World’s fastest blade runner does not have competitive advantage, study finds

Compared to athletes with biological legs, amputee sprinters using running prostheses, or blades do not have an upper hand or have no clear competitive advantage when it comes to races of 400-meters, a new study has found. The study even says that world’s fastest blade runners are actually at a significant disadvantage at the start of the race.

Researchers at University of Colorado Boulder have published a study in Royal Society Open Science wherein they have said that amputee sprinters have no advantage over non-amputee. The study includes data from elite runners with bilateral leg amputations, including the world’s fastest 400-meter sprinter, Blake Leeper. Leeper was ruled ineligible to compete in the Tokyo Olympics last year due to having an assumed advantage.

When comparing performance data from Leeper, South African “blade runner” Oscar Pistorius and up to six other bilateral amputee sprinters with those of the best non-amputee sprinters in the world across five performance metrics, the research found no advantage.

For the study, Leeper—who was born without legs— visited Grabowski’s Applied Biomechanics Lab for a series of tests in 2018. That summer, he had sprinted the 400-meter in 44.42 seconds, breaking the record of Pistorius, the first below-the-knee amputee to compete against able-bodied runners at the Olympic games.

On the treadmill and track, researchers measured Leeper’s acceleration out of the starting blocks, maximum speed along straight-aways and around curves, velocity at aerobic capacity and sprint endurance (all-out effort).  They took the top metrics from all available data from elite bilateral amputees and compared them to the top metrics from non-amputees.

Scientists say that their observations indicate that amputee sprinters have never outperformed non-amputee sprinters. Further, athletes using prostheses were 40% slower out of the starting blocks, had 19% slower velocity at aerobic capacity and were 1 to 3% slower around curves compared to non-amputees.

The authors presented preliminary results to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2020, but the court ruled that Leeper could not participate in World Athletics-sanctioned events, including the Olympics, because his prostheses made him too tall.

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