Pistorius ‘chucked in the deep end’

Oscar Pistorius believes he has the talent to compete against the best Olympic-level runners in the world.

Pistorius, a double-amputee who races on carbon-fibre blades attached below his knees, will get his chance this weekend when he runs in a world-class able-bodied race for the first time.

The 20-year-old South African will run the 400m at the Norwich Union Grand Prix in Sheffield on Sunday in a field that includes Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner.

Also entered are former Olympic relay gold medallist Darold Williamson of the United States, Commonwealth Games 400m champion John Steffensen of Australia, and former 400m Olympic hurdles champion Angelo Taylor.

”I’ve been chucked in the deep end with the best guys in the world,” Pistorius said on Tuesday. ”There’s a lot to learn.”

”There never has been a Paralympic sprinter to fuse the gap between able-bodied and disabled sport,” he added. ”The next single amputee runs about 48m behind me on the 400 and the next double amputee runs about 110m behind. So for me to break into this field is unique.”

Pistorius will get a first taste on Friday when he runs in the second-tier ”B” 400m race at the Golden League meet in Rome.

Pistorius was born without fibulas — the long, thin outer bone between the knee and ankle — and was 11 months old when his legs were amputated below the knee.

He began running four years ago to treat a rugby injury, and nine months later won the 200m at the Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece.

He has gone on to set world records in the 100, 200 and 400 in Paralympic events, but now wants a new challenge.

Pistorius was given permission to race in able-bodied races by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) last month, but still faces a barrier to take the step up to Olympic level amid claims the curved blades he runs on create an unfair advantage.

”We just want to work with the IAAF and get this thing behind us,” Pistorius said. ”It has created a lot of negativity that we obviously get frustrated about. I’d like to see what tests they’d like to do and I’d comply with those tests.

”There’s absolutely no reason why they should keep me from running. These prosthetics have been around for 14 years, the exact same design. There’s never been an amputee to run close to my time.”

Pistorius has been running in meets with able-bodied athletes in his native South Africa for the past three years. In March, he finished second in the 400m at the South African Championships.

His personal best in the 400 is 46,56 seconds and he hopes to race under 46 on Sunday. In five years from now, Pistorius wants to be running sub-45.

Wariner has the fastest 400 time this year of 44,02 seconds, and Steffenson’s best time in 2007 is 45,07. Michael Johnson holds the world record of 43,18.

To make next year’s Olympics in Beijing, Pistorius would have to run a 46,3 before the July 2008 qualifying deadline — and get IAAF approval.

”My goal is just to make the qualification standard for the Olympics,” said Pistorius, who also wants to continue his Paralympic career. ”Once I’m there, try and move it up. Hopefully, whether it’s 2012 or 2016, make a final.”

When not racing, Pistorius wears flesh-coloured prosthetics to fit his muscular frame, and normal shoes.

Each racing foot is made of about 50 to 80 layers of curved carbon fibre and weighs about 1,8kg. Pistorius has attached a strip of sole from a pair of Nike running spikes to the bottom of the blade, but it doesn’t have a heel, so he struggles to stand for long periods while wearing his racing legs, called Cheetahs.

”It’s a passive foot,” he said. ”The energy that you give to compress the prosthetic isn’t the same as what it gives out, so it definitely does not give me an unfair advantage.”

”If they ever could find evidence, then I would stop running. It’s not something I would want to compete at if I knew I had an unfair advantage.” — Sapa-AP

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