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Double-amputee sprinter Pistorius to make major impact at worlds just by lining up in the 400
DAEGU, South Korea (AP) ' He is a poster boy in Britain and one of the few athletes that locals in Daegu can name ahead of Saturday's opening day at the world championships.
And he has the catchiest of nicknames.
Like Usain "Lightning" Bolt, Oscar "Blade Runner" Pistorius is a star in athletics, but not because of his outstanding performances while sweeping the sprints at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing.
When the double-amputee runner from South Africa walks out onto the track on his Cheetah carbon-fiber blades alongside the sleek-legged 400-meter runners on Sunday, he will thrill the 53,000-capacity Daegu Stadium crowd ' and people with disabilities around the world.
"It is a big moment," Sebastian Coe, organizer of the 2012 London Olympics, told The Associated Press on Friday. "Having Oscar Pistorius excelling is a very good thing for kids to be watching."
Not only the kids.
On Sunday, the thoughts of Philip Craven, a wheelchair basketball player who became the head of the International Paralympic Committee, will go to parents around the world with a disabled child.
"In the beginning, quite right, people think: This child is setting off in life with a disadvantage. Oscar will be showing that life is fantastic," Craven told the AP in a telephone interview. "The fact that you lost something, it makes you use what you got still far more."
This time, coronation will not necessarily come with gold. Getting through the first round will suffice.
"If I make it to the quarterfinal or the semifinal, I will be over the moon," Pistorius said.
Just getting to Daegu was a victory in itself.
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.
This time, needing to run 45.25 seconds to make the world championships in Daegu, Pistorius clocked 45.07 last month in Lignano, Italy, in his final race before the qualifying cutoff. He had never run faster than 45.61.
"When I looked at the time, I even surprised myself," Pistorius said.
Even now, the embrace of the IAAF community is not all that warm and fuzzy. The symbolism of Pistorius's day was lost on IAAF President Lamine Diack.
"What kind of significance would you like to attach?" Diack asked. "We will see what the result will be."
Despite allowing him to compete, the IAAF said it has made an agreement with Athletics South Africa that Pistorius would only be allowed to run the leadoff leg of the 4x400 relay, which is still in lanes before the event turns into a pack race.
Coe, however, said he would have no trouble welcoming Pistorius in London, and insisted it would even underscore one of the guiding principles of the games.
"One of the legacy ambitions we set ourselves in London was to challenge public conception about disability," Coe said.
And there's no one better to do it than Pistorius, an easygoing South African who has honed his skills year after year to force himself among the best in the world.
"He is the highest level of inspiration to be able to go out and do what he does in an event that is so gruesome," said Sanya Richards-Ross, the defending champion in the women's 400.
"The thing that people don't know about Oscar is that ' because they only see him run, the people who only see him run ' is that he's such a great guy," Richards-Ross added.
His popularity has caught on far beyond his native South Africa.
"Pistorius is used in posters all over the UK," said Ed Warner, the chairman of UK athletics and head of the Paralympic Committee's technical committee. "That starts to tell you something, transcending nationality.
"He is 'bankable,' to use the marketing jargon," Warner added. "I'd like to see more Paralympic athletes bankable."Still, after Pistorius ran his 45.07 to become the 18th-best performer of the season, criticism that his blades were unfair for other athletes resurfaced again.
Pistorius has heard it before, and he's still trusting that it's not true.
"As much as I would not want it to be, it will be something that will be controversial," Pistorius said. "For me, it was an important thing, too, that I don't have an advantage."