The rise and fall of Oscar Pistorius – from Olympic hero to convicted murderer

The disgraced 'Blade Runner' athlete has been granted parole, almost a decade after murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

The rise and fall of Oscar Pistorius – from Olympic hero to convicted murderer
Oscar Pistorius has been granted parole after being jailed for the murder of Reeva Steenkamp (Pictures: REUTERS / AP / AFP/GETTY)
Oscar Pistorius has been granted parole after being jailed for the murder of Reeva Steenkamp (Pictures: REUTERS / AP / AFP/GETTY)

He once inspired millions with his determination to defy his disability and become an internationally-renowned Olympic hero.

But Oscar Pistorius’s legacy will be defined by his dramatic fall from grace after being convicted of the Valentines Day 2013 murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Today, it was announced the disgraced former sprinter, nicknamed the Blade Runner, has been granted parole and is due to be released on January 5 next year.

Pistorius appeared before a parole board at a correctional centre in Pretoria, South Africa, in what was his second attempt to be released from jail.

The athlete was sentenced to 13 years in prison for the murder of Ms Steenkamp – a 29-year-old law graduate and model who was the first face of Avon Cosmetics in South Africa – in 2017.

Reeva Steenkamp Reeva Steenkamp, Johannesburg, South Africa - 2012 South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius is being questioned over the fatal shooting of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp at his home in Pretoria Mandatory Credit: Photo by Gallo Images/Shutterstock (2143103a)
Reeva Steenkamp was an aspiring lawyer and model (Picture: Gallo Images/Shutterstock)

Who is Oscar Pistorius?

The ‘Blade Runner’ made history as the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics, reaching the 400m semi-finals in London in 2012.

Pistorius was born in Johannesburg on November 22, 1986 without fibulas – which saw doctors amputate both his legs below the knee before he reached his first birthday.

During his trial, he described the difficulties of growing up disabled without his father present.

But he learned to walk on prosthetic legs before starting sprint training at his school in 2003.

(FILES) South Africa's Oscar Pistorius competes in the Men's 200m T44 Final athletics event during the London 2012 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in east London, on September 2, 2012. Lawyers for Oscar Pistorius said on November 22, 2023 they hope the former South African Paralympic champion who was convicted of murdering his girlfriend a decade ago will be released immediately if granted parole later this week. Pistorius, 37, will appear before a parole board at a correctional centre outside Pretoria where he is currently detained on November 24, 2023. (Photo by GLYN KIRK / AFP) (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)
Pistorius competing in the London 2012 Paralympic Games (Picture: AFP/Getty)

A year later, he became a Paralympic gold medallist after being crowned the winner of the 200m in Athens.

He went on to win a hat-trick of gold medals at the Beijing Paralympic Games in 2008, before taking part in the 2012 London games.

His life changed forever just one year later when he killed Ms Steenkamp.

What happened on the night Reeva was murdered?

Pistorius and Ms Steenkamp had spent the evening together at his flat in Pretoria before he gunned her down while she was in the bathroom around 3am – claiming he believed she was a burglar.

He told a court he walked to the bathroom without his prosthetics and on his stumps – which left him feeling vulnerable – before opening fire with a gun using ‘black talon’ ammunition, designed to open on impact and inflict more damage.

Ms Steenkamp suffered a fatal wound to the head, as well as being hit in the pelvis and arm, according to a pathologist.

It was only after the shooting, when Pistorius realised his girlfriend was not in bed, that he bashed the bathroom door down with a cricket bat – before calling the police.

He insisted he was ‘trying to protect her’ but Ms Steenkamp’s family questioned why an intruder would lock themselves in the bathroom – and said Pistorius would have noticed she was no longer in bed.

He was charged with murder the day after she died.

What happened in court?

epa10549899 (FILE) Defendant Oscar Pistorius (C) appears in the Pretoria Magistrates court in Pretoria, South Africa, 19 August 2013 (reissued 30 March 2023). South Africa's Correctional Services holds a parole hearing for Oscar Pistorius on 31 March 2023. Former paralympic athlete Pistorius is serving a 13 years and five months imprisonment sentence after an appeal court ??n 2017 found him guilty of the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius is eligible for parole after having served half of his sentence. EPA/STRINGER *** Local Caption *** 50960865
Pistorius (C) appearing in court in August 2013 (Picture: EPA)

During a trial which grabbed headlines across the globe and had a 24-hour dedicated TV channel, a highly-emotional Pistorius repeatedly broke down in tears and gagged and vomited during testimony describing the gruesome wounds Ms Steenkamp suffered.  

