In case you needed another example why hero narratives in sports – even the ones that seem truly deserved – usually turn out to be bullshit, look no further than the news this morning that Oscar Pistorius, the legless blade runner who competed in both the Olympics and Paralympics this summer, is being charged with the murder of his (very attractive) girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
Early Thursday morning, the police responded to a report of gunshots in the upscale housing complex where Mr. Pistorius lives, said Col. Katlego Mogale, a police spokeswoman. When they arrived, they found paramedics treating a 30-year-old woman for gunshot wounds. The woman was pronounced dead and a 26-year-old man was taken into custody, Colonel Mogale said.
Colonel Mogale would not comment on a possible motive for the shooting.
“A case of murder has been opened,” she said before the police said they had formally charged Mr. Pistorius.
But, there’s another side to this story (of course). There are reports that Pistorius thought Steenkamp was a burglar, a plausible claim in South Africa, where there is a high rate of break-ins.
Reports from local media said that Mr. Pistorius told the police that the shooting was an accident and that he had mistaken the victim for an intruder.
But speaking to reporters in Pretoria, another police spokeswoman, Brig. Denise Beukes said those reports had taken her by surprise.
She also said that the police had responded previously to complaints of a “domestic nature” at the runner’s home but declined to give further details.
South Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime, and break-ins by armed robbers are relatively common. Legal handgun ownership is also common, with some restrictions.
Putting aside the gun debate ammo that an accidental shooting would provide, it wouldn’t be the first time a South African athlete killed a loved one who was mistaken to be a thief– in 2004, a Rugby player killed his daughter when he heard his car being driven away in the early morning.
As he put together lunch for all of us — fruit smoothies, breaded chicken fillets he pulled from the refrigerator — he mentioned that a security alarm in the house had gone off the previous night, and he had grabbed his gun and tiptoed downstairs. (It turned out to be nothing.)
I asked what kind of gun he owned, which he seemed to take as an indication of my broader interest in firearms. I had to tell him I didn’t own any. “But you’ve shot one, right?” Actually, I hadn’t. Suddenly, I felt like one of those characters in a movie who must be schooled on how to be more manly.
“We should go to the range,” he said. He fetched his 9-millimeter handgun and two boxes of ammunition. We got back in the car and drove to a nearby firing range, where he instructed me on proper technique. Pistorius was a good coach. A couple of my shots got close to the bull’s-eye, which delighted him. “Maybe you should do this more,” he said. “If you practiced, I think you could be pretty deadly.” I asked him how often he came to the range. “Just sometimes when I can’t sleep,” he said.
And perhaps more unfortunately, a 2011 Nike commercial featuring Pistorius contained this very unfortunate phrase:
Even more eery are these Tweets from Steenkamp, from yesterday(!), about Valentine’s Day and (jokingly) being jealous of her friend for being in “heaven”: