The Rise and Fall of “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius

Known as the South African “Blade Runner,” Oscar Pistorius was a hero for overcoming a double amputation and being the first amputee to compete in the Olympic games. However, his entire life changed in 2013 when he shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day. Pistorius claimed it was an accident.

Oscar Pistorius / Oscar Pistorius / Reeva Steenkamp, Oscar Pistorius / Oscar Pistorius.
Source: Getty Images

His millions of fans couldn’t believe their hero was also a killer. Pistorius inspired many people for his hard work and perseverance, but all that came crashing down in a matter of moments. It has been almost a decade since the devastating incident, but his horrific act still haunts him.

Valentine’s Day Nightmare

“What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow?” Those were the last words Reeva Steenkamp shared with her Twitter followers as she prepared for Valentine’s Day with her boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius. The Olympic athlete and Steenkamp were about to celebrate their first Valentine’s Day together.

A photo of Oscar and Reeva.
Oscar Pistorius, Reeva Steenkamp. Source: Facebook

In the early hours of February 14, 2013, Pistorius phoned the manager of his gated community, asking him to call an ambulance. Pistorius had fired four shots through the bathroom door, killing Steenkamp. He claimed that he mistook her for a possible intruder. But how did he go from a beloved hero to a killer?

How Did Oscar Pistorius Lose His Legs?

On November 22, 1986, Henke and Sheila Pistorius welcomed their son Oscar in Johannesburg, South Africa. Although he was a healthy baby, the doctors realized something was wrong with his legs. He had fibular hemimelia, the congenital absence of the fibula in both legs. Therefore, his parents had to make a difficult decision.

A picture of Oscar Pistorius during the 2012 London Paralympics.
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

At 11 months old, Pistorius had both his legs amputated between his ankles and knees. Despite his early struggles, Pistorius was quite the athlete from an early age. While attending school, he played rugby, water polo, and tennis. He had prosthetics since he was a year old, so Pistorius didn’t know any different.

A Defining Moment

When Pistorius got his prosthetics, it was a defining moment in his life. The plaster and mesh fitted with Lycra “skin” felt liberating. His legs made him feel invincible and this time shaped his personality. Pistorius said, “My family was instrumental in laying the foundation of my competitive nature.”

Pistorius holds one of his running legs while giving a speech.
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Although it made him different from the other kids, Pistorius sometimes forgot he had prosthetics. Mentally, Pistorius was the same as everyone else and didn’t like when people reminded him that he wasn’t like everyone else. He was born that way, so he didn’t know what “normal” was.

His Biggest Influence

Pistorius’ mother had a huge influence on his life. She would put inspirational notes in the lunchboxes of her children. Pistorius still has one that says, “The real loser is never the person who crosses the finishing line last. The real loser is the person who sits on the side, the person who doesn’t even try.”

A photo of Pistorius during the Paralympics / A portrait of Pistorius’ mother.
Photo by Ian MacNicol, Getty Images / CBS

Shelia raised all her children to be strong and never let Pistorius feel sad for what he didn’t have. She always helped him look on the bright side and see the advantages of not having legs. His mom was unlike anyone else in his life, and Pistorius struggled when she was gone.

His Teacher Got Him Into Sports

While attending Constantia Kloof Primary School, his teacher, Tessa Shellard, encouraged Pistorius to participate in sports. She put him on the school team for a prestigious nationwide triathlon series, even though he was not the best athlete. Shellard believed in Pistorius and pushed him out of his comfort zone.

A picture of Tessa Shellard and Pistorius.
Tessa Shellard, Oscar Pistorius. Source: BBC

Shellard said, “I gave him the opportunity that maybe others didn’t give him. I saw a youngster with a disability but one who had it within himself to persevere.” Even when Pistorius came in last, he always gave it his all.

Helping Hands

With the encouragement of his family, teachers, and friends, Pistorius participated in the biathlon race at school. He gave everything he had until his prosthetics began hurting too much. Although he could have given up, his friends weren’t going to leave him behind.

A dated portrait of Oscar and his father.
Oscar Pistorius, Henke Pistorius. Source: Facebook

After the 75m swim, he climbed out of the pool and into the arms of his friends. His friend, Deon, ran ahead with Pistorius on his back. For the 800m run, his friends passed Pistorius from one person to the next so he could finish the race.

Wild Child

As a kid, Pistorius was a bit of a daredevil. At age four, he was already racing mini motorbikes. It began a lifelong passion for speed, as an adrenaline junky. In one of his earliest moments, he sped down a hill near his home in his older brother, Carl’s, go-kart.

