London: It was Samantha Taylor, a Cape Town marketing student and Oscar Pistorius’s girlfriend of 18 months, who made the first public suggestion this supposed paragon of virtue was not quite how he appeared.
“Oscar is certainly not what people think he is,” she said, intimating that the South African’s charming urbanity was a highly-polished veneer. Pistorius’s impeccable politesse, allied to his athletic fortitude, made him a marketing dream.
He was the cherubic emblem of disability sport. But signs emerged at the Paralympics, once breathless talk of the transcendence of his Olympic baptism had subsided, that the halo was beginning to slip.
Overtaken in the last strides by Brazil’s Alan Oliveira in a dramatic final of the T43/44 200 metres, Pistorius could not conceal his chagrin, accusing his rival of racing with longer artificial legs. “We’re not running a fair race here,” he claimed. “I don’t believe you can come from eight metres behind to win.” He later apologised for his comments.
The remarks left him dangerously exposed to charges of hypocrisy. For years he had been railing against critics who claimed that his prostheses invested him with an unfair advantage, and now here he was impugning the integrity of a fellow athlete on the same issue. The apparent double standard also smacked of a worrying arrogance.
Pistorius has projected himself as a man of overt Christian faith, talking repeatedly of being “blessed” in his rise to become the poster-boy of the Paralympic movement, a role he has adored.
The 26-year-old has the following passage from the first book of Corinthians tattooed on his left shoulder: “I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Trying to explain how the religious message applied to him, he said: “There is a risk for all of us, in sport as in life, of being hypocritical: you tell other people what to do, yet you are not doing it yourself. Spiritually, I believe it is important to live by example.”
The tragic events at Pistorius’s Pretoria home on Thursday were the ultimate reflection of his dichotomous personality.
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.
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. Pistorius admitted that his previous relationship with Vicky Miles, a girlfriend since school days, had been “very fiery” and that the couple “often rowed”.
At Schipol Airport in Amsterdam in 2006, Pistorius was detained after being accused of making a false declaration over a plane ticket, and was held again after security officers found traces of explosive material on his prosthetic limbs.
Pistorius could seem to the casual observer intensely disciplined, regimented even, but away from the athletics track he lived a far less structured life. In 2008, he crashed his boat into a submerged object on a river south of Johannesburg, breaking his jaw and requiring 172 stitches in his face.
There was also a love of guns.
When a reporter visited Pistorius at his house last winter, the sprinter took him to a nearby shooting range to practise with a nine-millimetre handgun — the same weapon which is said to have killed Reeva Steenkamp in the early hours of Thursday.