From lightweight wheelchairs to mechanical knee joints, the London Paralympics is witnessing the newest high-tech kit designed to help Paralympians.
Wheelchairs – athletics, rugby, tennis, basketball
Racing wheelchairs now weigh around three times less than they did 60 years ago, helping athletes reach 25mph.
Britons Shelly Woods and David Weir went the extra mile by visiting an Airbus base for wind-tunnel tests where engineers analysed the efficiency of their body positions and the chair’s design. This involved them being blasted by 30mph winds.
Team sport chairs are now designed purely for speed, acceleration and precision – athletes used to use their day chairs – with some players going as fast as 10mph.
Peter Norfolk, the wheelchair tennis double-gold medallist, uses an adapted chair that has wheels with a camber of 20 degrees and a fifth wheel at the back that acts as anti-tip device while providing extra manoeuvrability.
Mechanical knee joints – athletics
Advances in prosthetic technology for below-the-knee amputees like Oscar Pistorius have made it possible for the South African to reach an Olympic 400 metres semi-final.
Yet in terms of technology for Paralympic sprinting it is the prosthetics used by above-the-knee amputees that are truly extraordinary.
Heinrich Popow of Germany, who had his left leg amputated aged nine to stop the spread of cancer, uses a prosthetic leg with an individually adjusted mechanical knee joint.
It joins the socket of the leg to the carbon fibre blade, operates like a hinge, with advanced hydraulic cylinders contained within the joint controlling how quick the foot rises.
The hydraulics help to minimise the loss of energy through friction when the knee moves, which means athletes encounter very little resistance and can swing their leg through quickly to reach top speed.
Arm sockets – cycling
British cyclist Jon-Allan Butterworth lost his left arm after being hit by metal following an explosion while serving in Iraq.
He overcomes the challenges of being amputee in everyday life by wearing a hook. But when it comes to cycling, Butterworth has two prosthetics for riding.
One is an articulated arm for when he’s using a pair of drop handlebars, while the other is a very short arm, that in the words of Britain's head coach Chris Furber resembles a “Dalek arm”.
The arm is a short rod with a ball on the end that fits into a socket on his handlebars to provide him with extra stability and Butterworth uses this arm when he is in his low position for riding.
“He’s a lot more aerodynamic than some of our able-bodied pursuit riders,” said Furber.
Butterworth also uses adapted bicycles that have all the brake and gear controls on one side of the bike.
Prosthetic legs – cycling
Working with Össur, the firm that designed Pistorius’s running blades, two-time gold medallist Jody Cundy has created a revolutionary prosthetic solution to his amputated foot that means he does not need a cycling shoe at the bottom of his prosthetic.
He now uses a solid, yet sleek piece of carbon that connects directly to the cranks of the bike.
“Every bit of power that I put into this carbon fibre goes straight through to the pedal and comes out the back wheel,” said Cundy.
Courtesy: Nick Pearce, telegraph.co.uk