Icon who fell to earth: Poster boy Pistorius had scars that ran so deep
During an interview with Oscar Pistorius in Pretoria last year, our conversation turned to how the South African’s prosthetic legs affected the way he runs. Pistorius had been training on the grass track at the city’s university and it was striking that he moved in an ungainly, fidgety way.
He shifted his weight from side to side when he was not running. Those 2,600 carbon-fibre blades defined him as one of the most iconic athletes on the planet, but they looked cumbersome; painful even.
Questions turned to how being a double amputee impacted on his training regime. How was he able to compete with rivals who were born with fibulae, the bones that connect your knees to your ankles
Historic: Oscar Pistorius in Olympic action in London last year
Pistorius’s oft-repeated argument for his inclusion in able-bodied athletics was ‘there are tens of thousands of people using the same prosthetics I use and there’s no-one running the same times’, but what made Pistorius different from the rest
When asked what it would mean to become the first double amputee to run at the Olympic Games, a remarkable feat he duly achieved some five months later, it was clear he was irritated. Suddenly, the mild exterior of one of sport’s most famous faces clouded over. Pistorius became fractious and prickly.
‘It’s pretty similar to any other athlete,’ said Pistorius. ‘I think it’s a reward for any athlete, after years of training, to progress to a competition like that.’
In the spotlight: Pistorius leaves the Boschkop police station, east of Pretoria
He was not being modest, just evasive. Pistorius, after all, was not just ‘any athlete’. He redefined what it is to run fast. He challenged the traditional perception of what a sprinter looks like.
Inspirational is a word too often attached to athletes, but it is a description that accurately reflects what Pistorius has achieved on a 400metre track.
His parents took the decision to have his legs amputated below the knees when he was just 11 months old, yet he became a symbol of battling against adversity, recognised across the globe.
No fear: Pistorius poses for Sportsmail's Andy Hooper last year
The speed of Pistorius’s rise to prominence has only been beaten by the swiftness with which he has fallen since reports came in of the shooting in the early hours of Thursday morning.
In 2007, the IAAF, athletics’ governing body, said Pistorius’s prosthesic limbs gave him an unfair advantage but he fought the ruling and saw it overturned the following year.
He did not just challenge legislation, however, he transcended athletics and certainly Para-athletics, testing ideas and dividing opinion about what is right and wrong and acceptable in competitive sport.
Happier times: Oscar Pistorius had been with girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp for a couple of months
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE BLADE RUNNER
Born November 1986 without the fibula, the bone that connects the knee to the ankle, in each leg. Has both legs amputated below the knee before his first birthday.
January 2004 Takes up athletics, initially to recover from a rugby injury.
June 2004 Receives his first pair of Ossur Flex-Foot Cheetah legs, Pistorius’ blades.
August 2004 Wins gold and bronze in the T44 200m and 100m at the Paralympics in Athens.
July 2007 Competes for the first time internationally against able-bodied athletes in Rome.
November 2007 Undergoes clinical tests and is then banned from IAAF competition. The organisation say Pistorius’ blades give him an unfair advantage.
May 2008 The Court of Arbitration for Sport over-rules the IAAF decision.
September 2008 Misses qualification for the Olympics by 0.7secs, but wins three golds at the Paralympics in Beijing.
January 2011 Wins three IPC world titles but loses for the first time in seven years over 100m.
August 2011 Qualifies for the IAAF World Championships in Daegu. Wins silver in the 4x400m relay, but misses out on a place in South Africa’s team for the final.
August 2012 Becomes the first double amputee to run at the Olympic Games, reaching the semi-finals of the 400m and the final of the 4x400m. Carries the South African flag at the Paralympic Opening Ceremony and then wins a silver and two gold medals in the 200m, 400m and 4x100m relay.
February 2013 Charged with murder after his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, is shot dead.
SOUTH AFRICAN GOLD MINE
Pistorius’ exploits made him the most famous Paralympic athlete on the planet and one of the sports’ top earners.
Estimated net worth: 3.2million
Estimated sponsorship deals: 3m (inc Nike and BT)
He is the highest-paid Paralympian in the world and last year was rated the eighth highest-paid Olympic athlete.
