Double amputee Pistorius qualifies for track worlds
Double amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius qualified for the athletics world championships, running his best-ever time in the 400 metres Tuesday in his last race before the cutoff date.
The South African — nicknamed "Blade Runner" — also moved a step closer to fulfilling his dream of competing in the 2012 Olympics after clocking a personal best of 45.07 seconds at a small meet in the northern Italian town of Lignano.
The 24-year-old Pistorius needed to run 45.25 — having never run faster than 45.61 — to qualify for the worlds for the first time. The championships begin Aug. 27 in Daegu, South Korea.
"So tonight was the last night to qualify," Pistorius tweeted after the race. "Needed a 45.25 A standard, ran a 45.07sec! Thank you to my team."
He wrote in another post: "Feels kind of surreal.. To have an A-qualification time in the bag for next yrs Olympic Games! Thank you all the your support!"
The time put him on track to achieve his ambition of competing at the Olympics and Paralympics in the same year, four years after he had to take his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to be allowed to compete against able-bodied athletes on his carbon-fibre blades.
"He's over the moon," Pistorius' agent Peet van Zyl told The Associated Press. "I spoke to him before the race and told him 'Listen, this is what it's all about. This is what we fought the court cases for.'
"He said 'All I can do is my best' and I said 'Your best is good enough.' I spoke to him literally as he was coming off the track and all he said was 'I did it."'
Having achieved the "A" qualifying time, South Africa now has to pick Pistorius for its team for the worlds and could also take him to the London Olympics, which he is also now eligible to compete in.
Pistorius gained international fame when he tried to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He had to battle a ban by world athletics governing body the IAAF from competing in able-bodied races after his blades were deemed an unfair advantage.
He went to the Court of Arbitration and was cleared to run, but the legal process took a toll on his training and he didn't come close to the qualifying time for Beijing.
Pistorius is the world record-holder in the 100, 200 and 400 for disabled athletes, and a multiple gold medal winner at the Paralympics, but has long wanted to run against able-bodied athletes at the Olympics.
Having missed out on the qualifying time at meets in the Czech Republic, France and Diamond League events in New York and Eugene, Ore., this season, Pistorius struggled to a time of 46.65 seconds in Padua, Italy, over the weekend. He looked way off the world championship qualifying pace.
It left him with the Lignano race to run his fastest time. His final race in Budapest, Hungary, on July 31 is likely too close to the Aug. 1 cutoff for teams to be finalized for the world championships.
In Lignano, Pistorius blew away the field to win by more than a second ahead of Jamaicans Lanceford Spence and Michael Mason.
"They have to pick him now [for the worlds]," Van Zyl said. "I knew this was coming."
Pistorius only took up running as a teenager to help him recover from a rugby injury. He started training with a coach in 2004 and set his first Paralympics world record three weeks later. Eight months later, he won his first Paralympics gold medal in Athens.
Originally from the South African capital Pretoria, Pistorius had his legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old because he was born without shin bones.
"My mother was someone who never pitied the fact that I had prosthetic legs," he told the AP in an interview in April. "As far as she was concerned, the only difference between me and my brother was that my brother put his shoes on in the morning and I put my legs on — and that's it."