Since those fateful early hours on 14th February when it was announced that Oscar Pistorius had shot dead his beautiful model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, there has been much speculation about the circumstances surrounding her death. We are currently in “lull before the storm” mode ahead of Oscar’s impending trial and I find myself regularly glancing at the news to see the latest developments, wondering what possible explanation there can be for the undisputed fact that he shot Reeva four times and as a result killed her. It is an unmitigated tragedy. She has lost her life and his life will never recover, whatever the outcome of the trial or however good a team of publicists surround him.
Thankfully, we in the UK don’t live in a society that expects us to keep guns next to our beds but the shock is not so much about gun crime or culture, it is far more than the brutal act itself. It is the fact that Oscar is at the centre of it all. The Oscar we all thought we knew and admired.
I like the rest of the UK caught a dose of Olympic fever last summer and took a real interest in both the Olympics and Paralympics. I had been fascinated by Oscar’s story since the 2004 Athens Paralympics when he was thrown into the limelight aged just 17. He was the big new star of the athletics scene and duly won his first gold medal. He was not the smooth skinned, polished, branded model back then, but he had a tale to tell, good things to say and he was a TV dream. He smiled that mega-watt smile and the world smiled back at him. He became the face of South African sport and of the Paralympic movement. He became one of the biggest names in global sport because he didn’t just race, he also fought for what he believed was right – for equality and for the triumph of ‘ability over disability’. He was the poster boy for turning weakness into strength.
As the excitement mounted for the London 2012 Olympics, I watched Oscar’s press conference in awe as he brilliantly fielded questions from a couple of hundred reporters. The flashlights popped incessantly and he smiled, conscious of his image but seemingly unconscious. His sunglasses were perched on his head which some would consider odd, given that we were indoors, but this of course was part of one of his many sponsorship deals and his now tailored image. He answered the questions as if he hadn’t been asked them a million times before and he seemed to genuinely engage. He told reporters how he hoped to win gold in the 200m and 400m but that he couldn’t win the 100m. I remember thinking “Good, he’s a realist the pool is deeper than just one man”.
Then the 200m took place and Brazilian Alan Oliveira finished like a bullet train catching Oscar right on the finish line. Oscar was furious, his rage was visible for all to see. Funnily enough though, I did not think his behaviour after the 200m was odd, just interesting. Throughout the Games we saw plenty of sportsmen react badly to defeat and for him to blame the length of Alan Oliviera’s blades was petulant and unsporting, but it certainly wasn’t odd – except of course for the fact that it came from Oscar. To me, the strangest thing was the way he appeared at the medals ceremony the next day. The look was very Clark Kent, Oscar’s hair was gelled flat; he was clean shaven and wearing black rimmed spectacles, this was an Oscar we had never seen before. He bowed his head on the podium just as he has in court ever since, saying clearly with his body language, “I am contrite, I am humbled. Please still adore me”. Had he decided on this new found behavior or he had been advised to do so by his PR team?
Despite my admiration for what Oscar has achieved in sport, I am starting to wonder who the real Oscar Pistorius is. Was he the naïve 17 year old who smiled at the press in Greece or the temper tantrum aggressor who couldn’t handle losing in London? Did he shoot Reeva in error fearing for his safety and believing she was an intruder as his defense team claim or was she shot in the midst of an argument as Oscar flew into a fatal rage?
I have always been fascinated with the human brain and I think this is why the case has captured me so. The Psychopath Test, a novel by Jon Ronson argues that the world is full of functioning psychopaths and that modern society is designed to suit them. Their ruthlessness in business combined with their extreme charm means that they are highly successful in whatever they put their minds to. They thrive under pressure, they can lie without compunction, they manipulate and have a confidence that convinces those around them that they are invincible. Is Oscar a functioning psychopath?
The truth of what really happened in the early hours of Valentine’s Day in Oscar Pistorius’ house will emerge during the upcoming trial but thankfully, the Paralympic movement has a deeper pool of talent now than it previously did and it will survive without its once golden child. For those of us who love sport, we will recover from the disappointment of another fallen hero and will watch with interest and perhaps despair as he tries to recover albeit a little bruised and a little more suspicious of the image presented to us.