Yet, despite the countless awards and myriad appearances on chat shows and glossy magazines around the world in his crusade to be seen as a role model, the Blade Runner’s brand continued to be underpinned by his achievements on the track.
His attempt to break the 45-second barrier was set to continue this season before yesterday’s events. Pistorius had spent the last month training with British 400m runner Martyn Rooney in South Africa and was scheduled to contest two events in Australia in March.
He seemed calmer and more at ease than in the frenzied run-up to London 2012 but the burning desire to achieve, the drive that saw him lose 17kg in weight and change his body shape dramatically, remained.
Pistorius has never been afraid to set himself targets. He won three Paralympic gold medals in Beijing after failing to qualify for the Olympics and then told the world he would not miss out again in London. That he achieved that dream by reaching the semi-finals of the 400m is a testament to his self-belief and determination.
Seeing Pistorius swap race numbers with Kirani James, who eventually won 400m gold, after their semi-final provided one of the most touching moments of the Games, yet the South African’s participation was always going to be more significant than his performance.
It was not until the Paralympics that we saw the true sporting icon Pistorius had become. He was the poster boy of the Games; the good-looking South African plastered over adverts for Nike, Thierry Mugler, Oakley and BT in deals worth an estimated 3m a year, a figure that ranks him among athletics’ top earners.
When I visited him last February there was a copy of GQ magazine on the coffee table, heralding Pistorius as South Africa’s best-dressed man. The Blade Runner was the first and, possibly, only Paralympian whom many would have been able to name before the Games began. But then, suddenly, the halo slipped.
Pistorius lost his T44 200m crown to Alan Oliveira and claimed that the Brazilian’s blades were too long. His comments were not only ironic, given his continued insistence that blades did not give him an unfair advantage, but unsportsmanlike and deeply disrespectful. Yet, in the eyes of many, his outburst was the moment the Paralympics became relevant. This was elite sport we could relate to, argue over and dissect. And Pistorius was at the heart of it.
He comfortably retained his 400m crown and won another gold medal in the 4 x 100m relay, but he lost his 100m title in the stand-out race of the Paralympics. It was not Oscar’s name but that of 19-year-old Briton, Jonnie Peacock that was chanted by the sell-out crowd in the Olympic Stadium that evening.
Would there, though, have been a Jonnie without Oscar, the athlete Peacock has described as his ‘hero’ It was Pistorflius’s extraordinary sporting story that seemed to make it possible for a teenager from Cambridge who contracted meningitis when he was five years old.
And now the remarkable narrative of a quite extraordinary athlete has taken the most unimaginable twist.
A BLOODY HISTORY OF TALENT AND TRAGEDY…
Rugby star killed his daughter
Former Springbok rugby player accidentally shot dead his 19-year-old daughter when he mistook her for a car thief in 2004. Her Volkswagen Golf was being driven out of the driveway of their family home at 5am and he shot the driver from his bedroom window, thinking his daughter Marle was in bed.
Troubled end for Belcher
In December 2012, Jovan Belcher, a 25-year-old line-backer for the Kansas City Chiefs, shot his girlfriend dead before driving to the training ground and killing himself in front of his coach. The couple had a three-month-old child.
Life in prison for pitcher Ogawa
Japanese baseball pitcher Hiroshi Ogawa was convicted in September 2005 of killing a 67-year-old woman and was sentenced to life in prison. Deeply in debt, Ogawa stole $20,000 from the chairman of an industrial plant and pushed the housekeeper down the stairs before drowning her in a lake.
Did OJ get away with murder
In June 1994, NFL Hall of Famer OJ Simpson (below) was arrested for the murders of his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman but was eventually acquitted. In 2008 he was convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping and is currently serving 33 years.
Rozier’s seven murders
Former American footballer Robert Rozier played for St Louis Cardinals before joining black supremacist cult ‘The Brotherhood’. He admitted to seven murders and was jailed for 22 years in October 1986 after agreeing to testify against other members of the organisation.
'Suicide bid’ went wrong
Jamaican fast bowler Leslie Hylton, who played in six Tests for the West Indies against England, taking 16 wickets, was hanged in May 1955 for the murder of his wife and remains the only cricketer to have ever been executed. Hylton claimed he had been trying to shoot himself but missed.