An image of Pistorius during training.
Photo by Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images

As the wall at the bottom of the hill got closer, with no brakes in the go-kart, Carl pulled off Pistorius’ leg and pushed it into the wheel as an emergency brake. The narrow escape didn’t diminish his new addiction.

Encouraged by His Family

Pistorius was a hotheaded adventurer as he grew up. He would race his father at go-karting, drive his brother’s golf cart. As an adult, a speedboating accident nearly ended his career. This need for speed was partly encouraged by his family.

A picture of Pistorius at the Paralympic Games.
Photo by Gallo Images/Getty Images

His parents were determined that his disability would not make him a spectator in life. No one in the family was allowed to say, “I can’t.” When Pistorius got into fights as a kid, his dad and grandfather taught him to box instead of punishing him.

He Developed His Athletic Abilities

In his early years, Pistorius showed little athletic ability. His talents didn’t shine until he got to high school, where he could use a much lighter prosthetic made by a family friend and engineer, Chris Hatting. Pistorius found a love for endurance running at first.

A photo of Pistorius at the Olympics Stadium in Rome.
Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

He showed his talents in the 10km races, rugby, and water polo. When Pistorius discovered sports that he could properly compete in, his schooldays became much happier. He wasn’t just participating; Pistorius was finally a competitor. Sports helped him forget about everything happening at home.

His Parents Divorced

Three life-changing events cast a somber light on his teen years. The first was his parents’ divorce. He and his siblings were separated from his father and lived with their mom in a smaller home. Pistorius’ father tried to bridge the distance by buying them a small speedboat.

A photo of the Pistorius.
Source: Facebook

The speedboat gave him and Carl another chance to race against each other, this time on water-skis. Then, in March 2002, his world shifted once again. When Pistorius was 15, he lost the most important woman in his life, his mom.

It Was Hard to Overcome

When his mother died, Pistorius turned to sports for salvation. Sheila valued each of her children for their individual talents and helped other parents with disabled children. Pistorius was devastated after losing his mom, and his aunt stepped in to help.

A picture of Sheila and Pistorius as a young boy.
Sheila Pistorius, Oscar Pistorius. Source: Facebook

His aunt Diana said Sheila was such a devoted mother and her death required a “huge adjustment at a difficult time developmentally.” It left a gap in Pistorius’ life, and he handled her death by channeling all his energy into school and sports. It was his happy place.

Another Hard Hit

A year after his mom’s death came the third life-changing event – Pistorius shattered his knee during a rugby game. He had been working hard on his general fitness to get better at rugby and water polo, spending every day in the gym boxing, jumping rope, and doing push-ups.

A portrait of Oscar Pistorius.
Photo by David Ashdown/Getty Images

It all came to a grinding halt after his injury. Pistorius found himself at the same doctors who had amputated his legs when he was a baby, and his recovery was a slow process. He was advised to try sprinting to heal his knee joint during his rehabilitation.

A Star Athlete Was Born

Chris Hatting gave Pistorius a pair of Flex-Foot Cheetah blades to make running easier. Three weeks after taking up sprinting, Pistorius ran his first 100m race. With his father watching, he won with a record time faster than any double amputee before. He was a star in the making.

A photo of Pistorius at the time.
Photo by Lisa Hnatowic/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Eight months later, Pistorius took home the gold in the 200m race at the Paralympics in Athens. His life changed forever, and the world started noticing his incredible talents and charismatic personality. Many people started looking to him for inspiration.

Was It an Advantage?

It didn’t take long for Pistorius to start competing against non-disabled athletes. He finished second in a Golden Gala 400m race in 2007, and he took last place in Sheffield due to the wet conditions. While he was more than talented, people questioned if his prosthetics gave him an advantage.

A picture of Pistorius celebrating his win in a championship.
Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Sadly, in 2008, the governing body of athletics (IAAF) concluded that his running blades were an advantage and banned them. However, Pistorius fought the decision and won an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS).

It Almost Ended His Career

In 2009, Pistorius was captaining a speedboat when he was thrown overboard in an accident on the Vaal River. He almost died, and many thought his career was over. Pistorius was airlifted to the hospital, where he underwent surgery to repair broken facial bones.

A photo of Pistorius.
Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

The accident raised concerns about his fitness as he was in the middle of training for the Olympics. Luckily, he made a full recovery, but the accident affected his training and running schedule that year. Pistorius was lucky to be alive, and he kept pushing.

