As track and field’s Diamond League crosses into the United States, the focus shifts from Usain Bolt to a pair of intriguing South African runners.
Oscar Pistorius, a double-amputee Paralympic champion, and Caster Semenya, scrutinized in a gender-testing controversy in 2009 and 2010, headline the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., on Saturday (2:30-4 p.m., NBC).
Pistorius, born without fibulas, made news by overcoming an IAAF ban to compete in able-bodied races and then failing in a bid to become the first amputee to run in the Olympic Games in 2008. He went on to win the 100, 200 and 400 meters at the 2008 Paralympics.
Now, Pistorius is trying to qualify for this summer’s world championships in Daegu, South Korea, and he can secure a spot with a personal-best run in the U.S.
Pistorius will enter his best event, the 400, at the Prefontaine Classic and at the adidas Grand Prix in New York on June 11. Both are able-bodied races.
“In 2004, I ran in very small meets [in the U.S.], nothing the scale that we’re running in June,” Pistorius said by phone from the Ostrava Golden Spike meet in the Czech Republic. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to come out here.”
Pistorius placed sixth in a field of eight in Ostrava on Tuesday, running the 400 against an able-boded field in 46.19 seconds.
The competition gets tougher in Eugene on Saturday. U.S. Olympic medalists Jeremy Wariner, David Neville, Angelo Taylor and Bershawn Jackson headline perhaps the most loaded field Pistorius has ever faced. The South African’s chances of winning are microscopic, but his primary goal is to beat the clock.
His aim is the “A” standard automatic qualifying time for the world championships — 45.25 seconds. His best so far is 45.61, which is inside the “B” standard time that can get some, but not all, athletes into worlds. South Africa will name its roster in early August.
“If you asked me at the beginning of the year if I would have been happy with that time [45.61], I would have said yes,” Pistorius said. “My goal is to run consistently 45 [seconds]. I’m going to work extremely hard toward [45.25]. It’s quite a bit to improve by.”
Pistorius is the No. 3 ranked 400 runner in South Africa, which would put him on a potential 4×400-meter relay team at worlds. But, like Pistorius himself, the South African relay has yet to post an automatic qualifying time.
While there are multiple ways Pistorius could make the world championship or Olympic team, he has always held the same view. He wants to make it solely on his own merit, and the only way to do that definitively is to lower his personal best by .36 seconds to 45.25.
“I’ve got a bit of work ahead of me, which I’m looking forward to, but it’s going to be a bit of a challenge,” he said.
Wariner, the world’s best 400 runner last year, has supported Pistorius running in able-bodied races. Taylor, primarily a 400 hurdler, said it was good for the sport that Pistorius steps up to face the world’s best on the pro circuit. But he wasn’t sure how his peers would take to it on the grandest stage — worlds or the Olympics — if an athlete with prosthetic legs ran well enough to medal.
“I don’t really know if it’s fair or unfair,” Taylor said. “He’s not running a time that would challenge us. Some people would have a problem with it if he was running 43 seconds.”
The Pistorius debate pales in comparison to the recent plight of Semenya, who could not compete for almost all of 2010 due to her gender-testing controversy.
Semenya, 20, is coming off an 800 win in Senegal on Saturday — her first race outside her home country this year — in a season’s best two minutes, 0.61 seconds. That’s five seconds slower than her 2009 world championship-winning time.
Pistorius trains at the same Pretoria, South Africa, facility as Semenya, who is building up to defend her 800 title and possibly add the 1,500 at the world championships. She has never run in the U.S. before.
“I think she’s doing quite well and is excited to get back on the track,” Pistorius said.
Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/more/05/31/olympic.notebook.pistorius.semenya/index.html#ixzz1O3egICXRTags: amputee, Angelo Taylor, Bershawn Jackson, Caster Semenya, David Neville, double amputee, Jeremy Wariner, Olympic Games, Oscar Pistorius, paralympic, Paralympics, Usain Bolt