The broke and bro­ken Olympian

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

JO­HAN­NES­BURG — At the 2012 Lon­don Olympics, be­fore 80 000 roar­ing fans and a con­stel­la­tion of cam­era flashes, it took Os­car Pis­to­rius 45.44 sec­onds to be­come a global icon.

His sprint around the 400m track was the first time in his­tory that a dou­ble-am­putee had raced at the Olympic Games.

The race capped an Olympian tri­umph over ad­ver­sity for Pis­to­rius. His jour­ney from dis­abled child to world-class ath­lete seemed to em­body the very best of sport­ing en­deav­our and the hu­man spirit.

Then on Valen­tine’s Day in 2013 his achieve­ments were just as quickly de­mol­ished.

In the early hours of the morn­ing at his up- mar­ket Pre­to­ria home he shot and killed his 29-year-old girl­friend Reeva Steenkamp, ap­par­ently be­liev­ing her to be an in­truder.

For months he sat in a win­dow­less court­room, and watched as his world was washed away.

His sparkling ca­reer was cut short, spon­sors dumped him and he was forced to sell his homes amid mount­ing le­gal bills.

He was found guilty of mur­der on Thurs­day by South Africa’s Supreme Court of Ap­peal, which dra­mat­i­cally threw out his ear­lier con­vic­tion of cul­pa­ble homi­cide, say­ing his tes­ti­mony had been “vac­il­lat­ing and un­truth­ful”.

He had served one year of a five-year jail sen­tence be­fore be­ing re­leased to house ar­rest in Oc­to­ber.

The ath­lete had sobbed, shaken and vom­ited in the dock as de­tails of his lover’s bru­tal death were ex­am­ined in ex­cru­ci­at­ing de­tail dur­ing his trial while the eyes of the world were trans­fixed.

The “Blade Run­ner” — an ep­i­thet earned for his trade­mark pros­thetic legs that pow­ered him to fame as a Par­a­lympic gold medal­list — be­came the “Blade Gun­ner.”

“He’s not only broke, but he is bro­ken, there is noth­ing left,” lawyer Barry Roux told his sen­tenc­ing hear­ing.

Time and again dur­ing his trial the court was told about “two Os­cars” — one a hero, the other a vic­tim.

But the high-pro­file pro­ceed­ings also ex­posed the 29-year-old’s darker side: of­fer­ing glimpses of a dan­ger­ously volatile man with a pen­chant for guns, beau­ti­ful women and fast cars.

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 was ac­cused of fir­ing a gun through the sun­roof of an ex-girl­friend’s mov­ing car, al­though a court found there was not enough ev­i­dence to con­vict him on that charge.

Weeks be­fore he shot Steenkamp, he 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 home in a high-se­cu­rity 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 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.

He also crashed his boat on a river, break­ing two ribs, an eye socket and his jaw. Empty al­co­hol bot­tles were found in the boat.

He once owned two white tigers but sold them to a zoo in Canada when they be­came too big.

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.

“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 said in a 2011 in­ter­view.

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 were at his side in court.

His mother died when he was 15 and the date of her death is tat­tooed on his arm.

In 2004, just eight months af­ter tak­ing to the track, he smashed the 200m world record at the Athens Par­a­lympics.

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.

“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”.

Mean­while, the High Court in Pre­to­ria on Tues­day granted Pis­to­rius R10 000 bail and post­poned the case to 18 April 2016 for sen­ten­cie.

Deputy Judge Pres­i­dent Aubrey Led­waba said Pis­to­rius must be elec­tron­i­cally mon­i­tored.

Pis­to­rius will only be al­lowed to travel within a ra­dius of 20km around his un­cle’s Waterk­loof home, where he was pre­vi­ously serv­ing un­der cor­rec­tional su­per­vi­sion for his orig­i­nal sen­tence of cul­pa­ble homi­cide.

He will be al­lowed to leave the home be­tween 7am and mid­day, and will need writ­ten per­mis­sion from the in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer to leave the house out­side of those hours.

Pis­to­rius’s lawyer Barry Roux ear­lier told Led­waba that an ap­pli­ca­tion for leave to ap­peal would be brought to the Con­sti­tu­tional Court, and if that was un­suc­cess­ful he would re­turn to the high court for sen­tenc­ing.

— AFP

Os­car Pis­to­rius

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