- Associated Press - Saturday, August 4, 2012

LONDON — It began with a smile at the starting line.

Moments later, Oscar Pistorius took off and the click-click-clicking of carbon on the track was all but drowned out by the 80,000 fans on hand to watch him make history Saturday. The first amputee to compete in track at the Olympics, Pistorius cruised past an opponent or two in the backstretch of his 400-meter heat, and by the end, the “Blade Runner” was coasting in for a stress-free success.

Typical. Except this time, it was anything but that.

“I’ve worked for six years … to get my chance,” said the South African, who finished second and advanced to Sunday night’s semifinals. “I found myself smiling in the starting block. Which is very rare in the 400 meters.”

Yes, this sun-splashed day at Olympic Stadium was a good one for Pistorius, a double-amputee who runs on carbon-fiber blades and whose fight to get to this point has often felt more like a marathon than a sprint. He walked out of the tunnel, looked into the stands, saw his friends and family there — including his 89-year-old grandmother, who was carrying the South African flag.

“It’s very difficult to separate the occasion from the race,” Pistorius conceded.

But he figured it out. He finished in a season-best time of 45.44 seconds, crossing the line and looking up at the scoreboard, then covering his face with his hands when he saw the capital “Q” — for qualifier — go up by his name.

“Couldn’t have hoped for anything better,” he said.

The 25-year-old runner was born without fibulas and his legs were amputated below the knee before he was a year old. His is one of those stories that is every bit as much about the journey — one part dramatic, another part inspiring and yet another part controversial — as the final result.

“I know Oscar was the protagonist in the race,” said Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic, who actually won the heat by .4 but went virtually unnoticed. “But I love him. He’s a good racer.”

Erison Hurtault of Dominica, who trained with Pistorius in South Africa, agreed.

“One thing I can say about Oscar is he’s an incredibly hard worker,” Hurtault said. “I’m glad to see him out here. I’m glad he’s getting a chance to finally compete and hopefully something emerges out of everyone else’s mind.”

Pistorius‘ race, of course, resonated beyond sports and beyond London.

The runner’s father, Henk, and Gerry Versfeld, the surgeon who amputated Oscar’s legs, watched the heat at a restaurant in Johannesburg with some friends. The father and the doctor hugged after the race and there were tears in Henk Pistorius’ eyes.

“To now stand on the pinnacle of where you strived and you hoped and you dreamed to be must be an amazingly emotional feeling for him,” he said. “I feel compassion and pride.”

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