Pistorius not picked for South African track team

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- In the end, it was a split second and not a court's decision that kept double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius from competing in the Beijing Olympics.

Pistorius was left off South Africa's 1,600-meter relay team Friday, ending his hopes of participating in the Summer Games. He couldn't hit the 400-meter qualifying time of 45.55 seconds, despite running a personal best 46.25 on Wednesday on his prosthetic blades at a meet in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Other disabled athletes have occasionally participated in the Olympics -- legally blind runner Marla Runyan competed for the U.S. in Sydney eight years ago, for instance. Yet Pistorius' tenacity and a bitter argument over whether his blades gave him an edge made his bid to run stand out.

Pistorius overcame the International Association of Athletics Federations in a long legal struggle. The Court of Arbitration finally ruled against the IAAF in May, saying the sprinter's carbon-fiber blades did not provide an unfair advantage against able-bodied athletes.

The 21-year-old Pistorius has said the court fight kept him from focusing on training, and acknowledged it might be more realistic to aim for the 2012 London Olympics. Athletics South Africa president Leonard Chuene said four other runners had faster times, and two others were chosen as alternates.

Pistorius plans to run at the Sept. 6-17 Paralympic Games in Beijing. He holds the Paralympic world record of 46.56 in the 400.

Efforts to reach Pistorius were not immediately successful. His manager, Peet Van Zyl, said considering Pistorius' recent times, he didn't expect the runner to be asked to join the team.

"From the beginning, we knew that he had to qualify," Van Zyl said. "We didn't expect him to be granted any special opportunity or anything. The rules are the rules."

The International Olympic Committee said it was South Africa's decision to make.

"They pick the athletes who they think should go to the games," IOC spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said.

The IAAF said Thursday that it fully supported Pistorius' bid to run at the Olympics, despite comments made earlier this week by general secretary Pierre Weiss. He expressed concerns that the prosthetics could cause injury to other runners while jockeying for position.

The comments "have no effect on the official eligibility of Oscar Pistorius, nor should they be misconstrued as a personal attack on Oscar," the IAAF said in a statement.

On Wednesday, the New York legal firm of Dewey and Leboeuf, which represents Pistorius, threatened legal action against the IAAF. It demanded that the IAAF withdraw a statement that the body did not have the resources to check the legality of Pistorius' blades each time he ran.

When Pistorius was born, each leg was missing the fibula -- the long, thin outer bone between the knee and ankle. At 11 months old, his legs were amputated below the knee.

Troy Engle, coach of the U.S. Paralympic track and field team, said he knew it was "a bubble decision" to add Pistorius to the South Africa relay team.

"He did get darn close, and he ran well, especially in Europe," Engle said in a telephone interview from Houston. "To come back as well as he did with limited preparation is a testament to his talent as an athlete."

Engle said Pistorius' case against the IAAF was closely followed in and out of track circles.

"Everybody wanted to see that the decision was based on science and a commitment to a fair playing field rather than to emotion," he said. "There's not another story that brought more attention to the Paralympic movement than Oscar Pistorius. He's been a wonderful ambassador for our movement, and I'm obviously disappointed for him."

But Engle expects Pistorius to dominate in the 100, 200 and 400 events during the Paralympic Games.

"We'll try to keep Oscar off the podium as much as we can," he said.