This past weekend, German Markus Rehm set a world record in the F44 long jump, with a jump of 8.24 meters on his fourth attempt at the Ulm German Athletics Championships, where he was the first amputee athlete to compete at the championships. Only four other European jumpers have beaten his 8.24 meter distance so far this season. Rehm’s performance should have automatically qualified him to compete in the European Athletics Championships 2014 being held in Zurich from August 12 to 17, but concerns about his prosthetic leg giving him an unfair competitive advantage have put that on hold as the European Athletics Association continue to discuss the issue.
Yesterday, Rehm participated in biomechanical performance diagnostics at Deutsche Sporthochschule Köln (DSHS) in an attempt to determine if his disability and use of a specialized prosthetic during competition puts his performance outside the comparable norms for able-bodied competitors. The testing used video cameras, lasers and photoelectric sensors that measured his start times, his acceleration, changes in speed while running and the speed during take off for his jump. Preliminary results have showm that Rehm runs slower than other elite long jumpers, something which German national team coach Uwe Florczak has said he had already observed. Eberhard Nixdorf from Germany’s Olympic Training Center is quoted in Der Tagesspiegel as saying, ” We can describe our method at best. But we can not prove the effect of the prosthesis.” Nixdorf goes on to explain that they need a lot more data to draw a more definitive conclusion. They would also need to do three dimensional modeling, and to measure the forces at the start of the jump. Such a definitive analysis would cost around €80,000 and could not be completed in time for the DLV to make a decision.
At present, it is not even clear if Germany’s DLV athletics association will nominate him to compete. They are expected to submit their team nominations tomorrow. The issue has become a political one inside German sport.
German long jump Sebastian Bayer, who finished fifth, has asserted that Rehm has an unfair advantage, and has been quoted as saying, “The prosthetic seems 15 centimeters longer than the other leg. My legs are both the same length.”
Rehm is quoted as saying related to the difference in length of his prosthesis to his natural leg, “I think it doesn’t give me an advantage or a disadvantage. The prosthetic is replacing what I don’t have anymore.”
Gert-Peter Brüggemann, a biomechanic from the Deutschen Sporthochschule in Köln, is quoted by Dienstag der Nachrichtenagentur as saying, “There can be no data-based and reliable assessment to be made. […] It is and must be a political decision. […] What can be done in competition, it is absolutely not sufficient to assess whether and how a prosthesis can be compared to healthy, high-performance joints working. […] You have to do something more than video recordings and measure some speed.”
Deutsche Behindertensportverband (DBS) is on record supporting Rehm’s attempt to be included on the German team, with DBS Vice President-performance sports Karl Quade quoted as saying on DBS’s homepage, “DBS hopes that Markus Rehm gets the chance to compete at the upcoming European Championships in Athletics. We expect the DLV to include him on the German team.”
Rehm is reported in multiple sources as having said yesterday that he will accept whatever decision is made by the DLV. Earlier today, RP Online quotes Rehm as having said, “I have no great desire to enforce participation.”
Rehm competed at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, where he also set a world record in the long jump with a 7.35 meter jump for 1,093 points. He won a gold medal in the process, adding to the bronze he won in the 1 x 400 meter relay event. Rehm is the current Paralympic world champion in his classification, having won gold at the 2011 and 2013 competitions. He competes for TSV Bayer 04 Leverkusen. Outside of sport, Rehm works as a master orthopedic technician.
The situation mirrors similar controversies involving Oscar Pistorius, who sought inclusion and was eventually allowed to compete at the 2012 Summer Olympics. DSHS, who did the testing for Rehm, also did the testing for Pistorius in 2007. Brueggemann now asserts that the data around potential competitive advantage for Pistorius was never conclusive. The testing for Pistorius swayed South African courts who said if he qualified, he should be eligible to compete alongside able-bodied competitors.