Markus Rehm and his prosthetic advantage
Markus Rehm of Germany won the T44 (below knee amputee) long jump at the IPC World Disability Athletics Championship in London this week with a distance of 8.00m. He said afterwards: “I am happy to win my fourth world long jump title in a row. A jump of 8.00m is great but I wanted to go further and it wasn’t possible. I thought I could jump much further but I could not hit the board properly today”.
His performance keeps the question of whether he should be allowed to compete in IAAF events firmly on the agenda. Rehm, who lost his lower right leg in a wakeboarding accident as a 14-year-old, competed in the German national trials (non-disabled) in 2014 and won with a jump of 8.24. The rules were that as winner of the trials he would automatically be selected for the European Championships in Zurich. However, the German Athletics Federation decided not to take him, because of doubts over whether a prosthetic limb gave a jumper an advantage over “able-bodied” athletes.
In 2015 Rehm’s world championship winning distance was 8.40m. That Greg Rutherford won the IAAF World Championship long jump the same year with a distance of 8.41m, puts Rehm’s achievement in context.
Rehm is honest in his position on the controversy saying: “At the moment we don’t have any data that can prove it either way”. He argues too that while he might have an advantage in comparison with a non-disabled athlete because of the extra spring at take-off with his blade, that is negated by his slower and less balanced run-up. He also asks why, if the blade gives para-athletes an advantage, are no other blade jumpers equalling his distance?
After winning in Doha 2015, Rehm spoke about his frustration that the onus seemed to be on him to prove that he did not have an unfair advantage rather than on the authorities to prove that he did. He said: “The IAAF says that I have to prove that I don’t have any advantage. That is not a good decision by the IAAF because you cannot put that pressure on the athlete. It’s not my job”.
This week in London all he said on the issue was: “We are still discussing [about competing in more able-bodied events] but I am not going to push it too hard”.
It is not clear what the way forward is on the matter.