Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Oscar Pistorius South Africa's favourite son in jail - charged with murder of FHM model Reeva Steenkamp

Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius has been charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp (AP Photo/Lucky Nxumalo-Citypress)
Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius has been charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp (AP Photo/Lucky Nxumalo-Citypress)
Reeva Steenkamp
ReevaSteenkamp

When South African police were called to an upmarket gated community in Pretoria early yesterday, the address was familiar to them. It was not the first time they had been summoned to the home of one of the world's most recognisable athletes, Oscar Pistorius, to deal with domestic disputes.

What they found this time was the dead body of his girlfriend. Reeva Steenkamp had been shot three times in the head and torso with a 9mm handgun. As news of her death spread, so did the theory that she might have been killed as the result of a Valentine's Day surprise gone horribly wrong. Perhaps, it was suggested, the Olympic icon had shot her by accident, thinking she was a burglar. After all, South Africa has one of the world's worst crime rates and the second-highest rate of death by shooting.

By yesterday afternoon, a had been charged with murder. Police refused to name the Paralympian but confirmed he was helping them with their inquiries. They also said there were no other suspects and denied that any officers were behind the burglar theory.

A resident of Silver Woods, the "security estate" where Mr Pistorius lives, told The Independent last night that video evidence handed to police showed that Ms Steenkamp arrived at the athlete's home at 8.15pm on Wednesday. Police are in possession of CCTV footage from inside the complex, given to them by the estate manager.

As the world's media gathered at Silver Woods, a police spokeswoman, Denise Beukes, appeared to scotch the accident theory entirely, suggesting that neighbours heard the couple arguing the night before.

"We are talking about neighbours and people that heard things earlier in the evening and when the shooting took place," she said.

Mr Pistorius, the double amputee whose story of triumph over adversity elevated him into the ranks of sporting superstardom, and whose image has been projected onto giant screens in New York's Times Square, was seen leaving a Pretoria police station with his grey hooded top pulled up and his head bowed. After a morning spent answering police questions, he was taken to Mamalodi hospital on the outskirts of the city to undergo standard medical tests, including DNA samples and a blood alcohol measure.

The Paralympic gold medallist is due in court today after a hearing yesterday afternoon was postponed to give forensic investigators time to carry out their work. Prosecutors made it clear they would oppose any request for bail.

As the initial case was being prepared last night, Mr Pistorius's sponsors were hastily removing his image from their billboards and television commercials. South Africa's satellite broadcaster DSTV was quickly followed by the US sporting giant Nike, which pulled a campaign featuring the sprinter under the strapline: "I am a bullet in the chamber."

Mr Pistorius, a noted gun enthusiast, posted pictures of himself on Twitter in November 2011 boasting of his high score at a local shooting range: "Had a 96 per cent headshot over 300m from 50 shots! Bam!"

The runner, who last year became the first double amputee to compete in a summer Olympic Games, was known to own a 9mm handgun he had previously shown to reporters during interviews. Yesterday police recovered a 9mm pistol from the scene.

Last night, police had still not released the identity of the dead woman but Ms Steenkamp's talent management agency, Capacity Relations, named the 30-year-old model as the victim of the shooting. When officers arrived they found paramedics trying to revive the well-known cover girl, but she died at the house.

A resident at Silver Woods said he had spoken to a nearby shopkeeper who said the model went into his store to purchase Valentine's Day gifts before visiting Mr Pistorius at home on Wednesday. Ms Steenkamp bought picture frames, among other items, and said she hoped the track star would like them, telling the shop owner: "Oscar doesn't like surprises."

Mr Pistorius's former coach, Andrea Giannini, was among those holding on to the hope that the shooting was "just a tragic accident". Speaking in Italy, where the runner spends part of each year training, he said: "No matter how bad the situation was, Oscar always stayed calm and positive. Whenever he was tired or nervous he was still extremely nice to people. I never saw him violent."

Mr Pistorius - whose determination to overcome being born without fibulae so that he could compete with the fastest men on the planet had won him admirers all over the world - spent last night in a prison cell in South Africa's political capital. His lawyer, Kenny Oldwage, said his client was "doing well but was very emotional".

In 2008, Mr Pistorius qualified for the Beijing Games but was ruled ineligible by the world governing body because his blades were deemed to give him a competitive advantage.

He won two gold medals and a silver at last year's Paralympic Games in London. In the Olympics, he reached the 400m semi-final and competed in the 4x400m relay.

Blade runner Pistoruis - his long battle to compete

Pistorius, known as the Blade Runner because of the distinctive prosthetics he uses for racing, is the world's best known Paralympic athletes.

He made history in London last summer when he became the first amputee athlete to take part in the Olympic Games.

The multiple Paralympic gold medal winner, who had to win a legal battle to line up alongside able-bodied athletes on his Ossur Flex-Foot Cheetah hi-tech "legs", raced in the 400m and the 4x400m relay.

Pistorius was born in Pretoria in 1986 without the fibula in both legs.

When he was aged 11 months, his parents make the decision to have his legs amputated below the knee.

His desire to compete was clear from an early age as he played rugby, water polo and tennis as a schoolboy.

In early 2004, aged 17, he turned to athletics after shattering his right knee playing rugby.

Wearing blades his impact was immediate - after two months training he set a new world record of 11.51 seconds in the 100m at an open competition at the Pilditch Stadium in Pretoria.

That September he won gold in the 200m at the Paralympic Games in Athens, setting a new world record of 21.97 seconds, plus a bronze in the 100m.

Pistorius had already set his sights on competing against able-bodied athletes. In 2005 he finished sixth in the open/able-bodied category 400m at the South African Open Championships.

The next few years saw more Paralympic medals, plus the 2007 BBC Sports Personality of the Year Helen Rollason award, for outstanding courage and achievement in the face of adversity.

But in January 2008 his hopes of taking part in the Beijing Olympics suffered a setback when the IAAF ruled that his prosthetic legs were ineligible for use in competitions conducted under its rules, including the Olympic Games.

He appealed and the Court of Arbitration for Sport reversed the ban the following May.

However, he failed to qualify for the South African Olympic team in the 400m, despite running a personal best of 46.25 seconds.

He later took part in the Beijing Paralympics, winning gold in the 100m, 200m and the 400m, setting a new world record in the 400m.

Four years later he was named in the South African team for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

After getting to the semi-finals of the 400m individual event, he was part of the South Africa team which finished eighth in the 4x400m relay final.

He later carried his country's flag at the closing ceremony.

His performances in the Paralympic Games also created a media storm - for a different reason.

On September 2 he finished second in the final of the 200m T44 classification, losing a lengthy lead to Alan Oliveira.

After the race, Pistorius raised issues with the length of his Brazilian rival's blades.

The following day he apologised for his outburst, saying "I would never want to detract from another athlete's moment of triumph."

Pistorius went on to add gold in the 400m and the 4x100m metres relay to his Paralympic tally.

Away from the track Pistorius is a motivational speaker and an ambassador for the Mineseeker Foundation, which raises money to clear minefields and helps people affected by landmines.

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