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01 Jun 2008 09:12
After he dipped across the line on Saturday and his Cheetah runner blades finally came to a standstill, Oscar Pistorius realised it was almost too good to be true.
He was running competitively again. And despite being a double amputee, he was embarking on his bid to qualify for the Beijing Olympics.
“It was kind of surreal,” Pistorius said after winning the 200m at the Dutch Open for Paralympic athletes on Saturday.
The time of 22,04 seconds may have been well off his world record best of 21,58, but the South African was still smiling.
“Red track, green grass and blue skies,” Pistorius marvelled.
“Compared to the white walls of the [testing] institute or the dark woods of a courtroom, it is not the same.”
The race opened a new chapter after months of uncertainty, scientific testing and legal challenges that culminated in the May 16 ruling that overturned a ban on Pistorius running alongside able-bodied competitors.
Pistorius has had to beat the odds so often that he has taken to the name “Seabiscuit”, and it brings out the broadest of smiles.
He rejects such nicknames as “Blade Runner” and “the fastest man on no legs” as “all boring stuff”.
“It starts slow, but ends fast,” he said of Seabiscuit, the scrawny and stubborn horse that became a thoroughbred champion and captured the imagination of the United States during the Depression. Seabiscuit film received seven Oscar nominations.
Overcoming adversity has been a big theme in Pistorius’s life, ever since his legs were amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old because he had no fibulas.
On Saturday, though, there was only the event to worry about. It had the banter and shouting of fellow disabled athletes and the pristine beauty of a simple running oval amid the tall trees, surrounded by Dutch flat fields.
“I must be grateful to be back on the track,” he said. “I had a good time just running again.”
Pistorius is trying to qualify in the 400m for Beijing, but he holds the paralympic world records in the 100m, 200m and 400m. On Sunday, he will run the two other distances.
And hopefully shake some of the rustiness.
“It wasn’t what we were hoping for. We were hoping a sub-22,” he said.
Because the legal uncertainty over his status took so long, Pistorius now has a lot of catching up to do, even though no one got close to him in the race.
Catching up is Pistorius’s specialty, but he’s left it late.
“Now we have a six-week cycle to see what we can achieve,” said his coach, Ampie Louw. Pistorius is in the midst of a rigorous physical programme that may tire and slow him over the next few weeks, but which could pay dividends when he starts racing in able-bodied events in July.
“It is part of the bigger picture for Beijing,” said Pistorius, “be it the Olympics or the Paralympics.”
On Sunday, he hopes to beat the 50-second mark in the 400, likely a cinch since his best in able-bodied competition is 46,34.
Pistorius plans to run in an able-bodied race on July 2 in Milan, Italy, with possibly two more thrown in before that. After Milan, he will compete in Rome on July 11 and Lucerne, Switzerland, on July 16.
He knows it is a tall order to face and already declined an invitation to run at the Berlin Golden League meet on Sunday because he is not ready yet.
And the Beijing Games might come too soon also.
“It is going to be very difficult, to be honest,” Pistorius said. “I am not confident I am going to make it.”
The Olympic qualifying standard is 45,55, which would take a major personal best for Pistorius. If no South African runner reaches that time, he could qualify with a “B” standard time of 45,83.
Getting on the South African relay team also offers him an opportunity. Pistorius could be taken to Beijing as an alternate. Six runners can be picked for the relay squad, which would need to be one of the world’s top 16 teams to participate in the Olympics.—Sapa-AP
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