PRETORIA, Gauteng: South African Olympic hero Oscar Pistorius was publicly adored, but the killing of his girlfriend has exposed a private life filled with rash behavior, guns, beautiful women and fast cars.
Before the Valentine’s Day shooting of cover girl Reeva Steenkamp, 26-year-old Pistorius was one of the world’s most recognizable and admired sportsmen.
Using two carbon-fiber running blades, he earned himself the epithet “Blade Runner” and “fastest man on no legs”.
But the shooting left South Africa reeling with shock and anger, and one newspaper dubbed him the “Blade Gunner.”
The Johannesburg-born athlete had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old, after being born without lower leg bones.
But he played sports unhindered while growing up, switching to running after fracturing a knee playing rugby.
He took the 100m, 200m and 400m sprint titles at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics and launched a battle to take part in the able-bodied athletics, overcoming arguments that his custom-built carbon-fiber 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.
But since shooting Steenkamp that sporting prowess has been overshadowed by questions about his behavior.
In 2009 Pistorius spent a night in jail after allegedly assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a party. Last year he allegedly fired a gun through the sunroof of his ex-girlfriend’s moving car.
Weeks before he shot his lover, he reportedly discharged a gun by accident at a Johannesburg restaurant.
“Oscar is certainly not what people think he is,” said ex-lover Samantha Taylor last November — two months after a magazine covered the couple’s Seychelles holiday.
Taylor is among the 107 witnesses to testify at the trial, which opens on March 3.
After Taylor, Pistorius started dating model Reeva Steenkamp, who he shot in the dead of the night on February 14 after, he claims, mistaking her for an intruder.
Pistorius has long been open about his love for guns.
The sprinter slept with a pistol under his bed at his upmarket home in a high security Pretoria estate for fear of burglars, he told Britain’s Daily Mail last year.
He once took a journalist interviewing him to a shooting range.
Pistorius has a passion for motorbikes, adrenalin and speed. “He likes fast cars. He is just built for speed,” his trainer Jannie Brooks told Agence France-Presse last year.
Four years ago he crashed his boat in a river south of Johannesburg, breaking two ribs, an eye socket and his jaw. Empty alcohol bottles were found in the boat.
He also once owned two white tigers but sold them to a zoo in Canada when they became too big.
A turbulent family life marked his childhood. His parents divorced when he was six and his mother died when he was 15. The date she died is tattooed on his arm.
The middle child between a younger sister and elder brother, he has problematic relationship with his father, Henke, but the two brothers are close.
Just weeks after he shot Steenkamp, Pistorius’s father said white South Africans must own guns because the ANC government does not protect them.
That statement caused discomfort and forced the family to publicly distance itself from the remarks.
The athlete has cut a more humane figure, breaking down and sobbing during his several court appearances this year. On Monday he cried while holding hands and praying with his siblings.
For now his sprinting career is off track, he has pulled out of all races this season.
Days following the murder which has drawn inevitable comparisons with American ex-football star O.J. Simpson, acquitted of killing his ex-wife, Pistorius suffered a huge financial blow.
US sportswear giant Nike and French cosmetic firm Clarins scrapped lucrative endorsement deals they had signed with him.