Oscar Pistorius: fall of a flawed and complex sporting icon

Did we ever really know the 'Blade Runner', who has been charged with murdering his model girlfriend

LAST UPDATED AT 13:07 ON Fri 15 Feb 2013

AS OSCAR PISTORIUS appeared in court in South Africa this morning charged with the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, the sudden and shocking fall of the 'Blade Runner', one of the world's most inspirational athletes, dominates the press.

At the London Games last summer, Pistorius established himself as an international sporting icon. The trappings including a model girlfriend and host of lucrative sponsorship deals.

Today, many of the sports journalists who feted the first man to compete in the Olympics and Paralympics at the same Games are concentrating on "the dark side" of his character.

Tales are being recounted of his love of guns; of an arrest for assault in 2009 when he was accused of slamming a door on a young woman; of a speedboat crash that same year that left him badly injured; and of claims last year he threatened to "break the legs" of a man he believed had slept with a former girlfriend.

Much has been made of a quote from an ex who once said: "Oscar is certainly not what people think he is." Then there was his angry and disrespectful reaction to being beaten by Alan Oliveira in the 200m at the London Paralympics, for which he later apologised.

He has a "dichotomous personality", says the Daily Telegraph. Pistorius appeared disciplined on the track and in his battles with the authorities over whether he should be allowed to compete against able-bodied athletes, but his life was "far less structured" away from athletics.

"We assumed that we knew him, found ourselves persuaded by his facade of smooth diplomacy, and yet it transpires we may have known nothing at all about the contradictions that lurked beneath," the paper muses.

"A streak of pugnacity simmered under that placid exterior; would you believe his idol is Mike Tyson? This aggressive tendency is alleged to have manifested itself alarmingly in his personal life."

The Guardian concurs. "Beneath the glossy image, and the sincere accounts of his humble nature, there were some signs of a more complex side to the inspirational tale of the poster boy for the Paralympic movement," writes Owen Gibson.

The Times carries a leader which states that "the reputation of a man hailed not only as a great Paralympian but as simply a great Olympian lies in shards, like a Lalique vase dropped onto marble".

Pistorius was "an athlete who tilted the world of Paralympian sport on its axis". Now, "a man celebrated as a sporting hero has revealed his flaws. It is a further tragedy that Oscar Pistorius's heroic accomplishments now risk being buried along with his name."

In America, Jere Longman of the New York Times notes: "We are reminded yet again that it becomes risky to equate sporting accomplishment with heroism and incorruptible behaviour." · 

Disqus - noscript

Innocent until found guilty

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.