Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, left, crosses the finish line .03 seconds ahead of American Carmelita Jeter during the women’s 100-meter final Saturday in London.
Pistorius becomes first amputee to compete in track, finishes 2nd in 400 heat
LONDON — Oscar Pistorius took off and the click-click-clicking of carbon on the track was all but drowned out by the 80,000 fans who were on hand to watch him make Olympic history.
He picked up speed in the back straightaway, cruised past an opponent or two, and by the end, the “Blade Runner” was coasting in for a stress-free success.
Typical. Except this time, it was anything but that.
Finally racing where he always felt he belonged, the South African became the first amputee to compete on the track at an Olympics, finishing second in his 400-meter heat Saturday to easily advance to the next round.
Pistorius, a double-amputee who runs on carbon-fiber blades, circled the oval in 45.44 seconds — good enough for second place in his heat and a berth in the semifinals tonight.
The 25-year-old runner was born without fibulas and his legs were amputated below the knee before he was a year old. His is one of those stories that is every bit as much about the journey — dramatic, inspiring and controversial — as the final result.
“I know Oscar was the protagonist in the race,” said Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic, who actually won the heat by .4 but went virtually unnoticed. “But I love him. He’s a good racer.”
Pistorius has four Paralympic gold medals to prove that, but this latest trip around the track is about something bigger than that.
He waged a long fight to run in the Olympics against able-bodied opponents.
After dozens of hearings in front of hundreds of men and women in suits charged with the task of deciding whether the blades gave Pistorius an unfair advantage — then getting his country’s Olympic committee to enter him into the games — Pistorius finally got his chance.
He shook hands with his opponents, crouched into the blocks and then — in so many ways, it was just another race, with Pistorius among the fastest in it.
“I just see him as another athlete, another competitor,” world champion Kirani James said.
LONDON — Of course, the gold medal stays in Jamaica. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce wouldn’t have it any other way.
A golden ribbon in her hair, the bubbly Jamaican made it back-to-back Olympic titles in the women’s 100 meters Saturday night, closing ground over the last 20 meters and leaning at the line to win in 10.75 seconds and edge American Carmelita Jeter by .03 seconds.
Fraser-Pryce became the first woman to repeat in the 100 since Gail Devers of the U.S. in 1992 and 1996.
In Jamaica, though, they’ve been thinking about 1962 a lot of late. This weekend marks 50 years since the country became independent from Britain. Nice way to start the celebration.
“I want to tell Jamaica: Happy 50th anniversary,” Fraser-Pryce said.
Another Jamaican, Veronica Campbell-Brown, finished third for her second career 100-meter bronze. The country fell out of the running for a repeat of its sweep in Beijing after 2008 silver medalist Kerron Stewart failed to make it through the semifinals.
But don’t expect much complaining on the island, population 3 million, where the top industries are tourism and mining precious medals of the Olympic variety.
Today, Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake will try to keep the gold coming for Jamaica, which has now won six of the last seven gold medals awarded in the men’s and women’s Olympic sprinting events, including relays.
Given Bolt’s massive worldwide popularity, Fraser-Pryce sometimes takes second-billing in her home country. But those with a sense of the history there know what a big role women — Merlene Ottey and Campbell-Brown, who own a combined 15 Olympic medals — have played in turning sprinting into the national pastime. Fraser-Pryce will now vault to the top of that list.
Four years ago, she was relatively unknown, a 21-year-old who first stunned her country, then the world, on her way to Olympic gold. There was a setback in 2010, a six-month ban for using a painkiller to treat a toothache.
“I felt like, ‘What am I going to do? Everyone is going to think I’m a cheat,’” she said back then.
But she cleared her head, got back to work and showed, once again, a knack for peaking at exactly the right time.
What’s more, she won the 200 at the Jamaican Olympic trials, as well. Preliminaries for that race start Monday night.
When the scoreboard finally flashed her in the No. 1 position, Fraser-Pryce dropped to the ground and cried. She ran to the stands, grabbed a Jamaican flag and paraded around with her teammate, Campbell-Brown, known as “VCB” on the island. She’s not finished in London yet, either. VCB is the two-time defending champion in the 200, where she’ll have Fraser-Pryce to contend with again, along with American Allyson Felix.
Felix, who considers the 100 her tuneup for the 200, finished fifth in 10.89 on Saturday.
She made the 100 meters after a week of tumult at U.S. trials, finishing in a dead heat for the third and final spot. She faced a run-off against the teammate she tied, but got the spot when that teammate withdrew at the last second.
“I’m happy. I got a personal best,” Felix said. “I’m looking forward to the 200.”
Jeter offered a great big smile after watching her visions of gold vanish by a sliver.
“Everyone wants to win, but I’m on the podium,” Jeter said. “I’m the only American on the podium.”
She’s also one of the biggest enigmas in American track — a late bloomer at age 32 and not much of a talker. She had been the favorite for this event until Fraser-Pryce, not on form through much of the early season, announced she was back with a 10.70 in Kingston last month.
Now, one of those questions any Olympian would love to be asked: Which gold means more?
“I’d have to say Beijing because I was inexperienced, I was young and I never believed I could. But I did,” she said. “This year I came into the championship as a favorite, which was a first for me, so I was a bit nervous. But I believed in myself.”
Bolt advances to 100-meter semis
LONDON — In his first appearance at the London Olympics, Usain Bolt did what he had to do to advance to the 100-meter semifinals, overcoming a slow start to win his heat in 10.09 seconds Saturday.
Bolt dominated the Beijing Games four years ago, winning golds in world-record times in the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay — something no man had ever done at an Olympics. At the 2009 world championships, he lowered his 100 mark to 9.58, which still stands.
But he’s been less than outstanding more recently. A false start knocked him out of the dash at last year’s world championships, and he lost to training partner Yohan Blake in the 100 and 200 at the Jamaican Olympic trials. Bolt blamed his poor showings at home on back and hamstring issues.
“My legs are great. My training has been great,” Bolt said Saturday. “I’m feeling better.”
Might very well be true. Still, his reaction time was only sixth-best in his eight-man heat — the sort of slow start that could make things tough tonight, when the 100 semifinals and final are scheduled.
“I stumbled on the start,” Bolt said. “I really didn’t do a lot of executing.”
Blake, whose intensity in practice led Bolt to nickname him “The Beast,” looked quite good in his Olympic debut, really coasting at the end while winning his heat in 10 seconds flat.
If Saturday is any indication of what’s to come with medals at stake, fans could be in for a treat.
All five top contenders won their opening heats, as expected: Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell and 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin, in addition to Bolt and Blake.