Össur’s Cheetah Goes for Paralympic Gold

September, 4, 2012
9/04/12
1:00
PM ET
SingletonCourtesy of facebook.com/BPTeamUSA American Jerome Singleton is one of many running on Ossur's Flex-Foot Cheetah prosthetics.
While the defeat of Oscar Pistorius by Alan Oliveira caused a furor during Sunday’s men’s 200-meter Paralympics race in London, the event to watch is still to come.

Qualification begins for the 100 meters on Wednesday, with the final on Thursday. It could be anyone’s race, as the Brazilian Oliveira, the United States’ own Jerome Singleton and others battle Pistorius, the South African who made history last month by becoming the first double-leg amputee to compete in the Olympic Games.

Regardless of who earns the gold, there is one clear winner in this year's Paralympics: Össur.

[+] EnlargeFlexfoot
Courtesy of Ossur Each Cheetah is custom-made based on the runner's height and weight.
Össur’s Flex-Foot Cheetah is the most popular prosthetic leg for world-class sprinters. Pistorius and Singleton wear the Iceland-based company's blades. You’ll also spot them on Blake Leeper, Rudy Garcia-Tolson, April Holmes, Katie Sullivan and Shaquille Vance from the U.S.; Jonnie Peacock and Richard Whitehead from the U.K.; and Arnu Fourie from South Africa.

In fact, Francois Van Der Watt, CPO and manager of Össur Academy, which creates the devices, refers to the Paralympics as the “Battle of the Blades.”

While the design of the 100-percent carbon-fiber footing hasn’t changed much since it was invented in 1996, each Flex-Foot Cheetah is unique, says Van Der Watt. The devices differ according to the amputee’s needs. “Each Flex-Foot Cheetah is custom-made according to the runner's height/weight and impact level,” he says.

But can that uniqueness sometimes lead to an unfair advantage? Immediately after Oliveira, a double amputee whose prosthetics are also made by Össur, bested Pistorius by .07 seconds for the gold in the 200 meters on Sunday, the South African runner (and former 200-meter gold medalist) complained that the length of Oliveira’s prosthetics allowed him to win.

Pistorius later apologized for the timing his comments, but still called into question International Paralympic Committee (IPC) rules that allow for longer prosthetics. Currently, legal blade length is calculated with a formula that estimates the athlete's height and adds 3.5 percent to simulate running on toes. The length of Oliveira’s blades was within the accepted range.

The two will have another chance to battle it out during the upcoming 100-meter and 400-meter races.

The recent Paralympics exposure has been a boon for Össur. Facebook postings increased tenfold during the month of August, catalog and order-form views on Össur’s website doubled and views of the Flex-Foot Cheetah product page quadrupled.

But beyond that, the Paralympics exposure has done wonders to inspire the next generation of runners. “We've definitely seen some stories on local U.S. news shows about kids who have had amputations and/or congenital conditions similar to Oscar's, who've become inspired and now want to learn how to run and compete like he does,” says Van Der Watt.

And that's a win for everybody.

Katie Linendoll is an Emmy Award-winning technology expert contributing to ESPN, ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. She contributes tech segments to CNN and hosts a tech show on Spike TV. She has a degree in Information Technology New Media from Rochester Institute of Technology and is a diehard Buffalo Bills fan.

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