Geek Out

Nike's Specially Designed Track Spikes Help Double Amputee Sprint In London

South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius just ran a race at the Olympics. Unlike his competitors, he did it as a below-the-knee amputee, using Ossür’s Flex-Foot Cheetah legs. But he also faced a unique challenge that his competitors didn’t have to consider — how do you get track spikes on your prosthetics?

The short answer is they have to be fitted by hand. That’s a process that ordinarily takes up to two hours. Spikes fall off, because unlike a foot that bends and curves, carbon blades are less mobile. Luckily, Oscar is sponsored by Nike, so top-notch tech was at his disposal. Not that it made the design process easy.

Oscar travelled to Ossür’s lab in Iceland along with Nike designer Tobie Hatfield to create a spike that was just right for his unique situation. Of course, Oscar can’t feel his feet to talk about how something fits, so the process was unique. Tobie filmed Oscar sprinting on a pressure-sensitive treadmill at 500fps to make sure he saw every movement and studied Oscar’s form just right. Tobie’s solution was something called a Spike Pad. FastCo explains:

Hatfield wanted the most shock absorption possible, but didn’t want Pistorius to lose launch power to a spongy pile of foam. So the resulting Spike Pad itself was fully realised then. It’s formed of a midsole — two machine-molded pieces of foam with two different densities (softer is in the back where the Pistorius lands during his stride and harder density is in the front where Pistorius begins his stride) — along with a carbon fibre Spike Plate that attaches to the bottom.

And what about the whole two-hour installation? Tobie cut that time down to just 15 minutes, affixing the spikes with contact cement and removing them with a blowdryer. Amazingly, the Spike Pad helped Oscar make it to the semi-finals for the 400m in London. [FastCo]

Image: Michael Steele/Getty Images

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