Pistorius Set for First Olympic Qualifying Race

July 1, 2008 7:25:49 AM PDT
Double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius knows he's a long shot for the Beijing Olympic Games - but that won't stop him from giving his all when he competes in Milan on Wednesday in a bid to qualify. "Training has gone very well, but whether it is enough to qualify, we'll find out tomorrow and in the next 2½ weeks," Pistorius said Tuesday.

Pistorius resumed training six weeks ago after a sports arbitration court overturned a lifetime ban from the Olympics and any other able bodied race because the IAAF said the carbon fiber prosthetic racing blades gave him an unfair advantage.

He will compete in three races - Milan on Wednesday, Rome on July 11 and Lucerne, Switzerland, on July 16 - in an attempt to qualify. He'll also run a 200-meter race in Lignano, Italy, on July 13 "for fun," to work on his sprinting.

The 21-year-old must bring his 400-meter time under 45.55 seconds. His lifetime best is 46.36.

The challenge is made more difficult since he spent the first 5½ months away from training to concentrate on fighting the ban, which was lifted May 16.

"I'm confident, I have to stay confident. But at the same time, you have to be realistic. As an athlete, it is very difficult to run those times. I've never run those times before," Pistorius said. "I feel strong, but you can't stay off the track for most of the year and expect times to be fabulous."

His most realistic shot to compete in the Aug. 8-24 Beijing Olympic games would be as part of South Africa's four-man relay, for which six team members are chosen. Pistorius' manager Peet van Zyl said he might be able to qualify for that with a time of 46.1 or 46.2, depending on how the other runners fare.

"What I would like is to be in the top four. I want to bring something to the team,"' Pistorius said.

Pistorius wore a T-shirt with "Olympic Dream" emblazoned on the front, and a quote from Nelson Mandela on the back: "A winner is only a dreamer who hasn't given up."

"The Olympic dream is a dream and the dream is a never-ending thing," Pistorius said. "Whether I make it this time or in 2012, it's just a matter of time until I qualify. If I have to be more realistic, then 2012, but I am here to try to qualify for Beijing.

"London is a far more realistic target. Sprinters peak at 27 to 29. I'll be 25 in London and that will be the beginning of the peak," he said.

The South African athletics federation has moved its deadline for choosing its Olympic team to July 17 to give the runner more time to try to qualify. Whatever happens, Pistorius said he will compete in the Sept. 6-17 Paralympics in Beijing.

Pistorius said it was only fitting that he will have his first opportunity to qualify for the Beijing Games in Italy - a country that has taken up his cause with enthusiasm.

He made his first trip to Italy a year ago, competing in his first able-bodied competition at the Golden Gala in Rome. Calling his affair with Italy "a quick love," he's been back seven or eight times since, and was in Milan six weeks ago when a sports court overturned his lifetime ban.

A book about his life is first coming out in Italian. "DreamRunner," goes on sale in Italy on Wednesday and the publisher Rizzoli said it is negotiating the rights for translations.

"There's no better place for me to try to qualify," Pistorius said.