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Pistorius: The rise and fall of the Blade Runner

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Pistorius in 2007.
Pistorius in 2007.

This week, Oscar Pistorius comes face to face with his fate in the High Court of South Africa as judge Thokozile Masipa delivers her verdict after one of the most highly publicised trials in recent history.

• Pistorius not guilty of premeditated murder
• Shock at Pistorius ruling

Up until he fatally shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day in 2013, Pistorius was admired around the world as the paralympic sprinter who became an olympian.

The ascendance of his public profile was aided by his as popularity as brand ambassador, charity work and a man-about-town status in his home of Pretoria, South Africa.

Thanks to a decision earlier this year by Judge President Dunstan Mlambo to broadcast the majority of the athlete’s trial on live television, by now most people have formed their own opinion of the man who was once the toast of South African society.

But how did a famous young athlete become an accused murderer?

A medical marvel

Recent events aside, there’s no denying Pistorius’ prolific achievements in the athletics field against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Nicknamed “Blade Runner” and known as “the fastest man on no legs”, the 27-year-old was born with a congenital abnormality which led to the amputation of both of his legs one month before his first birthday.

On unique carbon fibre prosthetic legs, Pistorius soon rose to the top and began holding his own against some of the world’s best able-bodied athletes.

He made history at the 2011 World Championships in athletics as the first amputee to win a medal in an able-bodied event and went on to compete at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

A medical and physical marvel, Pistorius was touted as both the poster child of South African sport by industry commentators and a “pioneer on the post human frontier” by Johns Hopkins University.

Pistorius with singer Alicia Keys.
Pistorius with singer Alicia Keys.

The high life

Coupled with his successes, Pistorius’ good looks helped him land some huge endorsement deals and live lavishly.

According to a New York Times article in 2012, Pistorius spent his earnings on six Thoroughbred racehorses, was a partner in a company that services Ferraris and even bought two African white tigers before selling them to a Canadian zoo.

He counts Michael Phelps and Alicia Keys amongst his celebrity acquaintances and the high-security Pretoria villa where he killed Steenkamp was one of three properties he owned, valued at a combined total of more than eight million Australian dollars.

Humble beginnings

However, his personal life was often less than triumphant.

Pistorius grew up in Sandton, Johannesburg, as the middle child in a family of three children. His parents divorced when he was six, his mother died when he was 15 and his relationship with his father is strained.

His family was well-known in south Africa, but not wealthy, a common misconception he is quick to dismiss.

By all reports, his younger years were filled with thrill-seeking activities often ending in minor disaster. In 2008 he was involved in a boat crash leaving him with broken ribs, he later crashed a dirt bike and lost a prosthetic in the process, and video footage used as evidence in his trial shows him letting loose at a shooting range with friends.

Riddled with insecurity

oscar pistorius
A photo of the athlete from his Instagram page.

According to his defence team, this unstable upbringing combined with a severe physical disability has left the former track star riddled with anxiety and insecurity.

After meeting the athlete in 2012, New York Times writer Michael Sokolove found him to be characterised by a unique, high-intensity disposition.

“Pistorius is, as well, blessed with an uncommon temperament — a fierce, even frenzied need to take on the world at maximum speed and with minimum caution. It is an athlete’s disposition, that of a person who believes himself to be royalty of a certain kind — a prince of the physical world.”

Despite an inherent confidence, lawyers for the athlete claim that, because of his disability, Pistorius was riddled with “significant stress and anxiety”.

“Disability never sleeps,” final defence witness, sports doctor Wayne Derman, told the court, adding that Pistorius suffered from a “profound fear of crime” and an “Exaggerated fight response”.

The could explain his affinity for guns – he owns several and has faced gun-related charges in the past.

A troubled love affair

The insecurity was also carried over into his relationship with Reva Steenkamp, a swimsuit model and law graduate whom he met at an awards ceremony in November 2012.

Steenkamp’s text messages and diary entries suggest that Pistorius was a jealous boyfriend who often had issues with her interaction with other men.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.31.04 PM
Steenkamp and Pistorius in a photo from Steenkamp’s Instagram.

“I can’t be attacked by outsiders for dating you AND be attacked by you, the one person I deserve protection from,” Steenkamp wrote in a text message on February 7, 2013.

The athlete was open to discussing his budding relationship with the model, admitting he was “besotted with her” after their meeting and often discussed their future together.

Pistorius was formally charged with her murder on February 15, 2013. Throughout his trial, he often broke down in court when discussing the aftermath off the late night shooting, admitting that he is still haunted by the memory and often wakes up “smelling blood”.

After her death, he shared a short statement on his website.

“No words can adequately capture my feelings about the devastating accident that has caused such heartache for everyone who truly loved – and continues to love Reeva. The pain and sadness – especially for Reeva’s parents, family and friends consumes me with sorrow.”

“The loss of Reeva and the complete trauma of that day, I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”

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