- Associated Press
Friday, August 10, 2012

LONDON — Oscar Pistorius set precedents all the way along his journey to and through the London Games. In the end, it was all about this: Running in an Olympic final.

A double-amputee now known globally as the “Blade Runner,” Pistorius anchored the South Africa team in the 4x400-meter relay final at the London Olympics on Friday night, bringing the roaring 80,000-strong crowd to its feet despite him crossing the finish line in eighth place.

He can proudly add “Olympic finalist” to his long list of trail-blazing achievements.

“This whole experience was amazing … to step out here in an Olympic final is more than I could have ever hoped for,” Pistorius said. “That opportunity to come here once again and finish today and not yesterday is a dream come true.”

Pistorius said the atmosphere, the crowd, the competition, the experience were all “far beyond my expectations.”

“If I took all the positive things I thought might come out of this and multiply it by 10, it still couldn’t come close.”

He almost didn’t make it, for so many reasons.

Born without fibulas, he had his legs amputated below the knee before he was a year old. He learned how to walk on prosthetics and even dabbled with playing rugby until a leg injury made him turn to athletics.

After winning his long struggle with track and field authorities for the right to compete in able-bodied events,Pistorius qualified for the 400-meter semifinals in his debut run at the Olympics last weekend. He finished last in his semifinal but that didn’t deter the first amputee runner to ever compete in track and field at the Olympics.

He had ambitions of winning an Olympic medal — and they weren’t far-fetched, considering he helped South Africa win a world championship silver medal last year at Daegu, South Korea, where he ran in the heats but missed the final.

In the relay heats on Thursday, his teammate Ofentse Mogawane tangled with a Kenyan runner and dropped the baton as he crashed to the track — a full length of the straight away from where he was supposed to hand it toPistorius.

The 25-year-old Pistorius then walked away from the changeover zone on his carbon fiber blades, believing his Olympics were over because South Africa did not finish the heat. But after a series of protests and appeals, the Kenyan team was disqualified from the heat and, in a very rare move, South Africa was added as the ninth team to the final — in the usually vacant inside lane.

South Africa was already trailing Friday when Pistorius took the baton to run the final lap, and he finished almost seven seconds behind the winning team from Bahamas. At least he wasn’t last — a Cuban runner was injured and didn’t finish the race.

And besides, with the thunderous applause and cheering following him around the track, it was like a victory lap for Pistorius.

“I think after yesterday, today can only be good,” he said, reflecting momentarily on the relay heats. “This week has just been one of the biggest blessings for me. It’s taught me a lot.

“I’ve been inspired by so many athletes. Just to have had that opportunity to step outside, it’s been absolutely phenomenal.”

He hasn’t had time to reflect on his achievements yet, he said, because there’s “just been so much to learn.”

“All in all, this was such a successful campaign for us,” he said. “I wanted to make the semifinals in the individual. I wanted to make the final in the 4x4. We could never have hoped for half the support we’ve received.”

His inclusion in the Olympics didn’t get universal support. Some critics argued that his carbon fiber blades gave him an unfair advantage, and there were concerns that he could injure other athletes if he tangled with them in the relays.

But he was definitely a crowd favorite, and he won plenty of friends among the other athletes.

“Oscar is a great friend of mine,” said Tony McQuay, part of the U.S. relay team which won the silver medal. “Oscar is a great, great, great, tremendous athlete.

“I don’t even look down and see what he’s running with down there. Doesn’t matter to me. I know Oscar’s heart. If they come out with some type of legs for him to break the world record, every year, every day, every meet — I’m supporting him 100 percent of the way.”

LJ van Zyl ran the third section of the relay for South Africa, and handed the baton over to Pistorius.

“It was a privilege to run the final and also it was a bigger privilege to run the relay with Oscar,” he said. “I think 10 or 20 years from now we will still remember the day when we ran with Oscar at the Olympics.”

And while he has set plenty of precedents in London, Pistorius isn’t anywhere near done just yet. He’s competing in the Paralympics later this month, and there’s always Rio.

“For me to come out here and know that all the time and effort I’ve put in … and the time everyone has invested in me has paid off, it’s just one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” he said. “It inspires me and motivates me for the next four years looking to,” the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

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