TELANDER: Oscar Pistorius just latest of sports’ fallen idols
BY RICK TELANDER firstname.lastname@example.org February 14, 2013 9:47PM
FILE - In this Aug. 5, 2012 file photo, South Africa's Oscar Pistorius starts in the men's 400-meter semifinal during the athletics in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Paralympic superstar Oscar Pistorius was charged Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, with the murder of his girlfriend who was shot inside his home in South Africa, a stunning development in the life of a national hero known as the Blade Runner for his high-tech artificial legs. Reeva Steenkamp, a model who spoke out on Twitter against rape and abuse of women, was shot four times in the predawn hours in the home, in a gated community in the capital, Pretoria, police said. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, File) ORG XMIT: LON110
Updated: February 14, 2013 10:27PM
I can’t imagine what people in South Africa feel.
That often-troubled country idolized Oscar Pistorius, the 26-year-old, double-amputee Olympian sprinter and Paralympic champion. ‘‘Blade Runner,’’ as he was known, symbolized everything that a nation once torn by hideous racial disparities could want in a citizen — boldness, talent, ambition and the desire to overcome all of life’s inequities through hard work and determination.
And now that symbol of South Africa has been charged with murdering his girlfriend? The gorgeous model Reeva Steenkamp? By allegedly shooting her four times at his mansion in Pretoria and claiming he thought she was an intruder?
We don’t expect much from our heroes anymore.
Pete Rose, Mark McGwire, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong — yep, Feet of Clay Dept., we get it. The hugely famous rock band the Eagles are coming out with a documentary, by Oscar-winning producer Alex Gibney, that will tell all about their behind-the-scenes pettiness, vanity, cocaine and alcohol abuse and sexual abuse of women (some minors). Yawn . . .
But last we heard from Pistorius he was competing in the London Olympics, first in the 400 meters (he reached the semis) and 1,600-meter relay, then in the following Paralympics, held in the same venue, winning two gold medals and a silver. He alone, with his constant campaigning to be allowed to compete against able-bodied runners — because he had world-class times using his carbon-fiber running blades — made the Paralympics the gigantic success it was.
I remember being in London toward the end of the Olympics last August and reading in the newspapers and seeing daily on TV that attendance at the Paralympics was expected to blow old numbers off the charts. Some events where Pistorius would compete were sold out far ahead of time. The Paralympics broke attendance and ticket-sales records by an incredible 50 percent, bringing in 2.7 million people and $72 million. And they were broadcast to a record 100 nations.
Because of Pistorius. He had raised the awareness of disabled athletes to the point that sports fans now took them seriously, were mesmerized by their skills, even made them into heroes the way they did with the freakishly gifted Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt.
On the third day of the Paralympics, Pistorius would set a world record in the 200 meters with a blazing time of 21.30, thrilling all.
But there were darker moments to this pioneer’s path. Because of his constant lobbying to be taken seriously as a full man, Pistorius, who might even have gained an advantage by using his hi-tech blades, lived in controversy and the limelight.
‘‘Fame has been the one thing that I probably haven’t enjoyed that much,’’ he said at the Olympics. ‘‘Fame isn’t going to make me faster on the track.’’
Then, too, he seemed not to show much grace after unexpectedly losing the 200-meter Paralympic final to Alan Oliveira of Brazil. Pistorius railed over the length of the gold medalist’s blades, saying they gave him an advantage. This from a man who was ruled out of the 2008 Beijing Games because track’s governing body said his blades gave him an unfair advantage over able-bodied men.
Pistorius later apologized to Oliveira. But the damage was done. Maybe he only liked things in his sport, in his narrow world, when they benefitted him. When he won.
The details of the alleged murder are slim right now. Neighbors say they heard ‘‘screaming and shouting’’ from the house in the early-morning hours before the killing. Pistorius loved guns. He allegedly used a 9-mm pistol to kill Steenkamp. Officers had been to his house previously because of domestic incidents.
But maybe, as one of his friends speculated, the death was simply a Valentine’s Day prank or surprise gone terribly awry.
That sounds as likely as Pistorius growing new feet. No, this is pretty sad, pretty hard to comprehend, very ugly.
You can think of former hero O.J. Simpson. You can think of pro wrestler Chris Benoit.
Why, you can certainly think of ’roid rage and head trauma and the boiling narcissism of champions.
As another one bites the dust.