DAEGU, SOUTH KOREA // Oscar Pistorius kept in contention at his first world championships by finishing third in his heat to reach the semi-finals of the 400-metres today.
The South African known as "Blade runner", who has had to overcome huge legal and performance obstacles just to be allowed to race in Daegu on his prosthetic legs, delighted the crowd with a strong run of 45.39 seconds from an outside lane.
The crowd rose to the double amputee as he powered down the final straight before a band of his compatriots chanted "Oscar! Oscar!" to confirm the 24-year-old as one of the sentimental favourites of the championships.
Running in lane eight after a false start had increased the tension, the four-time Paralympic champion finished 0.1secs behind winner Chris Brown, with the Briton Martyn Rooney second.
"I feel like any other athlete here, everyone makes sacrifices to be here," Pistorius said. "I don't feel like a pioneer.
"It was a great opportunity to have the chance to come and run, it's a dream I have had for many, many years.
"I've run my second fastest time so I could not have asked for anything better.
"It's a big sense of relief. I hadn't raced for over a month so I was a bit nervous. You've worked hard to get here and once you're here you don't want to let it slide.
Pistorius, who has a personal best of 45.07s, admitted reaching the final might be beyond him.
"If I look at the times, I'm a realist. I know what I'm capable of. When I raced that 45.07 everything went right.
"It's going to take a lot of work to get close to that tomorrow and I don't think that will be enough to reach the final."
Amid the questions over his participation, Pistorius had backing from one of his rivals in Rooney.
"Myself and Oscar are good friends. He said a prayer for me and you don't get that from a lot of competitors," the European bronze medallist said.
"I am happy for him. There are too many people playing up the negative like he is ruining the Paralympics but I don't think so.
"He is publicising it as a world semi-finalist."
Earlier, the defending champion LaShawn Merritt of the US had stamped his authority on the event with the fastest time of the year of 44.35 to win his heat in impressive style.
The American, also the Olympic champion, had raced just once before Sunday since returning from a 21-month doping suspension in July.
"I've never worked harder, it was a little faster than I thought it would be but I was comfortable," he said.
Merritt confirmed that Pistorius was a favourite not only with the crowd.
"He ran the time to get here, I had a little time to talk to him and he's a great person with a great personality," he said. "He's dedicated and motivated and has a great heart. I wish all the best to him."
Young Grenadans Kirani James (45.12) and Rondell Bartholomew (44.82), the fastest men this year before Merritt's run today in the heats, also eased into tomorrow's semi-finals.
American champion Tony McQuay, who held the fourth best time of the year, made a surprise exit, however, after pulling up with a hamstring strain.