Tributes pour in for Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp

Paralympic athlete arrested on suspicion of murdering his girlfriend
  • @Jamie__Lewis

Twitter is awash with tributes to Oscar Pistorius and his now dead girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Olympic gold medallist Jessica Ennis tweeted: "Woken up to the horrendous news about Oscar Pistorius mistakenly shooting his girlfriend. What an awful tragedy." While triple jumper Phillips Idowu added "Waking up to extremely sad news about Oscar Pistorius mistakenly shooting his girlfriend. Terrible tragedy, thoughts & prayers with you".

Prior to the tragic events that unfolded in the early hours of this morning at his Pretorian home - the details of which are sure to emerge in the South African courts in the ensuing days - Pistorius stood out as a rarity of an athlete, one almost universally liked, even loved.

The news, which broke on Valentine's Day, stunned South Africa and the world of athletics. No one was more stunned than Britain’s leading 400m runner Martyn Rooney, who only returned home at the weekend after spending a month training with Pistorius at the Groenkloof Campus in Stellenbosch.

Rooney was too upset to comment today but on 10 Feb he tweeted from South Africa: “Sad to be leaving here, a honour to train with @OscarPistorius and his team for a month.”

Student Samantha Taylor, who dated Pistorius, claimed he was a womaniser and told a newspaper: “Oscar is certainly not what people think he is.”

Steenkamp, who was the face of Avon in South Africa and modeled for men's magazine FHM, was said to be an “absolute angel on earth” by her publicist Sarit Tomlinson.

Tomlinson contined: "We got to hear about it on the news at 8am this morning and we are waiting for official statements. There is too much speculation and no one actually knows what happened."

"She was the sweetest human being and an absolute angel on earth," her publicist said. "It's a huge loss. She was a talented and beautiful girl.

"They had been together for a couple of months and it had been an absolutely healthy relationship."

Pistorius is the most affable of interviewees. He is incredibly unassuming and down to earth, which is far from being a prerequisite for a global sportsmen. He is humble, polite and softly spoken, and from day one has had an ability to treat his disability with humour.

As a 13-year-old boarding at a new school, he assembled his new friends to show them on night one that he had no legs below the knee and asked them, like him, to treat his disability light-heartedly.

"They took the humour to a new level," he recalls. "One night they hid my legs, then poured lighter fluid on my bed frame and lit it. They woke me up and told me the building was burning down, then they all ran out of the door. I couldn't find my prosthetic legs. Then the guys came back in laughing. It was a great practical joke."

Despite his disability, from day one, he has liked to talk of "being blessed", a mantra repeated in his Tweets and the myriad of interviews he has given over the years.

The son of Henke and Sheila, who died when Pistorius was just 15 years old, his past story has been well versed. Born without the fibula, his legs were amputated below the knees before his first birthday.

But his parents never allowed him to be treated differently and, as a result, their son was brought up with a similar mindset to their able-bodied children, coupled with a sheer bloody-mindedness to overcome any obstacle thrown at him.

His first sporting love was rugby but, following a knee injury as a 17-year-old, he was forced to give it up and instead turn to athletics. With that, his trajectory to superstar status began and little over a year later, he was Paralympic champion in Athens over the 200m and the Blade Runner was, in effect, born.

The attention on this remarkable athlete got more amplified each year, even more so with his decision to try to compete against able-bodied athletes at the 2008 Olympics, a matter which went through the courts and led to accusations that his J-flex cheetah legs gave him an unfair advantage.

In the end, the Court of Arbitration for Sport gave him the go ahead to compete but he failed to qualify. He did, though, book his place on the South African team for both the 2011 World Championships and last year's Olympics, making history in the process.

The Games ended with him carrying the flag at the closing ceremony while the ensuing Paralympics were another moment of controversy as he lost out to Alan Oliveira in the 200m and then questioned the validity of the length of the Brazilian's blades in his post-race television interview.

Like much of what Pistorius has done, it gave Paralympic sport yet more profile in the world's media and also him personally, a situation that has not always sat easily with him.

The last time I spoke to him, he had said: "I don't think I'll ever get used to the attention. If you're a musician or an actor, the attention helps you and your career. That's no the case as a sportsman as that attention keeps you away from the track, keeps you from training more and improving."

A devoutly religious man, he prays before every race and, in the warm-up room before competing, usually asks for a fellow rival to pray with him.

Often this was British athlete Martyn Rooney, who until a few days ago had been training in South Africa with Pistorius, while Pistorius' strong beliefs were highlighted by the tattoo on his back quoting the words of St Paul asking for approval from Christ in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27.

He had been set for his first pre-race prayer of 2013 at the Sydney Track Classic on 9 March and had talked excitedly a month ahead of his first of many competitions this season.

His athletic ambitions are unlikely to be anywhere near the forefront of his mind.