South Africa’s Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, charged with shooting dead his girlfriend yesterday, was publicly adored but has a rocky private life of rash behaviour, beautiful women, guns and fast cars.
The dashing and charismatic 26-year-old sprinter became the first double amputee ever to compete at an Olympics in London last year.
The global celebrity and champion for disabled sport uses two carbon-fibre running blades, which earned him the epithet ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘fastest man on no legs’.
But his playboy private life has courted controversy.
In 2009 Pistorius spent a night in jail after allegedly assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a party.
“Oscar is certainly not what people think he is,” said ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor last November — two months after a magazine programme covered the couple’s Seychelles holiday.
He then started going out with model Reeva Steenkamp, who was found shot four times in Pistorius’ Pretoria home on yesterday.
“Oscar has a way with women. Strange, she’s probably not the only one at his side,” Taylor told Rapport newspaper.
Pistorius has been open about his love for guns.
The sprinter slept with a pistol, machine gun, cricket bat and baseball bat for fear of burglars at his upmarket home in a secure Pretoria estate for fear of burglars, he told Britain’s Daily Mail last year.
He once took a journalist interviewing him to a shooting range.
The Johannesburg-born runner had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old after being born without lower leg bones. But the boy played sports unhindered while growing up in a well-do family and switched to running after fracturing a knee playing rugby.
At high school, the teen was so good that his trainer was unaware for six months he ran on prosthetic legs.
“You’re not disabled by your disabilities but abled by your abilities,” Pistorius told Athlete magazine in a 2011 interview.
He won an international legal battle overturning a ban on competing in able-bodied events after some argued the running blades gave him an unfair advantage. He became the first amputee to run at the World Championships in 2011 and won silver with SA’s 4x400m sprint team.
After taking 100m, 200m and 400m sprint titles at the Beijing Paralympics, he qualified for the London Olympics, but didn’t reach the final. He failed to retain two of his Paralympic titles, but bounced back to take gold with SA in the 4x100m relay and won the individual 400m too.
Off the track, Pistorius has a passion for motorbikes, adrenalin and speed. “He likes fast cars. Every time he comes here, he’s got another car,” his trainer Jannie Brooks told AFP last year. “He is just built for speed, because the cars have an amazing performance.”
Four years ago he crashed his boat in a river near Johannesburg, breaking two ribs, an eye socket and jaw. Empty alcohol bottles were found in the boat, but his blood alcohol content wasn’t tested.
He also once owned two white tigers but sold them to a zoo in Canada when they became too big.
Pistorius had been brash with reporters in the past, famously storming off the set when a BBC interviewer asked if his battles to compete in able-bodied sports weren’t “an inconvenient embarrassment” to athletics authorities.
Turbulent family life marked his childhood. His parents divorced when he was six and his mother died when he was 15. The date she died is tatooed on his arm. The middle child between a younger sister and elder brother, he has problematic relationship with his father, Henke, but the two brothers are close.
The athlete cut a humane figure in London after making history last year, speaking with pride at seeing his 89-year-old grandmother in the stadium. “To step out here for an Olympic final is more than I could ever have hoped for. It’s been a truly humbling experience,” he said.
1986: Born Nov 22, in Pretoria, SA, without the fibula in both legs.
1987: Oct — aged 11 months, his parents decide to have his legs amputated below the knee. He still played rugby, water polo & tennis
2004: Jan — At the age of 17, runs 100m at an open event in Pretoria and sets new world record of 11.51s.
Sept: Wins 200m gold at Paralympic Games in Athens, setting a new WR of 21.97s & bronze in the 100m.
2005: March — Competes in open/able-bodied category at SA Open Championships, finishing sixth in the 400m. May — Wins 100m and 200m at Paralympic World Cup in Manchester, both in WR times.
Dec — Presented with BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.
2008: Jan — IAAF rules his prosthetic legs are ineligible in competitions including Olympics.
Feb — Appeals against IAAF to Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
May — CAS reverse IAAF’s ban, allowing him to try for Olympics.
July — Fails in his final attempt to achieve the able-bodied Olympic qualifying time for the 400m, despite running a personal best of 46.25 seconds.
Sept: Competes at the Paralympic Games in Beijing, winning the 100m, 200m (in a Paralympic record time) and 400m (WR)
2012: July — Named in the SA Olympic team for the 400m and 4x400m relay.
August — Becomes first amputee runner at Olympics when he finishes second in a 400m heat. Carries SA flag at closing ceremony. — PA Sport