Oscar Pistorius


South African sprint runner Oscar Pistorius was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1986. Born without a fibula in either of his legs, Pistorius’ legs were amputated below the knee just before he turned one. After competing in several school sports, he took up running at 16 and within just a few months had captured a gold at the 2004 Athens Paralympics. Initially banned from international competition, Pistorius successfully appealed the ruling and at the 2012 Summer games in London became the first amputee to compete in in track events at the Olympics. In early 2013, Pistorius admitted to shooting and killing his girlfriend, South African model Reeva Steenkamp, at his home in South Africa.

Early Life

Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius, the first amputee athlete to compete in the Olympics, was born on November 22, 1986, in Johannesburg, South Africa. The son of Henk and Sheila Pistorius, Oscar Pistorius was the middle child of three. His family, while prominent in South Africa, were largely middle class.

Pistorius’ childhood was shaped partly by tragedy. His parents divorced when he was 6, a fact that largely contributed to a strained relationship between Oscar and his father, a businessman, that continues to this day. His mother died when he was 15, the result of drug complications following a hysterectomy. Pistorius’ own physical health was marred at birth. Born without a fibula in either of his legs, his parents made the difficult decision to have their son’s legs amputated below his knees just before his first birthday.

Within six months, Pistorius was walking successfully with a pair of prosthetic legs. His handicap hardly slowed his large interest in sports, which spanned from cricket to wrestling to boxing.

It wasn’t until he was 16, and in need of a sport that could help him rehab a knee following a rugby injury, that Pistorius was introduced to the track. His rise in the sport came quickly. In January 2004, he competed in his first 100-meter race; nearly eight months later, Pistorius, wearing a pair of Flex-Foot Cheetahs, a light-weight carbon fiber foot, and captured the gold medal in the 200-meter race at the 2004 Athens Paralympics.

Olympic Milestone

Following his win in Athens, Pistorius competed in several races in South Africa against able-bodied athletes. Success begat greater attention, and European race organizers were soon inviting Pistorius to their events.

But Pistorius’ artificial legs have been a source of controversy throughout much of his athletic career. In 2007, the International Association of Athletic Foundations—the worldwide body that governs international competition—banned Pistorius from competing, stating that his artificial legs gave him an unfair advantage over able-bodied athletes in the competition. Pistorius immediately appealed the ruling and in May 2008, the Court of Arbitration for sport sided with the sprinter and overturned the I.A.A.F. ruling.

After missing the cut for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, a determined Pistorius focused his training on making the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. Along the way, Pistorius, who’s been nicknamed “Blade Runner” and has been called the “fastest man on no legs,” captured three gold medals at the 2011 IPC Athletic World Championships. Two more titles followed, in the 400-meter and 100-meter, at the BT Paralympics World Cup.

In the spring of 2012, Pistorius realized his ultimate dream when he qualified for the 400-meter race at the London Olympics. While he was eventually eliminated in the semifinal round, he secured his place in history by becoming the first amputee athlete to compete at track events n the Olympics. To mark the occasion, Pistorius flew out his 89-year-old grandmother to watch him race. “It’s just an unbelievable experience,” Pistorius said shortly after his first Olympic race. “I found myself smiling on the starting blocks, which is very rare.”

Charged With Murder

The track star made headlines of a different kind in February 2013, after his girlfriend, famous South African model Reeva Steenkamp, was found dead at his home in Pretoria, South Africa. According to police, Steenkamp was shot and killed on the morning of February 14, 2013, with bullet wounds to the head and one arm. Pistorius was soon named a suspect in the case.

Five days after Reeva Steenkamp’s death, on February 19, 2013, during a hearing at the Magistrate Court in Pretoria, Pistorius admitted to unintentionally shooting Steenkamp at his home on Valentine’s Day 2013. He went on to state that he had mistaken his girlfriend for an intruder and shot her through a locked bathroom door in the home. Consequently, Pistorius faced a charge of premeditated murder that would result in a mandatory life sentence in the event that a guilty verdict was reached.

Later in February 2013, it was reported that Oscar Pistorius’s brother, Carl Pistorius, is facing a homicide charge relating to a 2008 road accident during which a cyclist was killed.

2014 Trial

On March 3, 2014, the trial for Pistorius began. In addition to being charged with premeditated murder, Pistorius also faced two separate gun indictments from incidents unrelated to the death of his girlfriend. He pleaded not guilty to all charges. Pistorius claimed that he was frightened in his home at the noise of an unknown intruder, which caused him to shoot at the bathroom door when coupled with his vulnerable state of mind without his prosthetic legs.

Pistorius’s neighbor Michelle Burger, testified that she heard a “bloodcurdling” scream from a woman on the night of the murder, followed by a man yelling for help three times. Burger also claimed to have heard gunshots. Prosecutors within the trial accused Pistorius of having argued with Steenkamp on the night of the murder, resulting in her locking herself in the toilet.

As the trial progressed, Pistorius took the stand to defend himself. He first offered his apologies to Steenkamp’s family before continuing to claim that he shot her by accident. During his testimony, Pistorius broke down into tears. Some observers were not swayed by this show of emotion. Reports later surfaced that he had taken acting lessons before his court appearance, but Pistorius has denied these claims.

After a recess of a few weeks, the trial resumed in May. Pistorius’s lawyers called a psychiatrist to testify that Pistorius suffered from a “generalized anxiety disorder,” according to the Los Angeles Times. This condition was introduced as a possible influence on Pistorius and his deadly actions. The judge overseeing the case then called for another delay in the trial for Pistorius to undergo a full mental health examination by a team of psychiatrists.

Pistorius was determined to not have an anxiety disorder, according to the psychological report released in late June. His trial soon resumed and carried on for several more weeks before both sides presented their closing arguments. On September 11th, the judge in the case declared that Pistorius was not guilty of premeditated murder. Pistorius was later found guilty of culpable homicide. In October, he was sentenced to five years in prison for the crime. At the time, some legal experts believed that Pistorius will spend as little as 10 months behind bars.

In June 2015, reports surfaced that Pistorius would soon be released from jail. According to CNN.com, a parole board recommended that the former athlete be freed in August after serving only 10 months. Steenkamp’s parents were deeply upset by this news. They put out a written statement at the time, according to CBS News, that said “incarceration of 10 months for taking a life is simply not enough.”

On October 19, 2015, Pistorius was released from prison and placed under house arrest and correctional supervision for four years. In a speech given at Reeva Steenkamp’s former school in Port Elizabeth, her mother June said she had to forgive to move on with her own life: “I didn’t want him to be thrown in jail and be suffering because I don’t wish suffering on anyone, and that’s not going to bring Reeva back.”

Appeals Court Charges Pistorius With First-Degree Murder

On December 3, 2015 the top appeals court in South Africa ruled that Pistorius was guilty of first-degree murder of Steenkamp. The court believed that a misinterpretation of laws combined with a dismissal of circumstantial evidence caused state prosecutors to offer the lesser charge of manslaughter in 2014.

On the charge of first-degree murder, Judge Eric Leach said: “I have no doubt that, in firing the fatal shots, the accused must have foreseen, and therefore did foresee, that whoever was behind the toilet door might die, but reconciled himself to that event occurring and gambled with that person’s life… the identity of his victim is irrelevant to his guilt.”

The Pistorius family is currently considering what legal steps they ought to take amid the ruling.


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