South African amputee makes Olympic history

Oscar Pistorius, the South African sprinter nicknamed "blade runner", made Olympic history on Saturday by becoming the first double-amputee runner to compete. The South African, who runs on carbon fibre blades, has reached the 400-metre semi-finals.


AP - It was only a morning 400-meter heat but Oscar Pistorius took a giant stride into Olympic history just by starting Saturday, becoming the first double-amputee runner to compete.

If there was any other morning event to match that for anticipation it was the 100 meters, with Jamaicans Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake both cruising through to take the biggest duel of the games into the semifinals.

Even if he coasted to victory in 10.09, the starting problems for defending champion Bolt were there for all to see again. Stuttering the first steps, he had to catch up four sprinters before he could relax and look left to see if he was clear for first place.

“I made a bad step and stumbled a little bit,” Bolt explained. Nothing major, according to him.

With none of the hoopla that accompanied Bolt’s entry, world champion Blake just ran a standard strong race - out quick and easing at the finish - to beat Bolt’s time with 10.00.

None of it, though, had the significance of Pistorius’s opening race.

In front of another full 80,000-seat stadium for a qualifying session, the South African cut through the mild morning sunshine on his carbon-fiber blades to reach the semifinals with a second-place finish in his heat.

“Today was just an unbelievable experience. I found myself smiling on the starting blocks, which is very rare,” Pistorius said.

His time of 45.44 seconds was important enough, but didn’t quite match the fanfare from the stadium announcer who marked the start of the race by proclaiming: “This is Blade Runner, Oscar Pistorius.”

At first he had to fight the international athletics federation for the right to compete in able-bodied races and, since then, he has been facing critics who still say his artificial legs give him an unfair edge at the Olympics.

“I’ve worked for six years ... to get my chance,” Pistorius said.

Even if Luguelin Santos won the heat in a coasting 45.04, the Dominican runner was aware the race was not about him.

“I know Oscar was the protagonist in the race, but I love him,” Santos said.

World champion Kirani James also embraced Pistorius into the Olympic fold, much as the massive crowd did with a huge cheer when his name was announced.

“My hat’s off to him, just coming out here and competing,” James said. “I just see him as another athlete, another competitor. What’s more important is I see him as another person. He’s someone I admire and respect.”

Even if Pistorius is no medal threat in the 400, he could well get on the medal stand with the South African 4x400 relay squad next week.

Beyond Pistorius, attention centered on defending champion LaShawn Merritt, who has been struggling with a sore left hamstring for two weeks.

The American athlete was still full of nervous anticipation in the blocks but struggled as soon as the starting gun went off. Merritt quickly lost pace, was overtaken on the inside and slowed right down before eventually stepping off the track after 200 meters

“I just need some more rest,” Merritt said

While Pistorius lined up for his race, Jessica Ennis had already started the long jump, the fifth of seven elements in the heptathlon, and remained on course for gold.

When she posted 6.48 meters on her final attempt in Saturday’s long jump, she gave the crowd a thumbs-up, mouthed “thank you” to spectators for their relentless encouragement, and sat down with a wide smile.

World champion Tatyana Chernova, a great second-day performer, clawed back into contention with 6.54 in the long jump.

But defending champion Natallia Dobrynska dropped out of the medal chase with two no-measures and a botched final attempt, leaving her to clutch her head in frustration.

With the javelin and 800 meters remaining, Ennis led the heptathlon with 5,133 points, holding a big 258-point lead over Austra Skujyte of Lithuania. Chernova had 4,869, but the Russian is supposed to make up ground in the javelin.

Yelena Isinbayeva of Russian also qualified for her pole vault final, seeking to become the first woman to win three straight individual Olympic gold medals in athletics.

If Isinbayeva easily cleared 4.55 to advance, world champion Fabiana Murer was out for failing to clear that height.


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