The 26-year-old sports star had been dating Reeva Steenkamp, 30, a model about to debut on a reality television show, for a few months; she had tweeted her excitement about Valentine’s Day on Wednesday. When police arrived at Pistorius’s house in the middle of the night Thursday, they found Steenkamp with multiple gunshot wounds and took the Paralympic champion into custody.
It was a grim version of an all-too-familiar tale: the sudden fall of an athlete who helped others follow their dreams, whose impact far transcended his sport. Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong, too, inspired millions, especially young African Americans and cancer survivors.
Each time one of these icons stumbles, it raises the question: Do we expect too much of them? Do we somehow set them up for these crashes?
Years of athletic training prepared Pistorius, who was born without fibula bones, to run at world-class speed on carbon-
fiber blades, but it may not have prepared him for sudden celebrity and wealth.
“He crossed a huge bridge by making it clear that people with disabilities could perform not just in classes of their own but in normal, world-class settings,” said Timothy Shriver, CEO of the Special Olympics.
Exactly what happened Thursday is unclear. The suspect and the victim were the only ones in the house, police said. Pistorius was formally charged with murder at a hearing Friday and any decision on bail was delayed until a separate hearing on Tuesday or Wednesday next week. Police said they would oppose bail.
Shriver said it is too soon to draw conclusions about the case. But, he said, young star athletes often have a hard time handling sudden “fame and attention and money.”
“What we have to ask ourselves about big-time sports more broadly is how we prepare great athletes for the responsibilities of leadership,” Shriver said. “And I don’t think we have good answers for that.”
Four-time Olympic medalist Ato Boldon said Pistorius’s name would have been the last to come to mind if someone had told him that a track athlete had been charged with murder. “Not the second-to-last, not the third-to-last,” the retired sprinter told the Associated Press. “The very last.” Pistorius, he said, “exudes class. He’s gracious. He’s humble.”
Reverberations in S. Africa
Known as the “Blade Runner,” Pistorius is a revered figure in South Africa. The nation roared for him during his historic appearance at the 2012 London Olympics, where he became the first double-amputee sprinter to compete.