Mizuno race to make prosthetic legs ahead of 2020 Paralympics

Mizuno Corporation has announced that it will start producing prosthetic legs for sprinters from October, a recent article in the Asahi Shimbun informs us.

This allows plenty of time for the company to promote its product ahead of the Tokyo Summer Paralympics in 2020.

Paralympic silver medalist Atsushi Yamamoto (Photo: http://www.jsad.or.jp/)

For the development of their carbon-fibre prosthetic leg, the Osaka-based, international sports equipment and sportswear company collaborated with Imasen Engineering Corporation, a Gifu-based manufacturer of electric wheelchairs and other products for people with physical impairments. 

Yet this is not Imasen’s first foray into this market. In fact, they became the first Japanese company to manufacture prosthetic legs for athletes in 2007. 

Even so, according to officials from the company, at present the Japanese market in lower-limb prosthetics for athletes is dominated by two overseas manufacturers: one German and one Icelandic. And together these two companies account for 90 percent of all prosthetic legs used by athletes in sports competitions held in Japan.

Mizuno and Imasen began working together, and making trials in the summer of 2014.

In comparison to Imasen’s previous prosthetic leg, the new design is said to have a smaller and lighter metal fitting for mounting. 

Moreover, the “spring leaf” designed by the two companies and which functions as a leg, is said to be competitive on two more fronts.

Firstly in terms of price, while the cost of prosthetic legs made overseas ranges around 500,000 to 600,000 yen ($4,770 to $5,730, or €4,370 to €5,250), Imasen have said that the main body of their new product will cost around half this, coming in at less than 250,000 yen. 

Secondly, officials from the company said that the design is better tailored to fit the leg length of Japanese athletes than existing products from overseas. 

Long jump athlete and 2008 Beijing Paralympics silver medalist who helped in the development of the new prosthetic, Atsushi Yamamoto, concurred.

“We are coming close to the point where we can run at full throttle,” he said. “The new prosthetic will give a better fit to the physical builds of Japanese, so our views about it will more easily get through.”

The new prosthetic leg can be seen against a backdrop of booming developments in equipment for Paralympic athletes.

Jamie Gillespie, head prosthetist at the UK-based Pace Rehabilitation told CNN that significant changes have taken place in the last two or three years.

“It used to be that there were only two types of running blade, but companies are now offering a greater range for different competitions, adjusted to boost performance, so the challenge now is to find the right blade for the right person for the right sport.”

Meanwhile Andy Lewis, gold medalist at the 2015 Madrid Paratriathalon, said, “By the Paralympics in 2016 I can envisage a lot of new legs coming out …The knees are getting smaller, the legs will have microprocessors, and you will be able to press a button to change foot for the different events.”

At the same time, these technological advancements will not only be to the benefit of athletes. Looking beyond the 2020 Paralympics,Yasunori Kaneko head of Mizuno’s research and development department told Asahi Shimbun, “We don’t want to stop with just making prosthetic legs.”

“We also hope to develop products that will enhance the abilities of those who have lost their physical functions and of elderly people.”

 

Sources include: Asahi Shimbun and CNN

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