it, and the court did not ask for it,” said Tucker.
“This is like someone going to court accused of committing a crime and the lawyers 'forgetting' to bring up the evidence of fingerprints or DNA.
“The fact is, there was scientific evidence that suggested Pistorius had a big advantage.
“It was not presented to the court, so the court made a decision based on incomplete evidence.”
Tucker said Weyand and Bundle's research showed how Pistorius would run if the blades behaved as normal limbs.
The CAS process was also flawed, according to Tucker, as the three judges had no scientific knowledge and the evidence was not debated and discussed as he believed it should have been.
“In science, we have this peer-review process, where science is debated, and that was completely absent,” he said.
“Scientific integrity got destroyed in that testing process.”
Tucker made it clear that his claims against Pistorius were made purely on scientific basis.
“His advantage is large, and it's not a question of an advantage over other able bodied runners, but over what able bodied legs would produce,” he said.
“In other words, what, theoretically is the advantage of carbon-fibre compared to human limbs? Do they perform better? The answer is yes, and that's why we must make a fuss.”
Tucker said the scientific evidence should not be ignored due to fears of fringing on Pistorius' rights or the fact that he was a role model.
“He is all those things, make no mistake. He's inspirational and he should get enormous credit for that,” Tucker said.
“The problem is thus a performance one, and I exist in the world of science where the evidence matters, not the emotion and opinion.”
He said many scientists believed Pistorius held an advantage but they were too scared to speak out because it was a contentious issue.
“The only scientists who I have seen or heard actually say there is not an advantage are the ones who worked for Pistorius and who did the testing – Hugh Herr and his colleagues,” Tucker said.
“I think for many, it's too controversial. People have very emotional reactions and, frankly, I think that scientists are nervous to express what they might really think.”
Tucker said there was no need for further tests as enough evidence already existed.
He called for the process that delivered the verdict, which was based on “incomplete information”, to be reviewed.
Changing prosthetic limbs, according to Tucker, had a large impact on performance, and he said companies which made the blades often gave amputee athletes prototypes to try out.
“This introduces the big issue – as soon as technology is a factor in performance, then improvements in performance are no longer predictable or natural,” he said.
“It's more like engineering than human physiology, and that's a problem.” Tucker offered a number of reasons to support his belief that Pistorius held an advantage.
He said the 24-year-old sprinter was able to move his legs 16% faster than the fastest 100m sprinters in history, due to the light weight of the artificial limbs.
As a result, Pistorius needed to produce less work to accelerate his limbs and was able to reposition them more rapidly, so he was able to move quicker across the ground.
Tucker said the sprinter's contact time with the ground could also be much longer, giving him more time to generate force.
The force Pistorius needed to produce was lower than able bodied athletes because carbon-fibre was more effective at giving energy back than muscles and tendons, and he could use 20% less force than able bodied athletes to run at the same speeds.
Tucker said Pistorius had less than half the muscle activity of able bodied runners, and used significantly less oxygen than other sprinters, giving him a “big physiological advantage”. – Sapa