Oscar Pistorius reaches relay final

Updated: September 1, 2011, 9:27 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

DAEGU, South Korea -- Double-amputee runner Oscar Pistorius reached his first major final on Thursday, leading off South Africa's 4x400-meter relay team at the world championships and helping it qualify with a national record.

Americans also starred on Thursday, as Jennifer Barringer Simpson won the women's 1,500 meters, Lashinda Demus won the women's 400-meter hurdles and Jesse Williams added the first men's high jump world title for the U.S. in two decades.

[+] EnlargeLashinda Demus
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesAmerican Lashinda Demus out-kicked Melaine Walker of Jamaica to win gold in the 400-meter hurdles.

Barringer Simpson won the first gold medal for the United States in the women's 1,500 since the inaugural world championships in 1983. She did not figure in the top 10 this season before outpacing everyone and winning the first title for the U.S. in the race since Mary Decker-Slaney 28 years ago.

In the women's 400 hurdles, Demus and defending champion Melaine Walker of Jamaica were even through the last hurdle but Demus had the best finishing kick. She won in 52.47 seconds, beating the Jamaican by 0.26 seconds.

Natalya Antyukh of Russia finished in 53.85 to take the bronze.

After making a breakthrough for Paralympic athletes by reaching the semifinals of the 400, Pistorius ran a strong opening leg on the tough inside lane.

He handed over to Oftentse Mogawane, who briefly gave the relay team the lead before it settled for third place in a South African record of 2 minutes, 59.21 seconds.

"It's unbelievable to be part of one of the four names on the list to run a national record," Pistorius said. "It makes me extremely proud. To make the finals even makes me more happy."

It was already considered a special performance to get into the 400 semifinals on his carbon-fiber blades, but on Thursday, the relay performance did one better for the runner who had his legs amputated when he was a baby.

[+] EnlargePistorius
Chris McGrath/Getty ImagesOscar Pistorius ran the opening leg as South Africa's relay team qualified for the 4x400 final at the world championships.

Standing on the sideline after finishing his first leg, he shouted encouragement and applauded his teammates as they made sure of qualification for Pistorius' first final through a humid morning heat of 97 degrees.

"We expected to qualify, but this national record is a big bonus," teammate Willem de Beer said.

The United States and Jamaica led qualifying, just ahead of South Africa.

"I realized he's just like every other runner here. That's how I see him now," American relay runner Greg Nixon said. "I got to meet him, got to talk to him. I realized he's just like us."

Another South African, defending 800 champion Caster Semenya, advanced easily into the semifinals after she had been struggling through much of the year in the wake of a gender controversy.

Semenya was drawn in a heat alongside Mariya Savinova of Russia, who has the season's top time.

Still, the 20-year-old South African led through much of the finishing straight and eased up to allow Savinova victory as both clocked the same time of 2:01.01.

Semenya won the 800 as a little-known teenager in Berlin two years ago, but was immediately engulfed in a controversy.

She was forced out of competition for 11 months following gender tests before being cleared to compete again. She then missed the 2010 Commonwealth Games with a back injury.

Before a crowd of about 25,000 at Daegu Stadium, she was inconspicuous among the other runners and got almost no reaction from the fans as her name was announced.

Early in the race she was in fifth place, then slightly bumped into a competitor halfway through and quickly made her way up into a qualifying position. She was never threatened in a composed performance before she kicked for home.

"I'm not under pressure," Semenya said.

Williams cleared 7 feet, 8½ inches to win gold in the high jump.

Williams, who has the season's top mark of 7-9¼, cleared the same height as silver-medalist Aleksey Dmitrik of Russia, but won the gold with fewer misses earlier in the competition.

Trevor Barry of the Bahamas took bronze by clearing 7-7¼.

Williams is the first American to win the high jump since Charles Austin in 1991.

Carmelita Jeter looked on track for a sprint double after the 100 champion won her semifinal heat with ease, turning off the power after building a 10-meter gap and still setting the second-best qualifying time behind American teammate Shalonda Solomon.

Three-time defending champion Allyson Felix was second in her semifinal heat, behind two-time Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown. But both went through to Friday's final.

Felix was seeking a 400-200 double but a loss to Amantle Montsho of Botswana in the 400 has forced the American to focus on defending the 200 title. The 200 puts her back in the comfort zone.

"This is what I love to do," Felix said. "Just hoping my body allows me to do it at the best I can."

Asafa Powell pulled out of a race for the second time in a week. The former 100 world-record holder pulled out of the Jamaican 4x100-meter relay team because he has not recovered from a groin injury.

Powell's agent, Paul Doyle, said it would be too much of a risk for the team if Powell were to pull up lame during the event in which Jamaica is a favorite for gold. The heats are Friday and the final is Saturday.

Powell had been running fast all through the season until he pulled out of the Crystal Palace Diamond League meet on Aug. 5 as a precaution to protect his groin. It didn't heal in time for last Sunday's 100, which was won by Jamaican teammate Yohan Blake after Usain Bolt false-started.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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