Double amputee Oscar Pistorius, arguably the Beijing Paralympics' marquee star, said he would aim for three gold medals and a world record in the Games after getting off to a flying start last night in his 100-metre sprint heat at the National Stadium.
The 21-year-old South African, dubbed the 'Blade Runner' because of the prosthetic legs that enable him to sprint, also gave a huge endorsement to the organisers of the Beijing Games, saying they were 'on a different level' compared with previous Paralympics.
Before a crowd estimated at 50,000, Pistorius pulled off his debut at the 'Bird's Nest' in style, clocking a Paralympics record-equalling 11.16 seconds in the T44 classification. The time led the 12-member field, separated into two heats, and gave him a huge psychological advantage into tonight's five-runner final.
'I'd like to get three golds and, if I can, break at least one world record in the process ... hopefully, I can do it tomorrow night in the 100 metres,' said Pistorius, who also runs in the 200 and 400 for his category of disability.
'The 100 metres is not my speciality event, but that would make the victory carry even more significance for me.'
Pistorius, whose speciality is the 400, won a legal battle in May for the right to participate in the Olympics, but then the South African 4x400 relay team failed to make the qualifying time. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the global track and field governing body, claimed the J-shaped blades gave him an advantage over able-bodied athletes, an argument rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
But the sprinter didn't regard the Paralympics as a mere consolation event.
'The Paralympics is always special in the determination and passion shown by its participants,' said Pistorius, who insisted that even if one day he qualified for the able-bodied Games, he would continue his career as a Paralympian.
He was also quick to point out that the Beijing Games has been an exceptional experience, and not just for him.
'I've been to Athens, and others told me a lot about the Sydney Games,' he said. 'From the information I have, the Beijing Paralympics is on a different level compared to previous editions, in terms of hospitality, the architecture, etc.'