DAEGU, South Korea — With a strong finishing kick on his carbon-fiber blades, double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius swept past several able-bodied runners in the 400 meters Sunday to qualify for the semifinals at the world championships.
It also claimed another historic breakthrough for Paralympic athletes.
Pistorius recovered from his traditional slow start to pounce with power through the final bend and finishing straight to take third place in the final heat of the event and qualify for the next round. His time of 45.39 seconds was the 14th best of all competitors.
Despite his fame, the South African was never destined to win his heat – just getting through had been a cliffhanger in itself.
Running in the tough outside lane, he had to count on a big move in the second half of the race and with 50 meters to go, five runners were still in it for the four automatic semifinal places.
Pistorius, though, was not to be denied. He dipped at the tape for his third-place finish behind Bahamian winner Chris Brown. He immediately slapped hands with runner-up Martyn Rooney, embraced several others and then formally bowed to the South Korean crowd of about 10,000 for its cheers and support.
"He ran the time to get here," said Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt, who also advanced. "A great heart. I wish all the best to him."
The International Association of Athletics Federations had banned the multiple Paralympic gold medalist from able-bodied competition, saying the blades he wears gave him an unfair advantage.
But in 2008, Pistorius was cleared to compete by the Court of Arbitration for Sport – even though he failed to qualify for that year's Beijing Olympics and the 2009 worlds in Berlin. He did win three gold medals at the Beijing Paralympic Games.
This year, he qualified for the worlds on his last attempt and followed up with an inspiring race in Daegu.
Before Pistorius' thrilling run, Liu Xiang, Dayron Robles and David Oliver made sure the most compelling final was still on track when all three qualified for the semifinals of the 110 hurdles.
Liu proved he is finally getting back to the form which earned him the 2004 Olympic and 2007 world titles by having plenty of time to ease up at the line and still win his heat. Oliver kept his powerful shoulders in perfect balance over the hurdles as he dashed through a winner, too.
Robles, the easygoing Olympic champion from Cuba who flaunted his form with his graceful strides over the 10 hurdles, let American rival Aries Merritt nip him at the line.
"Everybody is looking good," Robles said. "It's very good for the final."
The final is set for Sunday and should bring the three fastest performers in history together for one of the highlights of the nine-day championships.
"It will take 13 seconds or better to win," Liu said through a translator.
Robles holds the world record at 12.87 seconds, with Liu's best time just 0.01 seconds behind. Oliver trails by another .01, highlighting how tight the race could be.
Defending champion Ryan Brathwaite failed to make the semifinals.
In the first of six finals of the day, Olympic and defending world champion Valeriy Borchin led a 1-2 Russian finish in the 20-kilometer walk at 1:19.56. Vladimir Kanaykin took silver, 31 seconds behind, and Luis Fernando Lopez of Colombia was third.
"After 15 kilometers, I was just going into my finish speed and not thinking about anything," Borchin said. "I was not looking at anyone, just running my race. It ended well."
Later Sunday, Usain Bolt will highlight the 100 semifinals and likely the final, too, considering how dominating the Jamaican was in Saturday's heats.
Kenenisa Bekele will be looking for his fifth straight 10,000 title, which would push him past the mark he now shares with Ethiopian great Haile Gebrselassie. Since he has not run for the better part of two seasons because of injury, victory is anything but assured.
The men's decathlon also reaches its climax, with American teammates Trey Hardee and Ashton Eaton at the top of the standings after seven of 10 events.
The women's long jump and discus throw are the other finals on Sunday.