CAPE TOWN (AFP) - Oscar Pistorius: A champion athlete who beat the odds to inspire millions worldwide, or a disgraced hero with a penchant for guns, beautiful women and fast cars?
Both interpretations of South Africa’s double amputee Olympian will be pored over from Monday when the 27-year-old goes on trial for murder after gunning down his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day in 2013.
Before the shock shooting, Pistorius had been one of the world’s most admired sportsmen. A formidable competitor known as the “fastest man on no legs", he was courted by luxury big brands and named to flattering lists such as the “Sexiest Man Alive”.
But his “Blade Runner” epithet, named after his trademark prosthetic legs that powered him to fame, swiftly became recast as the “Blade Gunner” after he shot dead Ms Reeva Steenkamp.
Born in 1986 in Johannesburg with no fibula bones, Pistorius had both legs amputated below the knee when he was just 11 months old.
But he played sports unhindered while growing up, switching to running after fracturing a knee playing rugby.
“It was never made an issue. My mother would say to my brother, ‘you put on your shoes, and Oscar, you put on your legs, then meet me at the car’,” Pistorius told The Independent in 2011.
Just eight months after taking to the track, he smashed the 200m world record at the Athens Paralympics in 2004.
Next up was the 2008 Beijing Games, where he took the 100m, 200m and 400m sprint titles and launched a battle to take part in the able-bodied athletics, overcoming arguments that his custom-built carbon-fibre 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 Ms Steenkamp, in what he claims was a tragic accident, his sporting prowess has been overshadowed by questions about his behaviour.
Not what people think
In an angry outburst at the London Paralympics, he hit out at the length of the blades of a fellow competitor who had pipped him to gold in the 100m – before apologising.
In 2009, he spent a night in jail after allegedly assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a party in a case that was recently settled out of court.
Two years later, he allegedly fired a gun through the sunroof of an ex-girlfriend’s moving car. And 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,” ex-lover and trial witness Samantha Taylor has said.
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.
Once held in Amsterdam after gunpowder residue was detected on his prosthetics, he also took a New York Times journalist interviewing him to a shooting range.
The same writer described him driving at 250kmh, double the speed limit, and referred to Pistorius as having “a fierce, even frenzied need to take on the world at maximum speed and with minimum caution”.
His passion for motorbikes, adrenalin and speed is well documented. “He likes fast cars. He is just built for speed,” his trainer Jannie Brooks told AFP.
Four years ago he crashed his boat in a river, 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 middle child whose parents divorced when he was six, he has a problematic relationship with his father Henke, but is close to his siblings, who have been at his side in court.
His mother died when he was 15 and the date of her death is tattooed on his arm.
Early court appearances have shown him as a more humane figure, breaking down and sobbing as a man in mourning, with his career on hold and dumped by sponsors.
“He is the definition of global inspiration,” Time magazine proclaimed in its 2012 list of the world’s most influential people.
Less than a year later, Pistorius featured on the cover with the words “Man, Superman, Gunman”.
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