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Oscar Pistorius, foreground, stands after his Feb. 19 bail hearing in Pretoria as his brother, Carl, middle, and father, Henke, right, look on. (Masi Losi/AP)
Oscar Pistorius, foreground, stands after his Feb. 19 bail hearing in Pretoria as his brother, Carl, middle, and father, Henke, right, look on. (Masi Losi/AP)


The unmaking of Oscar Pistorius Add to ...

In a country like South Africa, those privileges began early. After realizing that his prosthetic legs allowed him to compete in many sports, he says he enjoyed the “good fortune” of growing up in a country where athletes are advantaged. “The national curriculum places outdoor sporting activities on an equal footing with academic achievement and duly allocates equal time to both,” he recalled happily in his autobiography.

Rugby and cricket, both of which he played at Pretoria Boys High School, are as revered as religion in South Africa. Sportsmen who can compete internationally are even more revered. And so in 2009 and 2012, when Mr. Pistorius was questioned by police over alleged incidents of assault and verbal threats, the police were so infatuated with him that he posed for photos with them and gave them autographs, according to a South African magazine report. He was speedily released from questioning. “Cases were opened, and the cases disappeared,” Mr. Joffe said in an interview.

Even when Mr. Pistorius was booked on the murder charges last month, he was not handcuffed as the police took him away, the magazine report noted. He was allowed to stay in a police-station cell by himself, rather than being consigned to an overcrowded prison.

His autobiography, Blade Runner, ghostwritten by Mr. Merlo, is replete with stories that are presented as hijinks or accidents, even though they could have warranted police scrutiny. He described himself as an “adrenalin junkie” from an early age. At 15, he was allowed to drive his brother’s car illegally around Pretoria. Both he and his brother bought their first cars when they were 17, too young for driver’s licences.

Special treatment

A few years later, when Oscar fell asleep at the wheel and crashed his car on an expressway, and when he smashed into a submerged pier in a motorboat containing empty liquor bottles, the police seemed to pay little attention. Last year, a New York Times journalist described him speeding at 250 kilometres an hour in his Nissan GT-R sports car. (He also owns a $370,000 McLaren.)

In his passion for guns, he may have received privileges, too. When he applied for a licence in 2010 for the 9-millimetre semi-automatic pistol that he later used to shoot his girlfriend, he could have been denied a licence under firearm regulations because he had already spent a night in jail for allegedly assaulting a woman.

The licence could also have been revoked later for his involvement in other incidents that led to police investigations, including the accidental gunshot at the Johannesburg restaurant and an alleged verbal threat to break another man’s legs in a dispute over a young woman last year. But, instead, his licence application was accepted in 2010, and it was never revoked.

The biggest privilege of all, arguably, was the one that made history: the decision to let him compete in the 400-metre race at the London Olympics last year, even though he had not met the official requirements.

He had already qualified for the South African relay team, but it was the individual race that brought the glamour, making him the first amputee in history to compete in an Olympic individual track race. South African athletics officials later confirmed that he hadn’t qualified for the 400 metres because he hadn’t run the required times in international competition, but he was sent to the Olympics anyway, with virtually no debate.

In a little-noticed interview on the eve of the Olympic Games, South Africa’s Sports Minister admitted that Mr. Pistorius was the beneficiary of special treatment. “It’s a sensitive issue,” said the minister, Fikile Mbalula. “It’s not really about the athlete; it is a political decision that has been taken.”

Simon Magakwe, a sprinter who posted a greater number of Olympic qualifying times than Mr. Pistorius but was still kept off the South African team, later told reporters that he was hurt and saddened to see his Olympic dream destroyed by the decision to favour the celebrity.

Family pains

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