Never has there been such a tragic outbreak of news in the sporting world than that of the murder of Reeva Steenkamp by her boyfriend and legendary Paralympic athlete, Oscar Pistorius.
The news all but signalled the end of Pistorius’ glittering career on the track and without a doubt has changed his life forever. It is, in my opinion, the biggest fall from sporting grace that any athlete has suffered. When you consider the reputation that Pistorius once held across the world, it is a huge blow to millions of amateur, disabled athletes, who idolised the ‘Blade Runner’.
In the summer of 2012, Pistorius had reached the peak of his career when he became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympic Games. Although he didn’t reach the final of the 400 metres, Pistorius’ presence in an event dominated by able bodied athletes was a testament to his work ethic and the success that he had achieved as a disabled athlete. Pistorius will go down in the history books, regardless of the shooting, as one of the greatest disabled athletes of all time, with six Paralympic gold medals to his name.
However, it was not only his achievements on the track that helped elevate him into the history books, it was his profile off the track too. Pistorius became the face of disabled sport across the world, his face was plastered onto billboards hundreds of feet high, he was part of advertising campaigns that one would usually see able bodied athletes and global sporting stars such as David Beckham take part in.
Pistorius was a brand, he was without a shadow of a doubt, the biggest thing that had ever happened to disabled sport. He raised the profile of disabled sport in an unprecedented way. However, the fatal shooting of Steenkamp quite rightly ended the Pistorius brand. Nike suspended its contract with Pistorius, you can no longer walk into a Nike shop and find posters of the blade runner plastered onto the walls. His training halted, he stopped competing. After reaching the high of competing in the Olympic Games in the summer of 2012, just six months later, Pistorius hit rock bottom.
His fall from sporting grace is unrivalled in my opinion. There have been other sportsmen and women who have also fallen from such dizzying heights within their respective sports. Tiger Woods, for example, suffered enormously after his numerous infidelities were exposed to the world in late 2009.
Woods plummeted down the rankings in professional golf and has not won a Major Championship in seven years. Despite the revelation, Woods did recover his form to a certain extent. In 2013, he was the PGA Player of the Year and he eventually made the climb back to world number one in early 2013, although he remained number one for only a matter of months.
Similar to Pistorius, Lance Armstrong was the face of his sport for a number of years. He won the Tour de France seven times in a row from 1999 to 2005 and had survived cancer. However, the doping scandal of 2012 permanently damaged Armstrong’s sporting reputation and sponsorship income. I would argue that Armstrong’s fall from sporting grace wasn’t as severe as Pistorius’. There had always been rumblings about how Armstrong had managed to dominate the Tour de France for so long. What’s more, Armstrong’s career was not directly affected by the scandal as he had long since retired when the doping scandal came to light in 2012.
The reason why I think that Pistorius’ fall from grace is the most severe is because it hit him at the peak of his career and because he will never recover from the trauma of shooting a loved one. However, unlike Armstrong who had retired or Woods who managed to recover some form, I do not believe that Pistorius can ever return to the track with the same form that he enjoyed in 2012. Indeed, it is unlikely that he will ever return to competitive sport again.
The sporting world will never see another case like that of Oscar Pistorius. He should have been remembered as a record breaker, a trend setter and a sponsorship magnet. Instead, he will most likely be remembered as a criminal.