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'Blade runner' makes unprecedented Olympic debut

By Faith Karimi, CNN
updated 4:15 AM EDT, Sun August 5, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Oscar Pistorius is the first Paralympian runner to compete in the able-bodied Olympics
  • The 25-year-old runs the 400-meter race and the 4x400-meter relay
  • He qualified for Sunday's semifinals in the 400 meters, with a time of 45.44 seconds
  • Pistorius had both legs amputated when he was 11 months old

(CNN) -- Oscar Pistorius, a South African double-amputee nicknamed the "Blade Runner," made an unprecedented Olympic debut Saturday, finishing second in his 400-meter qualifying heat.

With a time of 45.44 seconds, Pistorius qualified for Sunday's semifinals.

The runner's legs were amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old because of a bone defect. He runs on special carbon fiber blades, hence the nickname.

His debut Saturday made him the first Paralympian runner to compete in the able-bodied Olympics and the third overall. Paralympian swimmer Natalie du Toit was in the 2008 Games and table tennis player Natalia Partyka competed in both 2008 and 2012.

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"To have been selected to represent Team South Africa at the London 2012 Olympic Games in the individual 400-meters and the 4x400-meter relay is a real honor, and I am so pleased that years of hard work, determination and sacrifice have all come together," he said last month.

The 25-year-old got to London after jumping through hurdles.

The four-time Paralympic Games gold medalist won a silver medal as part of South Africa's 4x400-meter relay at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea, last year.

But he looked set to be excluded from the individual event in London after failing to run the Olympic 'A' standard qualification mark twice in international competition.

But South African selectors relaxed their qualification rules last month and named him in both events.

"I have a phenomenal team behind me who have helped get me here and will now put everything we can into the final few weeks of preparations before the Olympic Games where I am aiming to race well, post good times and maybe even a personal best time on the biggest stage of them all."

The Johannesburg-born athlete is joined by Caster Semenya in the South African track and field team

Semenya, an 800-meter world champion, was the subject of a gender test by the International Association of Athletics Federations following her victory in Berlin at the world championships three years ago. She has since been cleared to compete.

Human to Hero: Blade Runner's 2012 Olympic ambition

CNN's Jonathan Stevenson contributed to this report.

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