You may have noticed that before hitting the track to compete in an officially sanctioned race, some elite Paralympic sprinters remove their legs and swap them out with ones that make them shorter. Have you wondered why they do that?
International Paralympic Committee changed rules, which lowered the Maximum allowable Standing Height (MASH) for double, below-the-knee amputees racing in prosthetic legs. The rule aims at preventing unfair advantages, because of the assumption that greater height equals greater speed.
But a study by University of Colorado Boulder study published in the journal PLOS ONE concludes that isn’t the case.
The researchers recruited five elite sprinters with double below-the-knee amputations for a series of running trials on a treadmill. The runners sampled three different brands of blades, and five different combinations of stiffness and height within each brand for a total of 15 different tests.
In each test, they were asked to start at a jog and push themselves to the maximum speed possible. Some achieved speeds as fast as 10.8 meters per second – about a two minute, 30-second per mile pace.
They found that the speed when using “J-shaped prostheses” was 8% faster than “C-shaped” protheses. Stiffness and height made no difference in runner speed.
Some athletes got injured or felt dissatisfied with their new protheses, which is not what we want to see.
“We would like to see fair and inclusive rules and regulations, which is the beauty of the Paralympic Games,” said one of the authors.
The authors acknowledge that their sample size of five is small. But so is the pool of double, below-the-knee amputees sprinting at the elite level. They see the need to do a larger study.
For now, they hope the International Paralympic Committee will take a look at their research and reconsider the height restriction.