Abdou Razack Rabo Samma

Oscar Pistorius and the power of will

DAEGU, South Korea -- It took 45 seconds, more or less, for Oscar Pistorius to show the world, again and emphatically, that sport holds no barriers to the power of will. Running on prosthetic devices that he puts on the way able-bodied athletes slip on shoes, Pistorius, the South African whose lower legs were amputated when he was a baby, turned 400 meters at the track and field world championships in 45.39 seconds, third-fastest in his heat, plenty fast to move him into Monday's semifinal.

It's not the case that walls of every sort came hurtling down because Pistorius raced here Sunday.

But it may well be that sport was forever changed.

Swimmer Natalie du Toit, who is also from South Africa, competed in the  2008 Beijing Olympics in the open-water swim; her left leg had been amputated at the knee as a teen-ager after she had been in an accident. Natalia Partyka, a Polish table tennis player, also took part in the Beijing Olympics; she was born without a right hand and forearm.

Even so, track and field remains the most important of the Olympic sports and Pistorius' case has generated publicity and controversy of a far different magnitude than either du Toit's or Partyka's.

Watching him run on his blades is a very different thing than watching du Toit swim or Partyka bat a little plastic ball. Running is, after all, elemental.

To get the okay to run on the blades against able-bodied athletes in the first instance took the okay of sport's top tribunal, the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.  Along the way, Pistorius became widely known in the press as the "Blade Runner."

Then, well after the legal case had been decided, some sport scientists started arguing that the blades gave Pistorius an unfair advantage against "ordinary" runners. Others said that was nonsense.

Big picture-wise, the matter launched an extensive debate world-wide about the technological boundaries of what's fair and what's not in sport.

Here, all of that was just noise.

Here, Pistorius got the ultimate respect.

To the others in the field -- he was just another guy in the race. He was somebody who might on a good day be a threat, and threats have to be dealt with.

"I know it's not easy, going through all this, and then coming to compete at a major championship," Chris Brown of the Bahamas, who won Pistorius' heat, in 45.29, said. "I wish him all the best, you know. But I came here to prevail."

American LaShawn Merritt, who raced two heats earlier, running a world-leading 44.35, said of Pistorius, "He ran the time to get here. I've had a little time to talk to him. He's a great person. He's dedicated and motivated. A great heart. I wish all the best to him."

Pistorius ran Sunday in Lane 8, all the way on the outside of the track. Like everyone else, he took off at the sound of the gun when, bang, the gun went off again. A false start.

A sense of dread settled over the stadium. But not over Pistorius. "I knew it was somebody else," he said, and it was -- Abdou Razack Rabo Samma of Nigeria, in Lane 5, who was promptly escorted out.

The gun went off again, and in Lane 7 Femi Ogunode of Qatar went out hard. Within 20 meters he was already ahead of Pistorius. But Pistorius did not press.

On Saturday night, Pistorius said, he had looked up Ogunode's best 400 times; Ogunode's best-ever was 45.12 last November and his 2011 best was 47.79 in April.

"Before my races, I research every single guy in the race, to know if he's playing a game or if he thinks he's got false hope," Pistorius said. So if Ogunode wanted to go out early now -- not to worry.

Over in Lane 6 -- there was Tony McQuay, the American, who had run a 44.68 in Eugene in June. Now there was someone to keep up with, Pistorius said, and that was the plan.

Indeed, for a brief moment at the top of the homestretch, Pistorius even held the lead.

Then McQuay started laboring. The thing about racing is you always have to adjust. Just go hard, Pistorius told himself, and you'll be in the semifinal.

It turned out that McQuay had a bad hamstring. He finished sixth.

Pistorius finished behind only Brown and Martyn Rooney of Great Britain, who crossed in a season-best 45.30.

"It's one thing getting here," Pistorius said after the race. "It's another thing being consistent here. I ran my second-fastest time," 32-hundredths off the 45.07 last month in Italy that got him here in the first instance, "and I'm happy with that."

That 45.07 was a nearly perfect effort, and at the world championships, you pretty much have to run in the 44s to be in the final eight. So it's hugely unlikely Pistorius makes the final.

No matter. Pistorius' first-round run in the 2011 track and field world championships was, by any measure, an extraordinary success. He was asked if he feels like a trailblazer and modestly said, no. "I don't really feel like a pioneer," he said.

That's not so. Here Sunday, Oscar Pistorius made history. He ran with the guys, and he was just one of them.