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Bladerunner to be Charged with Murder
Friday, February 15, 2013

Oscar Pistorius’ inspiring tale hides ugly side of life and sports

Bruce Arthur | Feb 14, 2013 5:57 PM ET | Last Updated: Feb 14, 2013 10:13 PM ET
More from Bruce Arthur | @bruce_arthur

We keep getting reminded because we keep forgetting. On Thursday, Oscar Pistorius was charged with the murder of his 29-year-old girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in South Africa. He is accused of shooting her four times in the middle of the night in his home in Pretoria. The news comes as a shock. Murder should always come as a shock, but Oscar Pistorius is supposed to be a hero.
Oscar Pistorius is supposed to be a hero because last year in London he became the first man without intact human legs to run in the Olympics, finishing eighth in a men’s 400-metre semi-final while using his carbon fibre prosthetic blades. He ran in the 4×400 relay, too. In the Closing Ceremony, Pistorius carried South Africa’s flag. He carried it at the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympics two weeks later. He charmed people with his stories and with his attitude. It was an incredible story.

After Reeva Steenkamp death, Oscar Pistorius goes from hero to accused murderer

Only six months ago, Oscar Pistorius was running circles around the track at the Olympic Stadium, a shining example of what a person can achieve in the face of adversity as he competed at the London Games despite losing both of his legs when he was a baby.
He didn’t win a medal, but the “Blade Runner” reveled in in his Olympic moment. On Tuesday, still basking in the glow, Pistorius tweeted a photo from London of himself with eventual 400-metre gold medallist Kirani James, who asked for Pistorius’ bib as a souvenir after running in the same semi-final heat.
“Still on[e] of my fondest memories of the Olympics.. Kirani and I exchanging [numbers],” wrote Pistorius, who was eliminated in that semi-final race.
Two days after that tweet, Pistorius was charged with the murder of his girlfriend after model Reeva Steenkamp was shot inside his home in South Africa. The attention was very different from the sort Pistorius has become accustomed to.
Now he may be a murderer, and people are shocked. There were news reports out of South Africa that said Pistorius claimed he mistook Steenkamp for a burglar; police said they were surprised to hear those reports, and said that neighbours heard screaming and shouting before the gunshots. Police spokesperson Brigadier Denise Beukes told reporters only Pistorius and Steenkamp were in the house, and said, “There is no other suspect involved.”
We do not know exactly what happened inside that house because we were not inside it. Pistorius reportedly owns many firearms, and told The New York Times Magazine that he sleeps with a pistol beside his bed. He posted on Twitter on Nov. 27: “Nothing like getting home to hear the washing machine on and thinking its an intruder to go into full combat recon mode into the pantry!”
The police also said there were previous domestic incidents reported at the house. Pistorius was accused of threatening to break another man’s legs over a woman in November. He was arrested for the alleged assault of a woman at a party he hosted in 2009 — she claimed he slammed a door on her — but the charges were withdrawn.
Should those have been part of the Pistorius story when he reached the far moon of London? Should we have doubted his character? People are using this story to hammer home the point that sports need to avoid creating idols, because those idols are so often false. And it’s true that sportswriting is guilty of hagiography, of ascribing moral greatness to athletic accomplishment, of judging athletes as good or bad people based on the behaviour of those athletes in the wildly distorted fishbowl of professional sports.
People look back on the stories about Pistorius at the Olympics — the ones that talked about his character, his perseverance, the incredible thing he had accomplished — and dismiss them as just another example of the empty inspirational tracts this business and the roaring and sophisticated marketing machine of sports conspire to create.
Except it was an inspiring story. A boy whose lower legs were amputated when he was 11 months old — he was born without fibulas — who walked with prosthetics at 17 months, who learned to run, lost his mother when he was 15, whose father lived far away, who told the story of the day his mother turned to him and his brother and said to his brother “You put your shoes on,” and said to Oscar: “And you put your legs on. And that’s the last I want to hear of it.”
It was incredible that this young boy had trained and persevered and become the first man to run in both the Paralympics and the Olympics. It was a story about human possibility, which is what sports is, at its best. There were stories of how he helped others with disabilities, how he was generous, how he was an icon to people around the world. People were inspired. They weren’t wrong to be.
It’s just that Oscar Pistorius, Blade Runner, wasn’t the whole story. Sports is never the whole story. Lance Armstrong coming back from testicular cancer to win seven Tours de France was not the whole story. Joe Paterno, the learned coach who balanced college football and academics and morality in a way nobody else could, was not the whole story. Manti Te’o's dead girlfriend wasn’t the whole story. Nothing an athlete ever says or does is ever the whole story, any more than your job encapsulates the fullness of your life.
Ice Model Management/The Associated Press
Ice Model Management/The Associated PressModel Reeva Steenkamp, who was allegedly shot four times and killed by Olympian boyfriend Oscar Pistorius.
No, we don’t know athletes any more than we know movie stars. They have public faces and private lives, to varying degrees, and we ascribe the values of the former to the latter, without having a clue. Wade Belak was the happiest guy in the room. So was Junior Seau. O.J. Simpson was beloved.
People hide themselves all the time, and not just in sports. It’s impossible to truly know what is happening inside another person because we are not in their heads any more than we were in that house. There are people who are married to one another for decades for whom their spouse is essentially an undiscovered country.
So when an ex-girlfriend, Samantha Taylor, told a South African paper last year that “Oscar is certainly not what people think he is” — before her lawyer delivered a letter saying she withdrew everything she said — should that have been part of his story? Can everything be part of a story?
No, it cannot. Sports reveal character, but we can’t truly know if whatever drove an athlete to greatness was nobility or obsession or a hidden reservoir of rage. We can’t truly know what fame does to somebody. We can’t know a person, not really, no matter how many TV interviews or magazine features or newspaper columns they are in. Sports, and sportswriting, offers snapshots, glimpses, hints, or façades. Some of it is real, but none of it is ever comprehensive. We think we know, and we don’t, and we have to be reminded of this over and over again, because the lights are bright, and sports can be beautiful, and it causes us to forget, and believe again. Because we want it to be true.
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