Wednesday 22 May 2019

Oscar Pistorius: From Paralympic talisman to Shakespearean tragedy

Oscar Pistorius
Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius overcame considerable odds, personal tragedy and fought legal battles to compete alongside able-bodied runners as the talisman of Paralympic sport.

But five months after taking his tally to six Paralympic golds at the London 2012 Games, where he also competed in the Olympics, the double amputee known as the 'Blade Runner' shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, a model, on Valentine's Day 2013.

The 29-year-old made history at London 2012 by becoming the first amputee athlete to take part in the Olympics - the crowing glory in a remarkable career that saw him win plaudits and fans all over the world.

But a "human tragedy of Shakespearean proportions" unfolded within four months of meeting Steenkamp in November 2012.

Oscar Pistorius
Oscar Pistorius

And now Pistorius is a convicted murderer, after a South African appeals court overturned an earlier conviction of manslaughter.

Pistorius was born in Pretoria in 1986 without a fibula - the bones in the lower leg - and had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old.

In refusing to accept the limitations of his disability, he carried the belief of his mother, Sheila.

"In my mind there have never been any barriers for me in sport," said Pistorius, who played rugby, water polo and tennis as a schoolboy.

Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp at an event two weeks before he shot and killed her
Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp at an event two weeks before he shot and killed her

"I don't perceive myself as having a disability. I see only my ability."

Tragedy struck when Pistorius' mother died from an allergic reaction to treatment for suspected malaria when he was 15 years old.

He turned to athletics at the age of 17 after shattering his knee playing rugby.

It was a move that set him on the path to global stardom and he won his first Paralympic gold medal in the 200metres at the 2004 Games in Athens.

Pistorius set his sights on competing against able-bodied athletes, but suffered a setback in 2007 when athletics' world governing body, the IAAF, ruled that his prosthetic legs were ineligible for use in competitions conducted under its rules. That included the 2008 Olympics.

He appealed and the Court of Arbitration for Sport reversed the ban the following May, only for Pistorius to miss out on qualifying.

He focused on the Paralympics, winning a hat-trick of titles, and four years later he was named in the South African team for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

He reached the 400m semi-finals and was in the 4x400m relay squad.

At the 2012 Paralympics, he smashed the T44 200m world record in his heat but finished second in the final behind Brazil's Alan Oliveira, after which he launched into a furious television interview, claiming the length of the Brazilian's blades were "ridiculous" and adding: "We aren't racing a fair race."

While Pistorius was widely criticised for his comments, the incident came to be seen as a shift-change in Paralympic sport, in which the will to win had overtaken the cosy notion of pure participation.

Pistorius went on to win the 4x100m title with South Africa and the 400m individual race on the last day of the Games.

He had overcome adversity to reach London 2012, too.

In 2009 he suffered significant injuries and was hospitalised following a boating accident, while he also spent a night behind bars.

He was arrested on an assault charge, which was later thrown out of court.

It was in court, following the death of Reeva Steenkamp, where little known aspects of Pistorius' life and personality emerged, including his fondness for firearms.

The events of that fateful night were pored over, with Pistorius described as an unreliable witness as the affable athlete's life unravelled in the glare of unprecedented media coverage.

Now he faces a long period of incarceration and further introspection and being remembered not for his achievements on the track, but one action off it.

Press Association

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