Oscar Pistorius’ Carbon Footprint

Dan Murphy April 3, 2012 2
Oscar Pistorius’ Carbon Footprint


When Oscar Pistorius runs, his well-toned arms and legs pump in synchronicity like a finely tuned sprinting machine.

His body remains upright, and there’s very little wasted motion when he flies down the track.

When the world-class runner from South Africa bolts from the starting blocks he’s nothing more than a blur. So much so, that it’s hard to notice the thin carbon fiber legs that propel him toward the finish line. The South African was born without both fibulas, and had both legs amputated below the knees when he was a child.

Pistorius, nicknamed the “Blade Runner”, is an intriguing mix of near flawless natural design and technological achievement. He has a chiseled torso and boasts natural good looks, worthy of a regular spot on the cover of GQ. Mother Nature did good work when putting together Pistorius, and Ossur, a prosthetics company based in Iceland, did an excellent job when it created the portion of Pistorius that exists below his knees.


You’re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have.  – Oscar Pistorius


The aptly named Flex-Foot Cheetah carbon fiber foot looks simple enough, but sometimes great design is in the smallest, barely noticeable details. Each prosthetic is shaped like a “J”, which mimics the shape of the back legs of a cheetah, the fastest mammal on the planet. The Flex-Foot design is able to store and release the energy produced by Pistorius. The curve compresses and bends slightly upon impact. When it returns to its original J-shape it releases stored energy and helps Pistorius lunge forward. Less carbon layering on the toes allows for added flexibility. Spikes on the base of the prosthetic grip the track, just like spikes on running shoes.


The design of the Flex-Foot Cheetah is sound enough to have remained relatively unchanged since it was created in 1997, and advanced enough to raise questions with the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) about whether the carbon legs give Pistorius an advantage over able-bodied runners.


 Success at the level Pistorius achieves wouldn’t occur without both halves being almost perfect  


In January 2008, the IAAF banned Pistorius from all able-bodied athletic events, based on research by German professor Gert-Peter Brueggemann, who tested the prosthetics and felt that they gave the runner what the IAAF referred to as a “demonstrable mechanical advantage”. Pistorius appealed the decision, citing tests conducted by M.I.T. professor Hugh Herr, who disagreed with Brueggemann and concluded that the legs didn’t give him an unfair edge. In May of 2008, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that there wasn’t enough scientific evidence to prove the IAAF’s case, and Pistorius was cleared to compete against able-bodied sprinters.

Pistorius’prosthetic carbon fiber legs have carried him to a slew of Paralympic medals, Paralympic records in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter runs, and a spot on the South African national team. In September, Pistorius bridged a substantial gap by becoming the first amputee to win a World Championship silver medal when South Africa finished second in the 4 x 400-meter relay at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea.

The combination of a well-designed human and expertly created, ingeniously shaped carbon strips is clearly a melding that works. Success at the level Pistorius achieves wouldn’t occur without both halves being almost perfect. Take a look at Oscar Pistorius when he runs, and you’ll get a good glimpse of symbiosis at its finest.




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  • Heather

    Awe inspiring!!

  • James

    Oscar is truly a work of great design, both physically and technologically. His attitude is surely a huge factor as well. Inspiring story… it’s renewed my interest in watching the Olympics this summer.