Stage set for ‘battle of the blades’

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iol news pic pistorius relay REUTERS Oscar Pistorius

London - The world's fastest amputee sprinters line up on Thursday for the Paralympics' showpiece final, with Britain's world record holder Jonnie Peacock out to strip “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius of another title.

Peacock, 19, has run 10.85sec for the 100m and on Thursday fired a warning shot to his rivals in the heats by equalling the Paralympic record set eight years ago of 11.08sec - then promised to go faster.

“It was a bad (head) wind, a big wind: 1.6m/sec. I'll be a bit quicker in the final,” he told reporters at a cold and blustery Olympic Stadium in London.

Organisers have billed the T44 race for single and double below-the-knee amputees as the race of the Games, predicting that all eight finalists could go under 11sec for the first time.

As well as Peacock and Pistorius, who qualified second-fastest in a season's best 11.18sec, the field includes Pistorius' South Africa team-mate Arnu Fourie and US trio Richard Browne, Blake Leeper and Jerome Singleton.

Alan Oliveira of Brazil and Lui Zhiming of China both qualified as fastest losers.

Pistorius, the Games' most high-profile athlete after he became the first double-amputee to compete at the Olympics, is keen to let his running do the talking after becoming embroiled in a row over artifical blade length.

After losing his T44 200m title to Oliveira on Sunday, the 25-year-old “Blade Runner” said he was at a disadvantage in terms of stride length as his competitors were “a lot taller”.

The row about whether his rivals had illegally flouted rules governing the maximum allowed height of prostheses has rumbled on all week, although the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has said there were no violations.

IPC media and communications director Craig Spence said, however, that officials would be extra vigilant in ensuring the rules were upheld on Thursday.

“In the call-room, all athletes will be measured to check that they are below their maximum height. Yesterday (Thursday), there was more scrutiny from our technical officials that people were not changing their blades,” he said.

“They found no evidence of that to back up the allegations by South Africa.”

Pistorius gained a measure of revenge over Oliveira on Thursday, as he anchored South Africa to a world record-breaking victory in the T42-46 4x100m relay for single and double below-the-knee amputees and upper limb amputees.

Oliveira could not catch his rival in the home straight as South Africa romped home in 41.78sec. Brazil and the United States, who finished second and third, were later disqualified, handing silver and bronze to China and Germany.

Pistorius won gold in the T44 100m, 200m and 400m in Beijing but has warned that retaining the straight sprint title will be tough.

“It's not really my event,” he told a news conference last week. “As Jonnie (Peacock) and those guys focus on the 100, my focus is on the 400, on the complete opposite side of the spectrum when it comes to sprinting.”

British wheelchair racer David Weir will provide the warm-up for the sprint kings at the Olympic Stadium when he seeks to retain his T54 800m title after successfully defending his 1,500m crown and winning gold in the 5,000m.

Elsewhere, finalists will be decided in the men's five-a-side football, goalball, wheelchair tennis and wheelchair basketball, with gold medals up for grabs notably in swimming and wheelchair fencing.

Earlier in the day, Britain's Sarah Storey clinched her fourth gold of the Games and the 11th in her career by winning the women's individual C4/5 road race over 64km at the Brands Hatch motor racing circuit in southeast England.

The 34-year-old has now won 11 golds in her Games career - a joint record for a British female Paralympian. - Sapa-AFP


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