Villain or victim: Who is the real Oscar Pistorius?

  • AFP, Cape Town
  • Updated: Sep 11, 2014 20:24 IST

Oscar Pistorius — a champion athlete who beat the odds to inspire millions worldwide, or a dangerously volatile man with a penchant for guns, beautiful women and fast cars?

Both versions of South Africa's double amputee Paralympic hero were pored over in minute detail during his six-month trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day 2013.

Before the shock shooting, and the trial in which he was alternatively portrayed as villain and victim, Pistorius was one of the world's most admired sportsmen.

South African paralympian athlete Oscar Pistorius weeps in the dock during his trial. (AFP Photo)

A formidable competitor known as the "fastest man on no legs", he was courted by big luxury brands and named as the "Sexiest Man Alive".

But his "Blade Runner" epithet, earned for his trademark prosthetic legs that powered him to fame, swiftly became recast as the "Blade Gunner" after he shot 29-year-old model and law graduate Reeva Steenkamp dead.

And in the dock, the hard-edged unforgiving athlete with a reputation for clashing with his track rivals gave way to a sobbing, broken man.

Born in 1986 in Johannesburg without fibulas (calf bones), his parents decided when he was 11 months old to have his legs amputated below the knee so he could be fitted with prosthetic legs.

This allowed him to play sports unhindered while growing up. He excelled in many, concentrating on running only after fracturing a knee playing rugby.

'Put on your legs'

"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 200m world record at the Athens Paralympics 10 years ago.

Next up was the 2008 Beijing Paralympic games where he took the 100m, 200m and 400m sprint titles and launched a battle to take part in the able-bodied athletics, overcoming 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 sprint 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 always claimed 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 the blades of a fellow competitor who pipped him to gold in the 100m — before apologising.

In 2009, he spent a night in jail after allegedly assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a party in a case that was 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 Steenkamp, 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.

Video: Judge declares Pistorius not guilty of murdering girlfriend

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

The same writer described him driving at 250 kilometres (155 miles) an hour, 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".

Fast cars, fast life

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

Four 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.

In court, Pistorius has seemed a much more fragile figure, breaking down and sobbing as a man in mourning -- vomiting as his lover's death was described in horrific detail in medical evidence to the court.

"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".

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