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IAAF rules Pistorius' prosthetics give him unfair advantage

1/14/2008

MONTE CARLO, Monaco -- The IAAF ruled Monday that
double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius is ineligible to compete in
the Beijing Olympics because his prosthetic racing blades give him
a clear competitive advantage.

The International Association of Athletics Federations had twice
postponed the ruling, but the executive council said the South
African runner's curved, prosthetic "Cheetah" blades were
considered a technical aid in violation of the rules.

"As a result, Oscar Pistorius is ineligible to compete in
competitions organized under IAAF Rules," the IAAF said in a
statement.

Pistorius, known as the "blade runner," announced last week
that he would appeal any adverse decision, including taking the
case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne,
Switzerland.

"The natural feeling from our side would be to appeal the
verdict and see what avenues we can take forward," Pistorius'
agent, Peet van Zyl, told the BBC after Monday's verdict. "Oscar
wants to prove that he isn't getting an advantage."

The decision was reached in an e-mail vote by the 27-member IAAF
Council. The vote count was not disclosed but believed to be
unanimous.

The IAAF endorsed studies by German professor Gert-Peter
Brueggemann, who conducted tests on the prosthetic limbs and said
they give Pistorius a clear competitive advantage over able-bodied
runners.

"An athlete using this prosthetic blade has a demonstrable
mechanical advantage [more than 30 percent] when compared to
someone not using the blade," the IAAF said.

The federation said Pistorius had been allowed to compete in
some able-bodied events until now because his case was so unique
that such artificial protheses had not been properly studied.

"We did not have the science," IAAF spokesman Nick Davies
said. "Now we have the science. We are only interested in
competitions that we govern."

Davies stressed the findings only covered Pistorius' specific
blades and did not necessarily mean that all such athletes
automatically would be excluded.

The ruling does not affect Pistorius' eligibility for Paralympic
events, in which he was a gold medalist in Athens in 2004. It
remained unclear to what extent he would be able to continue
running in local races in South Africa.

"It's unfortunate because he could have boosted team athletics
at the Olympics at Beijing, because he had the potential to
qualify," said Leonard Chuene, president of Athletics South
Africa.

Chuene said the federation would respect the ruling.

"There's not much we can do," he said. "It rules him out with
immediate effect. We use the IAAF rule book. If we had our rules
and our own competition, it would be easier. It is a huge
problem."

Pistorius finished second in the 400 meters at the South African
National Championships last year against able-bodied runners.

The runner worked with Brueggemann in Cologne for two days of
testing in November to learn to what extent the j-shaped
carbon-fiber extensions to his amputated legs differed from the
legs of fully abled runners.

Brueggemann found that Pistorius was able to run at the same
speed as able bodied runners on about a quarter less energy. He
found that once the runners hit a certain stride, athletes with
artificial limbs needed less additional energy than other athletes.

The professor found that the returned energy "from the
prosthetic blade is close to three times higher than with the human
ankle joint in maximum sprinting.''

Based on these findings, the Council ruled against Pistorius.

The findings are contested by the Pistorius camp.

"Based on the feedback that we got, the general feeling was
that there were a lot of variables that weren't taken into
consideration and that all avenues hadn't been explored in terms of
coming to a final conclusion on whether Oscar was getting some
advantage or not," Van Zyl said. "We were hoping that they would
reconsider and hopefully do some more tests."

The IAAF adopted a rule last summer prohibiting the use of any
"technical aids" deemed to give an athlete an advantage over
another.
Ossur, the Icelandic company which is a leader in the production
of prosthetics, braces and supports and also made Pistorius'
blades, has said the blades do not provide an edge over able-bodied
athletes.

Pistorius has set world records in the 100, 200 and 400 in
Paralympic events.

Pistorius was born without fibulas -- the long, thin outer bone
between the knee and ankle -- and was 11 months old when his legs
were amputated below the knee.

He began running competitively four years ago to treat a rugby
injury, and nine months later won the 200 meters at the 2004
Paralympic Games in Athens.

Pistorius competed in the 400 at two international-level
able-bodied meets in 2007. He finished second in a B race in 46.90
seconds at the Golden League meet in Rome on July 13 and, two days
later, was disqualified for running out of his lane in Sheffield,
England.