He sobbed as he took to the witness stand, when he apologised to Ms Steenkamp’s family, telling the court: ‘I can promise when she went to bed that night, she felt loved.’

When was Pistorius convicted?

High court judge Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled in September 2014 that Pistorius was guilty of ‘culpable homicide’ but not pre-meditated murder, and sentenced him to five years in prison.

He served just 10 months before he was released to serve his sentence under house arrest at his uncle’s home in an upmarket suburb of Pretoria in October 2015.

But Pistorius was found guilty of murder two months later after the Supreme Court of Appeal overturned the high court judge’s ruling.

In 2016, he was sent back to prison for six years – less than half the 15-year minimum term sought by prosecutors.

But in 2017 the ‘shockingly lenient’ sentence was extended to 13 years and five months – in accordance with the minimum term, less the previous time he spent in jail.  

What do Reeva’s parents think?

Ms Steenkamp’s parents sat stony-faced when Pistorius apologised to them in court.

He later wrote a ‘distressing’ letter to them as part of a parole bid and in an attempt to ‘acknowledge and take responsibility for his actions’.

But his bid for redemption was likened to ‘ripping a Band-Aid off a wound’.  

The former Olympian met Ms Steenkamp’s late father, Barry, in June last year, in a bid by the South African justice system to help them achieve closure.

Reeva Steenkamp’s parents, Barry and June (Picture: MARC GIDDINGS)

However, both Mr Steenkamp and Pistorius found the meeting ‘traumatic’ and ‘really painful’, a family lawyer said.

Mr Steenkamp reportedly died of ‘a broken heart’ on September 14, weeks before Pistorius’ parole hearing.

Ms Steenkamp’s mother, June, reportedly said in a victim impact statement: ‘I have no doubt that Barry died of a broken heart.

‘No parent should have to bury a child and certainly not in the circumstances that prevailed in the demise of Reeva.’

Mr and Mrs Steenkamp had previously raised strong objections to their daughter’s killer being freed.

June Steenkamp, mother of Reeva Steenkamp who was murdered by former athlete Oscar Pistorius in 2013, arrives at Atteridgeville Correctional Centre to attend his parole hearing in Pretoria, South Africa March 31, 2023. REUTERS/Alet Pretorius
June Steenkamp has said she does not believe Pistorius’ version of events (Picture: REUTERS)

But in a statement read by a family friend, Mrs Steenkamp said she did not oppose his parole.

She did not attend the hearing today because she ‘simply cannot muster the energy to face him again at this stage’.

‘I do not believe Oscar’s version that he thought the person in the toilet was a burglar,’ Mrs Steenkamp said.

‘In fact, I do not know anybody who does.

‘My dearest child screamed for her life.

‘I believe he knew it was Reeva.’

What has prison been like for Pistorius?

The former Olympian was initially sent to Pretoria’s central prison, later renamed the Kgosi Mampuru Correctional Centre – a notorious apartheid-era jail which houses some of the most dangerous criminals in South Africa.

He stayed in the hospital wing of the maximum-security prison to avoid being targeted by other inmates – and chose to buy his own processed foods over fears prison meals could be poisoned.

He was eventually transferred to Atteridgeville Correctional Centre, which had a ‘more relaxed, family atmosphere’, in 2016.

View of the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre entrance where former athlete Oscar Pistorius, convicted for killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp in 2013 is applying for parole in Pretoria, South Africa March 31, 2023. REUTERS/Alet Pretorius
Atteridgeville Correctional Centre(Picture: REUTERS)

His cell had a specially adapted bathroom and he was also allowed to grow his own food in the prison gardens.

Pistorius is said to have been a ‘model prisoner’ who adopted the role of ‘spiritual leader’ – with his father revealing how he has been holding bible classes for fellow inmates.

But he is said to have had a number of run-ins with other prisoners – including one brawl over the use of a phone, which left him with bruising.  

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