GEMONA, Italy: Even when he's looking at photos of his bleeding and blistered leg stumps, Oscar Pistorius smiles.
And with his Olympic debut approaching, it's easy to understand why.
The 25-year-old Pistorius, whose legs were amputated below the knee when he was a baby, is soon to make history by running, yes running, in the London Olympics. He will be the first amputee athlete to compete at the Olympics, but his journey to London has been long and filled with hurdles.
So when Pistorius finally got word this month that he had earned a spot on South Africa's Olympic team, he said his immediate reaction was to feel a sense of relief. What came after that was pure joy.
"I think I woke up the next morning with cramps in my cheeks. I was smiling in my sleep," Pistorius said in an interview at his training base in northeastern Italy. "You also realise very quickly ... it's the London Olympics and I need to perform. Very stressful."
Pistorius was born without fibula bones due to a congenital defect, and both his legs were amputated when he was 11 months old. His condition never stopped him from playing sports, and it was after injuring his knee while playing rugby as a teenager that he started to dream about running at the Olympics.
On August 4, the opening day of the 400-meter heats, he'll get his chance.
"You've made the entrance to write the test, but now the test is in front of you," he said.
Pistorius runs with carbon-fiber blades attached to his legs, often causing him blisters and leaving his stumps raw from friction. The artificial appendages have earned him a nickname, "Blade Runner."
But those same prosthetics also led to years of controversy. Already a Paralympic gold medalist, Pistorius was initially banned from competing against able-bodied opposition because many argued that his blades gave him an unfair advantage.
In 2008, after extensive testing, the Court of Arbitration for Sport cleared him to compete. Last year, he ran on South Africa's 4x400 relay team at the world championships, but sat out the final. He still won a silver medal because he competed in the relay heats, but not everyone is convinced that he should be running next month in London.
"There will always be people who will debate and there will always be a journalist willing to write an opinion and a certain angle to a story," Pistorius said. "There will always be someone who wants to create a name for himself and if he's given that platform he'll take it and argue that wet is dry and green is red. There are always those types of people.
"One of the reasons for doing the tests was proving that I'm in a sport and have the ability to run due to my own talent and hard work and sacrifices and that was important for me. Looking back at that I'm happy that we went through it."
And with his competition status secured, some of his competitors are looking forward to racing against Pistorius. "I've told him how much respect I have for him and the drive he has, to want to do something and take the action to work hard and get to where he wants to be," said LaShawn Merritt, the defending Olympic champion in the 400.
To prepare for the biggest track meet of them all, Pistorius needed somewhere in Europe to train. So the mayor of Gemona, a small town near the Italian Alps and just across the mountains from Austria, built him one.
Running lap after lap on his Cheetah Flex-Foot blades, Pistorius has now set his mind on reaching the 400 semifinals - as he did at the worlds in South Korea last year. He's also hoping to run the sub 45-second time that he and his coach, Ampie Louw, are certain he can achieve. His best time so far is 45.07.