South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius became the first amputee runner to compete at an Olympics, reaching the semifinals of the 400 meters.
Backed by the crowd at London’s sold-out Olympic stadium, the 25-year-old, who uses J-shaped carbon-fiber blades, ran 45.44 seconds in the first heat of the day. He finished second behind Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic.
“I was so nervous this morning,” Pistorius told reporters. “Thanks to everyone for showing their support. I didn’t know whether to cry, I had a mixture of emotions. It was the most amazing experience.”
In a later heat defending Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt, 26, pulled up and didn’t complete his race. Merritt, who returned to track last season after serving a 21-month drug suspension, had been suffering after hurting his hamstring in a tune up event two weeks ago.
Known as the “Blade Runner,” Pistorius was born without fibulas and had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old. In 2008 the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2008 overturned a ban on him by the International Association of Athletics Federations, track and field’s ruling body, which said the blades gave him an advantage.
Pistorius runs tomorrow in the semifinal, and the final is a day after. The South African has also qualified to defend his Paralympics titles in the 100, 200 and 400 meters.