Olympic Dreams

Winning the appeal paved the way for Pistorius to compete in the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing later that year. Unfortunately, he failed to qualify, so he set his sights on the 2012 London games. He worked hard and trained intensely over the next four years.

Pistorius speaks to the media.
Photo by Tim Whitby/Getty Images

All his training paid off when he qualified for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Pistorius became a breakthrough name for trying to compete in both games. He rejected the thought that competing in the Olympics meant he regarded Paralympics as second-rate.

Making History

Pistorius always believed it was unfair to exclude disabled athletes from participating in the Olympics if they were good enough. Therefore, it was a huge accomplishment when he became the first amputee runner to compete at the Olympic Games. The achievement made him a hero.

A photo of Pistorius at 2012 London Olympic Games.
Photo by Julia Vynokurova/Getty Images

In the 400m race, he finished second during the qualifiers but ended up in last place during the semi-finals. Despite not winning a medal, Pistorius’ Olympic appearance was a historical moment for disabled athletes. He was even chosen to carry the South African flag at the closing ceremony.

He Changed

As he became more popular, Pistorius gained several major sponsorship deals. Not only was he a good athlete, but he was a good-looking man ready to take on the world. But as the sponsorship deals and media requests rolled in, many people noticed him change.

A portrait of Reeva and Oscar attending an event.
Reeva Steenkamp, Oscar Pistorius. Photo by Waldo Swiegers/Heat Magazine/Gallo Images/Getty Images

The once kind and bubbly man they knew turned into a diva who stormed out of interviews and had outbursts towards other athletes. The attention went to his head, and Pistorius became cold, stand-offish, and rude. It raised red flags.

Warning Signs

Sports journalist Graeme Joffe said he was surprised that no one on Pistorius’ media or management team condemned his behavior. Joffe felt Pistorius was acting like a spoiled brat and his attitude came out at the Paralympics in 2012, where he embarrassed his country.

Oscar Pistorius attends the British Olympic Ball.
Photo by John Phillips/UK Press/Getty Images

It wasn’t just about fame going to his head; Pistorius was aggressive and reckless. Joffe noted an incident when a gun went off in a restaurant and another shot through a car roof. Pistorius also got in physical and verbal fights that the South African media didn’t show.

Making Headlines

Although his negative behavior wasn’t in the press and anyone who dared to question if Pistorius’ blades gave him an advantage was denied future interviews, one part of his life was front-page news: his relationship with Reeva Steenkamp. The two met in November 2012 through friends.

Steenkamp and Pistorius pose for the press.
Photo by Waldo Swiegers/Heat Magazine/Gallo Images/Getty Images

They were introduced at a car racing event, and Steenkamp agreed to accompany Pistorius to an awards ceremony that night as he didn’t have a date. Steenkamp was already a reality show star and a regular face in magazines, and she was widely popular.

It Seemed Different Than Other Relationships

Two weeks before Steenkamp’s murder, the couple had dinner with Del Levin and his wife. Levin said Pistorius and Steenkamp seemed happy after knowing each other for only three months. Pistorius’ past relationships were filled with nasty arguments and tension, as he wrote in his book.

A picture of Reeva Steenkamp.
Source: Facebook

Those who knew Pistorius shared that he would have tough arguments with girlfriends, and he had an explosive temper. However, people fell in love with Pistorius when they met him, which is what happened when Steenkamp got to know the athlete.

He Worried About His Safety

Those close to Pistorius remembered his fears about security. In 2012, he had bought a new home in the Johannesburg suburb of Sandton. He told his friends how happy he was that it was equipped with better safety features than his previous home.

An exterior shot of Pistorius house.
Photo by Lisa Hnatowicz/Beeld/Gallo Images/Getty Images

The house was situated in a gated community, and Pistorius felt safe. He had cameras around the property and an advanced security system so he could sleep peacefully at night. Little did he know his home would be the subject of a murder a few months after he moved in.

After the Shooting

Pistorius claimed he thought Steenkamp was an intruder when the police arrived at his home. Detective Hilton Botha, who had arrested Pistorius a few months before the murder for assault charges, was one of the first to arrive. Steenkamp’s body was by the door when Botha walked in.

An image of Pistorius in court.
Photo by Marco Longari/AFP/Pool/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

After calling for an ambulance, Pistorius carried her body down the stairs from the bathroom and started performing CPR. Pistorius’ neighbor was a doctor and rushed to help before the police arrived. Steenkamp was still breathing, so he tried to tie a tourniquet around one of her wounds.

Did Oscar Pistorius Intentionally Kill His Girlfriend?

