Here’s my Sports Talk column from today’s Global Times on Oscar Pistorius’ fall from grace:
When Oscar Pistorius came to Beijing for the 2008 Paralympic Games, he was already something of a celebrity. As a 17-year-old, he had won Paralympic gold in Athens four years earlier, and though he had failed in his bid to run at the Beijing Olympic Games against able-bodied athletes, he didn’t disappoint at the Paralympic Games, winning three gold medals and running record times in each event.
Speaking to him on the track immediately after his third win, I remember a humble young man breathless with excitement, and quick to credit others for his success. He told me his dream had been realized. But that dream has turned to a nightmare.
Pistorius faces a bail hearing on Tuesday, accused of murdering his girlfriend, fellow South African and supermodel Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day. Police in Pretoria were quick to distance themselves from reports that Pistorius mistakenly thought a burglar had entered his house, and it is hard to see how the man known as the Blade Runner will escape a lengthy prison sentence.
The pictures of his sobbing figure in court could not have given a more different impression than the confident, friendly personality seen on the track. In London last year, he won two more Paralympic gold medals as well as a silver, but his greatest achievement was running in the semifinal of the Olympic 400 meters.
Having overcome the twin trials of his mother’s early death and his own disability, Pistorius seemed to personify inspiration. But athletes are built up to be as perfect off the track as they are on it, and as early as 2009, the veneer was beginning to crack. That September, Pistorius was arrested after allegedly slamming a door on a woman, but charges were later dropped.
The sprinter-turned-superstar appears to have lived life a little too fast. He has been responsible for serious crashes involving a car, a dirt bike and a boat, all the while racking up sponsors and appearing on celebrity TV shows in Italy, where he trains. And then there are the weapons: a revolver by his bedside, a machine gun by his window, a baseball bat behind his bedroom door.
Back in 2008, he spoke of looking forward to the years ahead. Those years, it seems, will now be spent behind bars.
There was another weapon as well – a cricket bat – and given the latest revelations coming out of South Africa, it would be incredible if Pistorius escapes prison.