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Double-amputee Pistorius qualifies in 400

By finishing second in Round 1 of the men's 400 meters, Oscar Pistorius of South Africa became the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympics. (Paul Gilham/Getty Images) By finishing second in Round 1 of the men's 400 meters, Oscar Pistorius of South Africa became the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympics.
By Shira Springer
Globe Staff / August 5, 2012
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LONDON — Oscar Pistorius ran into history Saturday morning, then kept going.

By taking the track for Heat 1 in Round 1 of the men’s 400 meters, Pistorius became the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympics. By finishing second in a season-best 45.44 seconds, the South African qualified for the semifinals Sunday. Pistorius conveyed his satisfaction with a broad smile.

He did not want to merely show he could run with able-bodied competition, he wanted to prove he could compete against them.

“I was so nervous this morning,” said Pistorius. “Thanks to everyone for showing their support. I didn’t know whether to cry. I had a mixture of emotions. It was the most amazing experience, the crowd was amazing. I saw the South African flag.”

Of the 23 runners who qualified for the next round, Pistorius had the 16th-fastest time, though a time in a heat is not a true indicator of where a sprinter ranks in his event.

The top three in each heat and the next three fastest advance to the next round.

Without achieving the “A” qualifying standard a second time for automatic selection, Pistorius’s participation in the 400 was not certain until July. But since South Africa selected him as a member of the 4 x 400-meter relay team, he was eligible for the individual event.

“I’ve got to thank my team,” said Pistorius. “They trust me. I trust them. We’ve been together for nine years.”

Merritt pulls up

When he’s eligible — and healthy enough — to run, it’s very hard to catch LaShawn Merritt.

Those moments, however, have come sporadically since the American won the 400-meter gold medal in Beijing. Merritt’s latest problem, a tender left hamstring, caught up to him Saturday.

Looking to flip the script on a disheartening four-year period that included an embarrassing 21-month drug suspension, Merritt pulled up halfway through his 400-meter heat and will not be around to defend his title.

‘‘It’s very disappointing to . . . be dealing with an issue and not be able to finish the race,’’ Merritt said. ‘‘I'll regroup.’’

With Merritt’s exit, the 400 meters turns into a free-for-all, with Kirani James of Grenada now the favorite. Jonathan Borlee of Belgium set a national record in qualifying at 44.43 seconds. His brother Kevin (45.14) also had a top-six time.

Bolt just OK

After overcoming a sloppy start, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt looked into a TV camera, held up his right index finger, and declared: ‘‘No. 1, baby. All day, every day.’’

Well, on this day, he was merely OK.

Hardly dazzling after so much anticipation for the 100 meters, Bolt was pedestrian out of the blocks — his reaction time ranked sixth of the eight runners in his heat — then insisted all that mattered was that he made it to the semifinals. He won his heat in 10.09 seconds.

Countryman Yohan Blake coasted while winning his heat in 10 seconds flat.

As expected, all five top contenders won their opening 100 heats, including Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell, and 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin.

The semifinals and finals are Sunday.

Britain turns golden

Greg Rutherford rode the atmosphere of a vocal, capacity crowd to win the long jump and deliver Britain its second Olympic track and field gold medal in a matter of minutes. Rutherford collected his first medal in a major international meet with a best leap of 27 feet 3¼ inches.

Mitchell Watt of Australia took silver in 26-9¼ and Will Claye of the US secured bronze with a mark of 26-7¾.

Jessica Ennis won the heptathlon for Britain about 20 minutes before the men’s long jump finished.

Cruise control

American Sanya Richards-Ross won her semifinal heat in the women’s 400 meters, setting a blistering pace before coasting into the final . . . Sandra Perkovic of Croatia won the women’s discus with a national-record throw of 226-9 . . . Chen Ding of China won the men’s 20-kilometer walk, finishing 11 seconds ahead of Erick Barrondo of Guatemala. Wang Zhen of China claimed bronze.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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