Oscar: Looking beyond the blades

2014-02-27 07:43
Oscar Pistorius (File, AP)

Oscar Pistorius (File, AP)

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Johannesburg - Double-amputee paralympian Oscar Pistorius has in the past said he draws inspiration from America's former undisputed heavyweight boxing champion, Mike Tyson.

In a few weeks, it will be determined whether South Africa's famous "Blade Runner" will follow in his hero's footsteps and spend time behind bars for a crime against a woman - in his case killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Tyson was convicted of rape in 1992 and released on parole three years later, but he later returned to jail for a road rage crime and possession of drugs.

On 3 March, Pistorius will appear in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria where he will face a murder charge for shooting Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine's Day last year. Steenkamp was shot dead in the bathroom of Pistorius's Pretoria home.

2012 a good year

In a statement read by his lawyer during his bail application, he claimed he had mistaken her for an intruder.

The future of the sporting hero, who was adored both nationally and internationally, now hangs in the balance.

He was nicknamed "Blade Runner" after the carbon-fibre prostheses on which he propelled himself to fame and fortune.

The paralympian sprint athlete had ended 2012 at the top of his game.

Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula once described Pistorius as an inspiration.

"Not only to people with disabilities, but to sporting people in general, he's a great inspiration to the nation as a whole," Mbalula said.

Within hours of the shooting however, Pistorius fell from glory and the 27-year-old labelled a hero, a winner, and an inspiration, also became a murder accused. Those who once adored him turned to social networking sites to express their disappointment in him.

"I hate you," commented one person on Pistorius's Instagram pictures.

Adri2429 said: "she don't (sic) deserve to die!"

"Murderer" wrote klindress.

Lower legs amputated when he was a baby

Looking beyond the blades, beyond the pending murder case, beyond the controversies, who is Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius?

He was born in Johannesburg. The second of three children. He shares a second name with his older brother, Carl, and has a younger sister Aimee.

Born without fibulae, Pistorius had both his lower legs amputated before he was a year old.
He was the poster-boy of ambition and overcoming adversity, becoming the first amputee to compete on the track in the able-bodied Olympics in 2012.

Pistorius was dealt a few blows in the early years of his childhood. At 6 his parents got divorced and nine years later his mother died.

The Pretoria Boys High School pupil went on to build himself as a brand and became a six-time Paralympic Games gold medalist. He had sponsorships from brands such as sports gear supplier Nike and sunglasses manufacturer Oakley.

The perfect couple

He lived in the multi-million rand gated complex, Silver Lakes in Pretoria, and drove a top-of-the-range sports car. The brown-eyed, brown-haired track athlete was at his peak. He and Steenkamp seemed like the perfect couple.

Steenkamp was a law graduate and model who spoke out against the abuse of women and discrimination. She was about to appear in a reality TV show. And then Pistorius shot her dead in his bathroom through a closed door.

Photographs taken on February 14, 2013 show Pistorius, dressed in a grey tracksuit, being led out of his home by police hours after the shooting. Sponsors and brands associated with the Blade Runner cut ties with him immediately. Appearing in court for his bail application a few days after the killing he was tearful.

According to a statement presented in court on his behalf the shooting was an accident. Steenkamp had been shot in the head, hip, and arm.

On the anniversary of Steenkamp's death, Pistorius posted a message on his official website which read: "The loss of Reeva and the complete trauma of that day I will carry with me for the rest of my life."

While the full details of that night are yet to be heard before court, neighbours reportedly said they heard screaming before hearing gunshots from Pistorius's home.

Pistorius was previously embroiled in a lengthy court case with 24-year-old Cassidy Taylor-Memmory who alleged that Pistorius injured her in 2009 as he threw guests out from a party following a fight with his then girlfriend.

Barely a month before his murder trial Pistorius and Taylor-Memmory settled the matter out of court.

It was further revealed that Steenkamp's shooting was not the first gun-related incident Pistorius had been involved in.

Media reports after Steenkamp's shooting revealed that several weeks before he killed her he fired a shot in a Johannesburg restaurant, narrowly missing the foot of his boxer friend Kevin Lerena. Lerena dismissed it as an accident.

Hot-tempered

Samantha Taylor, a young blonde ex-girlfriend of Pistorius, who bears features similar to Steenkamp, said the track star had in the past fired a gun in her presence. She claimed Pistorius fired shots through the open sunroof of her car as they drove on a highway. Taylor is expected to testify for the State in Pistorius's trial.

Over the years, the country has seen Pistorius become hot under the collar, both on and off the track. In the 2012 Paralympics, he cried foul after he came second in the 200m to Alan Fonteles Cardoso Oliveira.

He claimed the Brazilian had longer blades, giving him an unfair advantage. He had never lost a 200m race before and later apologised for his outburst.

A year earlier he walked out of a BBC radio interview, claiming he had been asked insulting questions.
In November 2012, The Star newspaper reported that Pistorius had threatened to break the legs of a man he allegedly believed was cheating on him with his then teenage girlfriend.

A gentler side

There is, however, a softer, gentler side to Pistorius. In his years in the limelight, he has been involved in a number of charities. Days before Steenkamp's death he took to social networking sites to reveal plans to launch a foundation which would give mobility to children with disabilities similar to his own.

He was also an ambassador to the Mineseekers Foundation, an organisation dedicated to finding and removing landmines, and helping those affected by landmines.

The question remains whether Pistorius will ever return to his glory days. He had been compared to American athlete OJ Simpson, who was charged with murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman in 1994. He was acquitted of the charges.

Tattooed on Pistorius's back is the Bible verse 1 Corinthians 9, 26-27.

"I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. I execute each strike with intent. I beat my body and make it my slave."

It remains to be seen whether Pistorius will overcome what is arguably his greatest hurdle and return to the track.

- SAPA

Read more on:    reeva steenkamp  |  oscar pistorius  |  pistorius trial
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