The eight fastest amputee sprinters line up on Thursday for the showpiece T44 100m final at the London Paralympics, amid predictions that all finalists could run under 11 seconds for the first time.
The favourite for the title currently held by South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius is Britain’s Jonnie Peacock, who earlier this year lowered the single below-the-knee leg amputee world record to 10.85 seconds.
The 19-year-old fired a warning shot to his rivals on Thursday night, winning his heat and equalling the Paralympic record set eight years ago 11.08 seconds – then warned that he would run faster.
“It was a bad (head) wind, a big wind: 1.6m/second. I’ll be a bit quicker in the final,” he told reporters at a cold and blustery Olympic Stadium in London.
South Africa’s Pistorius was second-fastest after running a season’s best 11.18 seconds, with compatriot Arnu Fourie third quickest (11.29 seconds) followed by the United States’ Richard Browne (11.33 seconds) and team-mate Blake Leeper (11.34 seconds).
Jerome Singleton, silver medallist in Beijing, was slowest of the automatic qualifiers with 11.46 seconds. The two fastest loser spots went to Alan Oliveira of Brazil (11.56 seconds) and China’s Lui Zhiming, whose 11.84 seconds was a new Asian record.
Oliveira, 20, pulled off a shock victory over defending champion Pistorius in the 200m on Sunday but has played down his chances in the straight sprint, as has Pistorius.
“It’s not really my event,” Pistorius said 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,” he said.
Pistorius, the Games’ biggest star after he became the first double-amputee to compete at the Olympics, remains at the centre of a row after questioning the length of his rivals’ artificial running blades in his 200m defeat.
South Africa’s National Paralympic Committee has written to the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) claiming that some athletes swapped their blades mid-competition, which is against the rules.
Pistorius, who has had to fight to convince the authorities that his prostheses do not give him an advantage in non-disabled races, suggested that he was at a disadvantage because his rivals were “a lot taller” in the 200m final.
Singleton on Wednesday backed calls by his rival for a review of the regulations, which currently stipulate maximum heights for prostheses based on a complex mathematical formula based on proportional body length.
The US runner, a former National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) intern, also called for a split in categories in sprint races to ensure fairness.
Pistorius and Oliveira are T43 (double below-the-knee) amputees but Singleton and Peacock are T44 (single below-the-knee) amputees.
But they race against each other because there are not enough sprinters in each category with the qualifying standards.
The IPC said this week that it is looking to introduce more single category races and field events in athletics for the next Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016.