Pistorius' prayers pay off with semi-final place

It was not quite a winning performance from Oscar but it was a momentous one. Entering the home straight in the Deagu Stadium in the outside lane yesterday, Oscar Pistorius held the lead in heat five of the 400m. He was overtaken by Chris Brown, the world indoor champion from the Bahamas, and by Martyn Rooney, the UK champion from Croydon, but crossed the line third in 45.39 seconds, qualifying for today's semi-finals.

"I'm just so happy to have the opportunity to be here," Pistorius reflected. Had the Court of Arbitration for Sport not overturned the International Association of Athletics Federations rule banning the prosthetic "blades" he uses, the 24-year-old South African would not have become the first amputee to compete in the IAAF's World Championships.

"I have worked extremely hard to be here," Pistorius added. "It has been phenomenal to run. I don't really feel like a trailblazer or anything like that. I feel like any other athlete here. I feel honoured to be in this position. Big respect to the guys who ran against me."

The respect was mutual from Rooney, a long-time admirer and supporter of the pioneering Pistorius. "Oscar was making history today," the Croydon Harrier said, "and he made it through to the semi-finals... amazing! He's quite a religious guy and he said a prayer for me before the race. He's a great person. It's great to have him in the sport."

Rooney is not so keen on LaShawn Merritt, the American who served a 21-month ban after testing positive for anabolic steroids he ingested via an enhancement called EtenZe. Merritt, the defending champion, won his heat yesterday in 44.36sec – the fastest time in the world this year and fastest recorded in a 400m heat at the World championships or Olympic Games.

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