JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – South Africa’s Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, charged with shooting dead his girlfriend Thursday, was publicly adored but has a rocky private life of rash behaviour, beautiful women, guns and fast cars.
The dashing and charismatic 26-year-old sprinter became the first double amputee ever to compete at an Olympics in London last year.
The global celebrity and champion for disabled sport uses two carbon-fibre running blades, which earned him the epithet “Blade Runner” and “fastest man on no legs”.
But his playboy private life has courted controversy.
In 2009 Pistorius spent a night in jail after allegedly assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a party.
“Oscar is certainly not what people think he is,” said ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor last November — two months after a magazine programme covered the couple’s Seychelles holiday.
He then started going out with model Reeva Steenkamp, who was found shot four times in Pistorius’s Pretoria home on Thursday.
“Oscar has a way with women. Strange, she’s probably not the only one at his side,” Taylor told Rapport newspaper.
Pistorius has been open about his love for guns.
The sprinter slept with a pistol, machine gun, cricket bat and baseball bat for fear of burglars at his upmarket home in a secure Pretoria estate for fear of burglars, he told Britain’s Daily Mail last year.
He once took a journalist interviewing him to a shooting range.
The Johannesburg-born runner had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old after being born without lower leg bones.
But the boy played sports unhindered while growing up in a well-do family and switched to running after fracturing a knee playing rugby.
At high school, the teen was so good that his trainer was unaware for six months he ran on prosthetic legs.
“You’re not disabled by your disabilities but abled by your abilities,” Pistorius told Athlete magazine in a 2011 interview.
He won an international legal battle overturning a ban on competing in able-bodied events after some argued the running blades gave him an unfair advantage.
He became the first amputee to run at the World Championships in 2011 and won silver with South Africa’s 4x400m sprint team.
After taking the 100m, 200m and 400m sprint titles at the Beijing Paralympics, the athlete qualified for the London Olympics, but didn’t reach the final.
He failed to retain two of his Paralympic titles, but bounced back to take gold with his South African team-mates in the 4x100m relay and storm to victory in the individual 400m, sending the 80,000 Olympic Stadium crowd wild.
However, he became embroiled in a dispute about the length of his rival’s running blades, after Brazil’s Alan Oliveira beat him into silver in the 200m.
His accusations that Oliveira’s blades were too long raised an outcry and he later apologised.
Off the track, Pistorius has a passion for motorbikes, adrenalin and speed.
“He likes fast cars. Every time he comes here, he’s got another car,” his trainer Jannie Brooks told AFP last year.
“He is just built for speed, because the cars have an amazing performance.”
Four years ago he crashed his boat in a river south of Johannesburg, breaking two ribs, an eye socket and his jaw.
Empty alcohol bottles were found in the boat, but his blood alcohol content wasn’t tested.
He also once owned two white tigers but sold them to a zoo in Canada when they became too big.
Pistorius had been brash with reporters in the past, famously storming off the set when a BBC interviewer asked if his battles to compete in able-bodied sports weren’t “an inconvenient embarrassment” to athletics authorities.
Turbulent family life marked his childhood. His parents divorced when he was six and his mother died when he was 15. The date she died is tattooed on his arm.
The middle child between a younger sister and elder brother, he has problematic relationship with his father, Henke, but the two brothers are close.
The athlete cut a more humane figure in London after making history last year, talking to reporters and speaking with pride at seeing his 89-year-old grandmother in the stadium.
“To step out here for an Olympic final is more than I could ever have hoped for. It’s been a truly humbling experience,” he said.
Pistorius has done work for several charities.
He is an ambassador for the Mineseeker Foundation, a British charity which works on removing land mines, and British communications firm BT’s Paralympic World Cup, much of his work focused on changing perceptions about disabled people.