Sprinter Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee who has for years sought to race in the Olympic Games, finally got his wish Saturday, when he lined up to run in a preliminary heat in the men’s 400 meters in London’s Olympic Stadium.
“On the blocks, I didn’t know if I should cry or be happy,” a breathless Pistorius told a BBC reporter after the race. “And then I was like, no — you’ve got a job to. It was just really a mix of emotions. I didn’t know what form I was going to be in today. I had a good race tactic, and I stuck to it.”
Pistorius, 25, has often said that he’s motivated not by an urge to make history, but by a desire to compete against the best runners in the world. He did both Saturday, becoming the first amputee to run in an Olympic race — and confirming his place among the world’s elite athletes. The South African took second place in his five-man heat, finishing with a time of 45.44 seconds to advance to Sunday afternoon’s semifinals.
The time was a seasonal best for Pistorius; if he had been running in any other of Saturday’s seven heats, it would have earned him a qualifying spot in all but two of them (the top three finishers in each heat move on to the semifinals).
First place in Pistorius’ heat went to Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic, who finished in 45.04. And in a later heat, defending gold medalist LaShawn Merritt of the U.S. pulled up instead of finishing the race, blaming a hamstring injury.
Speaking to the BBC after his race, Pistorius thanked his supporters, including his family — and the large Olympic Stadium crowd, which gave him a warm welcome during introductions. And during the race, when it became apparent that Pistorius wasn’t content to make history but might also make the semifinal, they roared as he sped into the final turn to set up his strong finish.
“This crowd is just amazing,” he said, noting that it also included his grandmother.
Asked what it meant that he’d made history, Pistorius said it meant that he had good coaches, and had undergone years of training. In the past, critics have suggested that the carbon-fiber prosthetics Pistorius runs on give him an advantage — something that U.S. researchers say isn’t the case.
In addition to the 400 meters, Pistorius is slated to run in South Africa’s 4x400m relay team. And after the Summer Olympics, he plans to compete in the Paralympic Games, which begin in London on Aug. 29.