Dr. Ford Vox is a medical writer and neuro-rehabilitation physician. He is the medical director of Brain Injury Rehabilitation at New England Rehabilitation Hospital and clinical assistant professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Tufts University School of Medicine.
A man born without functioning legs ran the 400 meters in 45.07 seconds on July 19, 2011, the fastest time recorded by an amputee. The ripple effects of this historic achievement may initiate a paradigm shift in how we view our bodies.
That’s because any time under 45.25 seconds is good enough to earn a spot in the London Olympics next summer, and the July race qualified 24-year-old Oscar Pistorius to represent the South African track team in the World Championships in Athletics starting Sunday with the 400 meter heats in Daegu, South Korea.
Pistorius will need to run one more time under 45.25 seconds in the first half of 2012 before finally earning his spot in the Olympics, and at this point most observers believe he will make it.
The Olympics was a dream painfully deferred in 2008 when Pistorius missed his qualifying time for Beijing by 0.7 seconds after finally winning out in a drawn-out battle of physiology experts. The International Association of Athletics Federations, the governing body for track and field sports, ultimately agreed to overturn its own 2007 decision disqualifying Pistorius and his prosthetic legs.
The IAAF’s 2007 statement that prosthetic legs would sully the “purity” of sport was based on flawed research by the German Sport University Cologne that found Pistorius needed less energy to run than did athletes on normal legs. But the German testing failed to take into account such basics of sprinting physiology as the importance of anaerobic metabolism. The bulk of the energy used in a 400 meters is burned without the aid of oxygen, says Hugh Herr, an MIT scientist who helped school the IAAF.
If prosthetics do give Pistorius an edge in the 400 meters, nobody’s found a way to prove it.
He’s hoping that Pistorius’ high-profile competitions will help move us toward an evolution in social consciousness: accepting the validity and equality of synthetic body parts just as we do different races and genders.
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Article courtesy cnn.com