The Perse School

Rouse Awards – Tabitha Thornton-Swan’s investigation into advanced sports prosthetics

13 Nov 2017

Tabitha Thornton-Swan (Upper Sixth) claimed the Rouse Award for Science and Mathematics after analysing the extent to which Paralympians using advanced sports prosthesics have an advantage over able-bodied athletes.

As part of her investigation, she looked into an existing independent study commissioned by the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) and questioned its reliability.

Tabitha tried to strengthen her argument through further research, such as the impact of full body polyurethane swimsuits prior to their ban from use in competitive swimming in 2010.

Rouse Awards judges praised Tabitha for her “mature approach to research” along the way.

She said her ambition to become an Army doctor had led to her interest in prosthetics, having read much about rehabilitation for military personnel injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

From there, Tabitha discovered the paper that sparked her research into the use of special prosthetics in athletics.

She said: “I think the study that was carried out has quite a lot of flaws and these were acknowledged by another independent study.

“Firstly, the study’s results don’t coincide, so that rings alarm bells. Additionally, there were issues with the study because it didn’t focus on long-term holistic effects of any prosthetic, it looked at performance over one day.

“Any athlete will be able to tell you one day they might not be performing their best – they might be ill or not at peak fitness at that time – so I don’t think having one day of study is enough.

“Also they didn’t look at the effects of athletes running over the entire race, they only looked over a certain section.

“As I found out, there are a huge amount of different aspects to a 400m race and it failed to look at the acceleration part of the race at all, which I think is a massive flaw.”

Hear more about Tabitha’s research and conclusions below.

The Rouse Awards are generously sponsored by Alan and Valerie Hirzel.

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