A University of Idaho professor's research not only helped clear “blade runner” Oscar Pistorius to run in the Olympics - it also may open the door to a new generation of prosthetic limbs that could help amputees ranging from elite athletes to returning veterans win a race, return to combat, or just live a normal life.
Craig McGowan, an assistant professor of biological sciences at the UI in Moscow, was part of a research team that gathered with Pistorious at Rice University in 2008 for three days of intensive testing and experimentation. The results were presented to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, and persuaded the court to overturn its ban blocking Pistorious from the Olympics; he was born without fibulae in his lower legs, prompting their amputation below the knee when he was a baby.
“There was no evidence that would support an advantage, so he was allowed to run,” McGowan said. “We found that he produces less force against the ground, he can't push off as hard against the ground as other athletes can. How much force you can push on the ground and how fast you can do that is one of the major determinants of how fast you can run.” The researchers also found no decreased energy use in Pistorius because of the springy blades that sub for his lower legs and feet. “The results showed that really there is no energetic advantage to this,” McGowan said. “I think he is a very inspirational guy. He's where he is because of a lot of hard work.”
The research didn't end there, however. McGowan and other members of the team continued looking into how prosthetics are used by high-level athletes, and what lessons that holds. “I think this is just the beginning of understanding,” McGowan said. His research is aimed at developing a new generation of prosthetic limb that is “more biological, that does truly emulate what the biological limb does.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.