As the world’s No. 1 supplier of prosthetic limbs used in sports, Icelandic medical equipment manufacturer Össur not only supported athletes at the just-completed London Paralympics, it is also providing a huge boost to Iceland's economy.
The "blade runner" sprinters who competed in the men’s 100-meter final on Sept. 6--including South African Olympian and Paralympian Oscar Pistorius--all wore similar J-shaped Flex-Foot-type carbon fiber prosthetic legs.
The prosthetic legs used by Pistorius were made by Össur. So were the ones worn by Brazilian runner Alan Oliveira, who edged out Pistorius in the 200-meter race to win the gold medal.
Össur’s carbon fiber prosthetic legs are gaining support from amputee athletes around the world.
“Össur is one of Iceland’s largest companies," said an economist for the Iceland Chamber of Commerce. "There isn’t a person here who hasn’t heard of it.”
In a country where one of the key industries is fishing, two of Iceland's major companies are a seafood processing equipment maker and Össur.
Iceland suffered a financial crisis in 2008, which resulted in the bankruptcy of numerous financial institutions. The government is now putting efforts into tourism and development of natural resources in a bid to rebuild the economy.
Amid such economic woes, the economist with the chamber of commerce has high hopes for Össur, which has offices in 16 nations, including Japan and the United States.
“It is an important company that earns foreign currency like the dollar and euro,” the economist said, adding that Össur is one of Iceland’s few companies that has found success in overseas markets.
Founded in 1971, Össur expanded after purchasing numerous foreign prosthetic limb makers. It enjoys the second-largest share of the world’s market for prosthetic legs, losing out only to a German manufacturer. But in the market for prosthetic legs for athletic use, Össur has the largest share by a large margin.
“I never dreamed that I would help send someone to the Paralympics,” said a 33-year-old Össur employee who is in charge of developing Pistorius’ prosthetic legs.
In Japan, blades for the same type of prosthetics used by Pistorius sell for roughly 450,000 yen ($5,750). The entire prosthetics for one leg totals about 800,000 yen.
“Prosthetic limbs are like the symbol of Iceland’s advanced technology that we can boast to the world," said an Iceland Chamber of Commerce staff member. "It’s supporting our nation.”
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