Although he still says he thought Steenkamp was an intruder, detective Botha thought the murder was intentional from the moment he walked through Pistorius’ home. That night, it was just Pistorius and Steenkamp in the home, and she had been there for a few days.

An image of Pistorius arriving to court.
Photo by Chris Jude/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

There was no forced entry, and there were no windows for someone to enter the bathroom. Botha said Steenkamp was crouched in the bathroom with her phone hiding from Pistorius when he shot her through the door. Why would a burglar lock themselves in the bathroom?

His Story Didn’t Make Sense

Based on Steenkamp’s wounds, it seemed like she was hiding in the bathroom. Why would she have taken her phone to the bathroom at three a.m. if she hadn’t been hiding from Pistorius? Based on the bullet holes in the door, Pistorius pointed the gun down.

A photo of Pistorius sitting in court.
Photo by Alon Skuy/The Times-Pool/Gallo Image/Getty Images

Botha believes Pistorius was wearing his prosthetics based on the height and angle of the bullet holes. However, Pistorius later claimed he was on his stumps. Additionally, if he thought it was a burglar, why wouldn’t he grab his girlfriend and get out of this house?

Removed From the Case

Botha thought Pistorius’ story was implausible. Because of his determination and pursuit of evidence, the blame shifted from Pistorius to Botha. He was quickly removed from the case and resigned from the police force because his professional standing and reputation came under fire.

A woman holds a newspaper headlining the Oscar Pistorius court case.
Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Pistorius was like a national treasure in South Africa, and Botha came under fire for not being able to consider that Pistorius really thought Steenkamp was a burglar before shooting her. As he came from a privileged family, no one wanted to believe Pistorius had done something wrong.

Out on Bail

On the day of the murder, Pistorius was arrested for killing Steenkamp. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said he wanted to charge Pistorius for committing premeditated murder. Although he faced serious charges, the judge granted him bail, and Pistorius left jail on February 22.

Oscar Pistorius embraces his sister Aimee Pistorius after sentencing.
Photo by Marco Longari/Pool/Getty Images

Over the next year, prosecutors built their case against Pistorius. They collected reports about previous domestic abuse complaints and neighbor testimonies. In August 2013, prosecutors in South Africa submitted the formal indictment for Pistorius to stand trial for the premeditated murder of Steenkamp.

The World Sees the Truth

Before the trial began on March 3, 2014, Judge Dunstan Miambo permitted media houses to broadcast parts of the trial. It was the first time that people in South Africa would have a glimpse into who Pistorius really was. It peeled back his golden-boy reputation.

A picture of Pistorius leaving a police station.
Photo by James Oatway/Sunday Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images

As the trial began, Pistorius’ neighbors testified, saying they heard a woman scream before the sound of four gunshots. Just two weeks into the trial, proceedings were adjourned to enable Pistorius to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to establish whether he could be held responsible.

He Took the Stand

The trial resumed when it was found that Pistorius did not suffer any mental illness that would not render him criminally responsible. Pistorius took the stand to testify, and his testimony sent chills down everyone’s spines when he said he had nightmares and wakes up smelling Steenkamp’s blood.

A photo of Pistorius crying in court.
Photo by Kim Ludbrook/Pool/Getty Images

Pistorius said he felt vulnerable without his prosthetics and thought there was a burglar inside the bathroom. The prosecutors urged Pistorius to take responsibility for what he did, showing him graphic photos of the crime scene. However, Pistorius maintained his version of the story.

His Ex-Girlfriend Testified

Samantha Taylor, Pistorius’ ex-girlfriend, was a valuable witness for the prosecution. She said parts of his story didn’t seem true to her experiences staying at his house. Pistorius claimed the bedroom was pitch black, so he didn’t see Steenkamp go into the bathroom.

Oscar Pistorius makes his way past his ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor as he arrives at court.
Samantha Taylor, Oscar Pistorius. Photo by Herman Verwey/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Taylor told the court that Pistorius never kept the room completely dark and usually slept with the curtains open so that there was some light. Taylor believes Pistorius would have seen Steenkamp get out of bed and walk to the bathroom if that was the case.

He Startled Easily

During her testimony, Taylor also said that Pistorius startled easily. When she stayed with him, he would ask her about any sudden noises. She found it odd that he didn’t make physical contact with Steenkamp if he thought there was an intruder in the house.

A portrait of Reeva Steenkamp.
Reeva Steenkamp. Photo by Mike Holmes/The Herald/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Taylor met Pistorius when she was 17 and said he was charming and kind at the beginning. However, he became angry, jealous, and possessive over time. She said he would look through her phone and ask about her friends. Pistorius tried to control Taylor’s life.

