ON TRACK: South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius ahead of the men’s 400m round-one heat at the London Olympic Games on Saturday. Picture: REUTERS
ON TRACK: South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius ahead of the men’s 400m round-one heat at the London Olympic Games on Saturday. Picture: REUTERS

THE International Paralympic Committee (IPC) yesterday defended its policy on artificial running blades for amputee athletes, insisting it was the best possible system.

But Peter van der Vliet, the IPC’s medical and scientific director, admitted the rules may still need to be looked at, after Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius questioned the validity of his rival’s prostheses.

Pistorius, the most high-profile athlete at the London Games after he competed in the Olympics last month, said he had been at a disadvantage in terms of leg length after losing his T44 200m crown on Sunday. The IPC rejected Pistorius’s claims and Van der Vliet said that the rules, designed to ensure artificial limbs are proportional to an athlete’s body, were "the best system in place and to the confidence and satisfaction of all involved".

Upper limits for artificial leg lengths are calculated using a mathematical formula based on the length of an athlete’s arm span as well as the distance from their sternum (chest) to the tip of the affected limb or limbs. An additional 3.5% of that calculation is factored in to replicate running action, where a nondisabled athlete runs on his or her toes, Van der Vliet said.

The measuring system used to calculate limb length was developed in consultation with athletes, coaches and federations before being sent to the IPC’s governing body for approval.

Pistorius himself has had to prove that his J-shaped Flex-Foot "Cheetah" blades did not give him an unfair advantage when running against nondisabled athletes.

But in claiming that he was beaten only because he could not compete with his rival’s superior leg length, Pistorius has reopened the debate. "You can’t help but see the irony of it, really," said David James, senior lecturer at the Centre for Sports Engineering Research at Sheffield Hallam University.

Meanwhile, the apology from Pistorius over the timing of his outburst has been welcomed by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc), and the body is willing to take his concerns to the IPC if asked to.

Sascoc CEO Tubby Reddy was speaking in London yesterday following Pistorius’s defeat. "Oscar made an apology this morning after his emotional outburst and we’ve put out a statement in support of our athlete. We understand what transpired and it’s difficult to take a result like that in terms of the emotion.

"Having said that, if he has any concerns — and we know he has concerns — we are quite happy as the National Paralympic Committee of SA, and as Sascoc, to engage with the IPC."