Blades of Glory

I recently read an on-line report from MSN Sports highlighting Liam Malone’s comments about wanting to design “super blades” that will allow the double below-knee amputee to run faster than world record sprinter Usain Bolt.

The 23-year-old New Zealand para-athlete, and self-professed “face of blade running”, won gold medals in the 200-metre and 400-metre events at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Malone was eclipsed by Great Britain’s Jonnie Peacock in the 100-metre final last year. Malone’s personal best time in the 100m is 10.90 seconds. Bolt’s world record stands at 9.58.

Malone is confident, however. “I’m going to be the fastest man on the planet ever,” he said. “I’m going to design a unique pair of… super blades. Count on it. In the next three years, I’ll run faster than Usain Bolt.”

The first question is… how likely is it that Malone can beat Bolt’s record? The answer is… it is very probable. Malone is a great athlete and a smart young man. He knows that the technology exists to accomplish the feat, and if the funding can be found, the blades will be produced.

He also understands the commitment that it will take for him (or anyone else) to master the prosthetic super limbs and cover 100 metres under 9:58 seconds. Bursting out of the blocks and accelerating over the first 40 metres will be his greatest challenge. Once his top speed is achieved, maintaining it may be somewhat easier for a double-leg amputee than it would be for a single leg amputee or even an able-bodied athlete.

Similarly for wheelchair athletes, the four-minute mile seemed impossible until the three-wheeled iteration of the device made its debut in the 1980s. In no time, records for middle and long distance events were slashed. Now, the wheelchair marathon is routinely completed in under 1.5 hours, 10,000-metre races challenge the 20-minute mark and, in the 1500m, wheelchair racers have clipped the three-minute mark (2:54.51 by Marcel Hug, Switzerland). Yet, because the initial power needed to get rolling is so demanding, the 100m times are still much slower than ambulatory sprinters.

© Provided by Business Insider Usain Bolt (JAM) of Jamaica looks at Andre De Grasse (CAN) of Canada as they compete.

Malone’s greatest task will not be overseeing the invention of super blades; rather, it will be developing the explosive strength to get him out of the blocks and over the first 40m quickly enough. Then he has to keep driving and retain control to the finish line. If he can achieve both the acceleration and the top end speed, it is guaranteed that others like Brazil’s Alan Oliveira (a current World Record holder in the same disability class – T43) will be right there with him.

I look forward to former Canadian Paralympians Rob Snoek or Jeff Adams calling the action on live TV. For the highly imaginative… will there be a category where any athlete can strap on blades and go head-to-head (or quad to quad) with the world’s fastest?

I thank Malone for his bold prediction, and getting people to think and talk about “what is possible.” If you want to see some of the coolest athletes on the planet, check out the Team Ossur website  https://www.ossur.com/about-ossur/team-ossur.  There is also great information on the entire Paralympic Movement at www.paralympic.org/  and for the latest  developments in Canada visit www.paralympic.ca and there is a wealth of info for those wanting to get connected through ParaSport Ontario at www.parasportontario.ca. Quick e-searches will provide a vast array of info and video, including the London 2017 World Para Athletics Championships and the Invictus Games happening in Toronto later this fall.

  • Joe Millage, Parasport Ontario