It was at the London Paralympics when Oscar Pistorius's mask first slipped. The South African sprinter, whose heroic effort to compete against able-bodied athletes had seen him take part in the Olympics the month before, responded to his first defeat in a 200m final by rounding on the man who had beaten him. "We aren't racing a fair race," he complained.
Pistorius, the poster boy with the thousand-watt smile, accused Brazilian victor Alan Oliveira of cheating by using longer prosthetic blades than his own.
Considering his own battles with those who have accused him of gaining an unfair advantage from his carbon-fibre prosthetics, it was a graceless reaction. It was also the first time the public at large caught a glimpse of what many closer observers had known for some time: that the Blade Runner had a furious temper.
Yesterday, the South African police charged Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius with murder after his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was found dead at his home in Pretoria.
The confusion of man and myth has been obvious since he first entered the public consciousness back in 2007 and threatened to bridge the divide between Paralympic and Olympic competition by sheer force of performance.
He became the first double-amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes in an Olympic Games and was listed in 2012 by 'Time' magazine among the world's 100 most-influential people.
It was an unlikely accomplishment for a boy born without fibulae, whose parents Henke and Sheila had to make the agonising decision to amputate their 11-month-old sons legs below the knee in October 1987.
Pistorius's pursuit of able-bodied elite athletes made him a global phenomenon, pushing back the boundaries of disability and capturing the imagination of a world willing him to catch up with them.
The commercial rewards for his global profile were considerable – he earned sponsorship deals said to be worth $2m (€1.5m) a year with corporate partners from Nike to BT, Oakley and even French fashion house Thierry Mugler.
His fame peaked in London last July, where he reached the semi-finals of the Olympic 400m and the final of the 4 x 400m relay. "As I came out of the tunnel, I saw my friends and family, including my grandmother with the South African flag," he said. "On the blocks, I didn't know whether I should cry or be happy."
September's outburst against Oliveira tarnished his image and forced him to issue a public apology. But he seemed to have recovered his fairy-tale touch on the final day of the London Games, when he won the 400m and earned a standing ovation from the 80,000 crowd.
However, back home in South Africa he hit the headlines in December after allegedly threatening to break the legs of businessman Quinton van der Burgh, whom he reportedly accused of an illicit tryst with a girl he had also been seeing.
Deeply religious, Pistorius has a verse from Corinthians tattooed on his left shoulder: "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..."
He also has the date of his mother's death in 2002 tattooed on an arm and credits her stridently positive attitude with his athletic drive and rejection of self-pity:But another more complex character has been evident behind his against-all-odds exterior.
When a visiting writer from 'The New York Times' admitted to him two years ago that he had not shot a weapon, gun enthusiast Pistorius took him to the shooting range, where he said he would sometimes go at night when he could not sleep.
The athlete mentioned to him that when his house alarm rang at night he would tip-toe downstairs with his 9mm pistol.
Later, pleased with his journalist pupil's progress, the runner told him: "If you practised, I think you could be pretty deadly." (© Independent News Service)