As placid and accessible as Pistorius has been with the media, he had nonetheless made news with dangerous and unsavory behavior. In 2009 he crashed a speedboat and had to be airlifted to a hospital. "He liked fast cars and things," Hurtault says. "He's got that side to him too." Alcohol was found on the boat, prompting speculation that Pistorius had been impaired, and witnesses say he had been drinking; police, for reasons they did not explain, did not test Pistorius for alcohol at the time, and never pressed charges. Reports of rude behavior or public drunkenness surfaced from time to time, most notably later in '09, when Pistorius was arrested for assault following a scuffle with a woman at his home. His friends portrayed it as an accident, and the charges were dropped. At the 2012 Paralympics, in a postrace outburst, Pistorius claimed that the prosthetic legs of the man who beat him were unfairly long.
As more details began to emerge of Steenkamp's death—neighbors reportedly heard yelling hours before hearing gunshots, security guards allegedly had come to the residence earlier in response to a domestic disturbance and Steenkamp, according to an unnamed South African official with knowledge of the case, was behind a bathroom door when she was shot—the public support for Pistorius, while it remained, took on an increasingly hushed tone.
No matter how his case is ultimately adjudicated—if bail is not granted at a hearing this week, Pistorius could be in jail for months before the trial begins—we should not confuse the man who will be in court with the one who, following the 400-meter semis, exchanged bib numbers with eventual gold medalist Kirani James of Grenada in one of the most touching moments of the London Olympics. If his personal life makes us feel that his on-track persona was a lie, that is because we made the familiar mistake of confusing one with the other. Bravery and sangfroid in competition are just that.
Already, though, it seems that Pistorius will seek to leverage his status as a beloved athlete and totem. A statement issued by his family denied the murder charges "in the strongest terms" and reminded us that "Oscar Pistorius has made history as an Olympic and Paralympic sportsman and has been an inspiration to others the world over."
And yet, as his trial proceeds, it's instructive to note what Pistorius himself told me in 2011: "I've always said I don't want to be treated any better or worse than anyone else."