JOHANNESBURG – Never count out Oscar Pistorius.
The Blade Runner will be competing this summer in the London Olympics after all, in his favorite event, the 400 meters.
While his selection for the 1,600 relay team was expected, it was a surprise last-minute turnaround by South African sports officials Wednesday that gave Pistorius the chance to run in the 400.
With the decision, the 25-year-old will become the first amputee track athlete to compete at any Games.
Today is truly one of the proudest days of my life, said Pistorius, a double amputee who spent his entire track career trying to prove he’s good enough to compete with the best.
He now has the chance to do just that.
South Africa’s Olympic committee and national track federation suddenly decided to clear Pistorius for the 400 at the London Games on his carbon fiber blades despite him just missing out on the country’s strict qualifying criteria.
They added his name as the last on their team of 125 track and field athletes.
And now, the big Olympic stage being readied for Jamaican sprint sensation Usain Bolt and American swimmer Michael Phelps just got a little more crowded.
Not bad for a kid who had both his legs amputated below the knee at 11 months old and originally didn’t like track and field when he took it up as a teenager to rehabilitate from a rugby injury.
To have been selected to represent Team South Africa at the London 2012 Olympic Games in the individual 400m and the 4 x 400m relay is a real honor and I am so pleased that years of hard work, determination and sacrifice have all come together, Pistorius said.
Set to realize his dream of competing at an Olympics and Paralympics in the same year, his joy also was obvious in a post on Twitter.
Will be in (at)London2012 for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games! the multiple Paralympic champion tweeted. Thank you to everyone that has made me the athlete I am! God, family and friends, my competitors and supporters! You have all had a hand!
Pistorius’ Olympic selection wasn’t clear cut. He forced his way in against all the odds as he’s done time and time again.
Just like his last-gasp qualifying time to make history at the world championships last year, Pistorius claimed his place at the Olympics late. He also needed help.
Pistorius ran a personal-best 45.07 seconds last year and opened this season with a 45.20 – both Olympic-qualifying times.
But he needed another 45.30 or better at an international meet before last Saturday to seal a spot in the 400, according to his national Olympic committee’s regulations.
He missed it by less than a quarter of a second in his final qualifying race at the African Championships.
I have run two Olympic A’ standard times over the past 12 months and with the time I ran at the African Championships last week I know my speed and fitness are constantly improving so that I will peak in time for the Olympics, he said.
Pistorius’ late-season burst at the Africans, which also won him a silver and his first major individual medal in an able-bodied race, may have pushed officials to include him.
Since he’s going to be there (in London), our decision is he can run both, Olympic committee chief executive Tubby Reddy told The Associated Press. There’s no reason why he can’t. Our decision is he can.
Controversy could still follow Pistorius at the Olympics if there’s opposition to him running on his blades in any leg of the relay other than the first. Fears over the safety of other athletes, when runners bunch in the inside lane for the later legs, have been raised.