Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

A Complicated Life, on and off the Track ; Pistorius Is a Reminder That Sporting Success Is Not the Same as Heroism

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

A Complicated Life, on and off the Track ; Pistorius Is a Reminder That Sporting Success Is Not the Same as Heroism

Article excerpt

In the world of track and field, Oscar Pistorius has been inspiring and polarizing. Today, Pistorius is in police custody on murder charges.

A photograph of Oscar Pistorius, accused of murder, his face shrouded by a hooded sweatshirt, provided a jarring contrast to a morning last August in London when he walked into Olympic Stadium, waving to the applause of 80,000 spectators.

The Blade Runner, he was called by his nickname over the public- address system. The first double-amputee runner to compete in the Olympics. A man who had overcome tremendous odds after being born in South Africa with no fibula bones in his lower legs, which were surgically removed below the knee when he was 11 months old.

And then Pistorius launched out of the starting blocks in the opening heats of the 400 meters, advancing to the semifinals, serving as an inspiration to many, continuing to blur the lines between abled and disabled.

"If something like that happens to you and you lose both legs, some people would give up," Bryshon Nellum, a competitor from the United States, said after the race. "For him to continue to run, it's unbelievable. It's amazing."

Both Pistorius's career and his personal life were complicated. In the world of track and field, he was inspiring and polarizing. Even as he ran in the Olympics, the debate continued about whether his carbon-fiber blades gave him an unfair advantage over other runners.

No less a figure than Michael Johnson, the retired world-record holder and two-time Olympic champion at 400 meters, said Pistorius, while a friend and a great ambassador, should not compete at the London Games. "Because we don't know for sure whether he gets an advantage from the prosthetics that he wears, it is unfair to the able-bodied competitors," Johnson said.

Half a year later, on Valentine's Day, Pistorius, 26, was accused of shooting and killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, 29, a model and law school graduate. And we are reminded yet again that it becomes risky to equate sporting accomplishment with heroism and incorruptible behavior.

Sport builds characters, sure, but does it really build character? How can we expect to know these athletes, when they often give us a kind of fan dance -- suggesting but not fully revealing.

Pistorius certainly had a stirring and galvanizing story to tell. At the London Games, he recounted a letter that his mother, Sheila, who died when he was 15, had written to him: "A loser isn't the person that gets involved and comes last, but it's the person that doesn't get involved in the first place."

Pistorius said: "It's a mentality we've always had. When you start something, you do it properly."

But his story was also a knotty one. A need for speed captivated Pistorius off the track as well as on. He liked fast cars and fast motorcycles and fast boats; he sometimes veered toward recklessness. …

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