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September 22, 2014

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Blade runner’ Pistorius leaves London Games with many firsts

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius takes the baton from teammate L.J. van Zyl during the men’s 4x400-meter in Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Aug. 10, 2012.

Oscar Pistorius set precedent with his journey to and through the London Games. When he leaves, he can add one more accomplishment: He was a finalist.

A double-amputee now known globally as the "Blade Runner" because he runs on carbon-fiber blades, Pistorius anchored the South Africa team in the 4x400-meter relay final at the London Olympics on Friday night, bringing the 80,000-strong crowd to its full voice.

It didn't matter that he finished eighth. He can proudly add "Olympic finalist" to his long list of unprecedented achievements.

"This whole experience was amazing ... to step out here in an Olympic final is more than I could have ever hoped for," Pistorius said. "That opportunity to come here once again and finish today and not yesterday is a dream come true."

Pistorius said the atmosphere, the crowd, the competition, the experience were all "far beyond my expectations."

"If I took all the positive things I thought might come out of this and multiply it by 10, it still couldn't come close."

He almost didn't make it, for so many reasons.

Born without fibulas, he had his legs amputated below the knee before he was a year old. He learned how to walk on prosthetics and grew up like any of peers in South Africa. He dabbled with playing rugby until he injured his leg, then turned to running.

After winning his long struggle with track and field authorities for the right to compete — he had to prove the blades didn't give him an advantage — Pistorius qualified for the 400-meter semifinals in his debut run at the Olympics last weekend. He finished last in his semifinal but that didn't deter the first amputee runner to ever compete in track and field at the Olympics.

He had ambitions of winning an Olympic medal — and it wasn't far-fetched, considering he helped South Africa win a world championship silver medal last year at Daegu, where he ran in the heats but missed the final.

In the relay heats on Thursday, his teammate Ofentse Mogawane tangled with a Kenyan runner and dropped the baton as he crashed to the track — a full length of the straight away from where he was supposed to hand it to Pistorius.

The 25-year-old Pistorius then walked away from the changeover zone, believing his Olympics were over because South Africa did not finish the heat. But after a series of protests and appeals, the Kenyan team was disqualified from the heat and, in a very rare move, South Africa was added as the ninth team to the final — in the usually vacant inside lane.

South Africa was already trailing Friday when Pistorius took the baton to run the final lap, and he finished almost seven seconds behind the winning team from Bahamas. At least he wasn't last — a Cuban runner was injured and didn't finish the race.

Besides, with the thunderous applause and cheering following him around the track, it was like a victory lap for Pistorius.

"I think after yesterday, today can only be good," he said, reflecting momentarily on the relay heats. "This week has just been one of the biggest blessings for me. It's taught me a lot.

LJ van Zyl ran the third section of the relay for South Africa, and handed the baton over to Pistorius.

"It was a privilege to run the final and also it was a bigger privilege to run the relay with Oscar," he said. "I think 10 or 20 years from now we will still remember the day when we ran with Oscar at the Olympics."

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