A Passion for Guns

Taylor told the court that she felt on edge with Pistorius during their relationship. She said he always carried a gun, and it was natural that he had one. She shared that he once fired his gun from the sunroof while driving.

Taylor speaks during an interview.
Samantha Taylor. Source: ABC

She said the experience was frightening because the gun was so loud. Taylor shared that there were times when Pistorius was an emotional wreck, and she heard him crying hundreds of times. He definitely had a different side than most people saw.

His “Dark Side”

Taylor’s mom Trish became close with Pistorius during his relationship with her daughter. She took on a maternal role and said Pistorius had a “dark side” that she saw a handful of times. In 2012, he wrote a concerning email to Taylor and her mom about the dark parts of his life.

Taylor’s mom speaks during an interview.
Taylor’s mom. Source: YouTube

Taylor’s mom also said he would explode into fits of anger and scream at Taylor on the phone. She suggested he get counseling because she was afraid he would hurt himself. However, Taylor and Pistorius’ relationship ended after he cheated on her.

A Short Sentence

In September 2014, Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide. He was granted bail until his sentencing and had a month at home until he received his sentence of five years in jail. Although he was found guilty, many people were outraged by the lenient punishment.

A photo of Pistorius outside court.
Photo by Charlie Shoemaker/Getty Images

Steenkamp advocated for women suffering from violence and abuse, so the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) wanted her to get the justice she deserved. The NPA filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of Appeals (SCA) for Pistorius to be charged with murder.

He Was Released

After only a year in prison, Pistorius was released on house arrest as recommended by the South African Commissioner of Correctional Services. A few months later, the SCA ruled that the verdict would be changed to murder instead of homicide, and Pistorius tried to fight it.

A picture of Pistorius embracing his father in court.
Photo by Siphiwe Sibeko/Pool/Getty Images

However, Pistorius was sentenced to another six years in jail, another shockingly lenient punishment. Therefore, the NPA continued to fight for a harsher sentence. Finally, in November 2017, the SCA changed his sentence to 15 years, and he wasn’t supposed to be eligible for parole until 2023.

Where Is Oscar Pistorius Now?

In November 2021, Pistorius reached the halfway point in his sentence, making him automatically eligible for parole. However, he first had to face Steenkamp’s parents as part of the consideration process. Her parents were shocked to have to consider his freedom sooner than planned.

An image of Pistorius in court.
Photo by Marco Longari/Pool/Getty Images

Initially, he wasn’t supposed to be eligible until 2023. The Steenkamps had already forgiven him in court and didn’t want to meet with him again. Pistorius was moved from the correctional facility to a prison in the Eastern Cape while awaiting his parole hearing.

It Wasn’t His First Arrest

Long before Steenkamp’s murder, Pistorius had a history of violence towards women. Many people saw him carrying around a gun and controlling women. In September 2009, Botha arrested Pistorius the first time after he slammed a door on Cassidy Taylor-Memmory during a party.

Taylor-Memmory speaks during an interview.
Source: EWN

Pistorius reportedly signed autographs and posed for photos at the police station, and the charges were dropped. He then sued Taylor-Memmory for $2.5 million because he lost sponsors. She countersued, and, eventually, he dropped his claim and settled with her after the murder.

He Was Violent

According to Taylor-Memmory, Pistorius was with his then-girlfriend, Melissa Rom, at the party in 2009. Rom confronted him for kissing another woman, and he shouted at her in front of everyone. Pistorius reportedly proceeded to chase Rom and Taylor-Memmory from his house.

A portrait of Taylor-Memmory / A picture of Pistorius during the trial.
Source: Facebook / Photo by Herman Verwey, Foto24, Gallo Images, Getty Images

When Taylor-Memmory realized she had left her purse and keys inside, she tried to go back, but Pistorius slammed the front door so hard that it shattered the glass and injured her leg. Pistorius, of course, denied any of this had ever happened.

The Real Oscar Pistorius

After his case became worldwide news, people realized they didn’t know who Pistorius really was. No one wanted to dig deeper, even though he had shown signs of aggression in the past. It was obvious to some that something was bubbling underneath.

An image of Reeva Steenkamp.
Photo by Tshepo Kekana/Sunday World/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Joffe said that the trial showed the public the more obsessive and aggressive nature of Pistorius. In hindsight, Joffe recalled that no one mentored Pistorius, as he became a star overnight. There was a lot of denial that anything was wrong with his actions.