• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 10:22am
SportOther Sport
JUSTICE

Oscar Pistorius set to take on the biggest challenge of his life, in a South African court

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 March, 2014, 12:35am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 March, 2014, 12:35am

Oscar Pistorius: a champion athlete who beat the odds to inspire millions worldwide, or a disgraced hero with a penchant for guns, beautiful women and fast cars?

Both versions of South Africa's double amputee Olympian will be pored over from tomorrow when the 27-year-old goes on trial for murder after gunning down his girlfriend on Valentine's Day a year ago.

Before the shock shooting, Pistorius was one of the world's most admired sportsmen. A formidable competitor known as the "fastest man on no legs", he was courted by luxury big brands and named to flattering lists such as the "Sexiest Man Alive".

You're not disabled by your disabilities but you're abled by your abilities
Oscar Pistorius

But his "Blade Runner" epithet, earned by his trademark prosthetic legs that powered him to fame, swiftly became recast as the "Blade Gunner" after he shot dead Reeva Steenkamp.

Born in 1986 in Johannesburg with no fibula bones, Pistorius had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old. But he played sports unhindered while growing up, switching to running after fracturing a knee playing rugby.

"It was never made an issue. My mother would say to my brother, 'you put on your shoes, and Oscar, you put on your legs, then meet me at the car'," Pistorius told The Independent in 2011.

Just eight months after taking to the track, he smashed the 200 metres world record at the Athens Paralympics 10 years ago.

At the 2008 Beijing Paralympics he took the 100m, 200m and 400m sprint titles. He also launched a battle to take part in the able-bodied athletics, taking on arguments that his custom-built carbon-fibre running blades gave him an unfair advantage. In 2011 he made history by becoming the first amputee to run at the world championships, where he took silver with South Africa's 4x400m relay team.

"You're not disabled by your disabilities but abled by your abilities," he told Athlete magazine in an interview that year.

In 2012 he again made history by becoming the first double-amputee to compete at both the Olympics and Paralympics.

But since shooting Steenkamp, in what he claims was a tragic accident, his sporting prowess has been overshadowed by questions about his behaviour. In an angry outburst at the London Paralympics he hit out at the length of blades of a fellow competitor who pipped him to gold in the 200m - before apologising.

In 2009, he spent a night in jail after allegedly assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a party in a case recently settled out of court.

Two years later, he allegedly fired a gun through the sunroof of an ex-girlfriend's moving car. And weeks before he shot his lover, he reportedly discharged a gun by accident at a Johannesburg restaurant. "Oscar is certainly not what people think he is," ex-lover and trial witness Samantha Taylor has said.

Pistorius has long been open about his love for guns. The sprinter slept with a pistol under his bed at his upmarket home in a high-security Pretoria estate for fear of burglars.

Once held in Amsterdam after gunpowder residue was detected on his prosthetics, he also took a New York Times journalist interviewing him to a shooting range.

The same writer described him driving at 250km/h, double the speed limit, and referred to Pistorius as having "a fierce, even frenzied need to take on the world at maximum speed and with minimum caution".

His passion for motorbikes, adrenaline and speed is well documented. "He likes fast cars. He is just built for speed," his trainer Jannie Brooks said.

Five years ago he crashed his boat in a river, breaking two ribs, an eye socket and his jaw. Empty alcohol bottles were found in the boat. He also once owned two white tigers but sold them to a zoo in Canada when they became too big.

A middle child whose parents divorced when he was six, he has a problematic relationship with his father, Henke, but is close to his siblings who have been at his side in court. His mother died when he was 15 and the date of her death is tattooed on his arm.

Early court appearances have seen Pistorius a more humane figure, breaking down and sobbing as a man in mourning, with his career on hold and dumped by sponsors.

"He is the definition of global inspiration," Time magazine proclaimed in its 2012 list of the world's most influential people. Less than a year later, Pistorius featured on the cover with the words "Man, Superman, Gunman".

Agence France-Presse

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