Oscar Pistorius: The boy who fought the odds to inspire millions

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The South African hero was arrested by police yesterday after allegedly shooting dead his girlfriend

It was at London's Paralympics last summer when Oscar Pistorius's mask first slipped.

The South African sprinter, whose heroic effort to compete against able-bodied athletes had seen him take part in the Olympics themselves the month before, responded to his first ever defeat in a 200m final by rounding on the man who had beaten him. “We aren't racing a fair race,” he complained.

Pistorius, the poster boy with the brilliant smile, accused Brazilian victor Alan Oliveira of cheating by using longer prosthetic blades than his own, and even implied that he may have been getting a boost by other means. Considering his own battles with those who have accused him of gaining an unfair advantage from his carbon-fibre prosthetics it was a graceless reaction. It was also the first time public at large caught a glimpse of what many closer observers had known for some time: that the Blade Runner had a furious temper.

Yesterday, the South African police charged Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius with murder after his girlfriend was found dead at his home in Pretoria. While sponsors rushed to tear down billboards bearing his image and broadcasters dropped him from their schedules, there was a broader feeling that the media had ignored a darker side to the first Paralympic icon.

The confusion of man and myth has been obvious since he first entered the public conscience back in 2007 and threatened to bridge the divide between Paralympic and Olympic competition by sheer force of his performance.

Tom Hanks started bidding for the film rights to the story of the young South African with the J-shaped prosthetics. The plot was compelling: the first double-amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes in an Olympic Games, who was listed in 2012 by Time magazine among the world’s 100 most influential people.

It was an unlikely accomplishment for a boy born without fibulae, whose parents Henke and Sheila had to make the agonising decision to amputate their 11-month-old sons legs below the knee in October 1987.

By the age of 16, with the help of his prosthetics, he was playing competitive sport at school. Then a serious knee injury on the rugby field in 2003 put him into rehabilitation and on a path that would peak at the top of the rostrum in Athens, where he won Paralympic gold a year later.

Pistorius’s pursuit of able-bodied elite athletes made him a global phenomenon, pushing back the boundaries of disability and capturing the imagination of a world willing him to catch up with them. The commercial rewards for his global profile were considerable – he earned sponsorship deals said to be worth $2m a year with corporate partners from Nike to BT, Oakley and even French fashion house Thierry Mugler.

His fame peaked in London last July, where he reached the semi-finals of the Olympic 400m and the final of the 4 x 400m relay. “As I came out of the tunnel, I saw my friends and family, including my grandmother with the South African flag,” he said. “On the blocks, I didn’t know whether I should cry or be happy.”

September’s outburst at Oliveira tarnished his image and forced him to issue a public apology. But he seemed to have recovered his fairytale touch on the final day of the London games, when he won the 400m and earned a standing ovation from the 80,000 crowd. He beat his nemesis over 200m by a huge margin.

However, back home in South Africa there were further indications of his combustible character when he hit the headlines in December after allegedly threatening to break the legs of businessman Quinton van der Burgh, whom he reportedly accused of an illicit tryst with a girl Pistorius had also been seeing.

Deeply religious, Pistorius has a verse from Corinthians tattooed on his left shoulder: “I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. I execute each strike with intent. I beat my body and make it my slave...”

He also has the date of his mother’s death in 2002 tattooed on the inside of an arm and credits her stridently positive attitude with his rejection of self-pity and athletic drive: “There wasn’t much scope for me to think about my disability as a disadvantage or to pity myself.”

Another more complex character has been evident behind his against all odds exterior. Friends had warned that his risk-taking and sleeplessness have seemed out of control. In 2009 he was lucky to survive and was accused of reckless and negligent diriving after crashing his speedboat. A motorbike accident left one of his famed prosthetics hanging from a barbed wire.

When a visiting writer from The New York Times admitted to him two years ago that he had not shot a weapon, gun enthusiast Mr Pistorius took him to the shooting range where he said he would sometimes go at night when he could not sleep. The athlete mentioned to him that when his house alarm rang at night he would tip-toe downstairs with his 9mm pistol. Later, pleased with his journalist pupil's progress the runner told him: “If you practiced, I think you could be pretty deadly.”

The South African's tumultuous romantic life has been a staple of local gossip pages but some incidents went largely unreported. While no charges were pressed police sources said they were aware of at least one other complaint of “abuse” from a young woman who had been dating the athlete. Yesterday as he languished in the holding cells of Pretoria police station, officials said that it was not the first time they had been called on to the track star's Silverwoods residence.

There had been an unspecified number of other incidents “of a domestic nature”, they revealed.

Sport
Premier League Live
footballLIVE Follow all the Premier League action as it happens
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + echSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
James Argent from Towie is missing, police say
peopleTV star had been reported missing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone