Have you seen many murderers in public? I hadn't, until I saw Oscar Pistorius run, at the 2012 Summer Olympics, in London. At the time, like almost everyone else in the stadium and by extension the world, I stood and cheered, marvelling at his speed, grace, courage and physical charisma. He was the great blade runner, a hero to children and adults, and one of the major sporting figures of the age. That was then - six months ago more or less. Half a year makes a big difference.
Now, the day after Valentine's Day, and the cruel irony is not lost on anyone, at only 26 years of age, he stands accused of murdering his girlfriend. Given that she was a beautiful swimwear model and covergirl, and he a millionaire icon of the new South Africa, it is hard to imagine a more swift or cruel fall from national and international grace in terms of celebrity infamy - the fall is truly Olympian. With four shots to the head and body, Oscar has gone from a great to a hateful figure - just another brutal selfish man taking out his narcissistic rage against a lovely woman. He joins a few superstars who have murdered their partners - William S. Burroughs and OJ Simpson come to mind. Hero to Zero comes to mind.
Less than zero, though - because the more we read, the more we realise that Oscar was a time bomb - and a victim himself of the violent gun culture at the heart of his time and place. It turns out this self-styled "bullet" would often wake at night and fire off clips in the dark. That he had a machine gun in his home. That he was obsessed with security. And that, rich and privileged from birth, despite his disability, he was a man prone to domestic abuse, perhaps a "womaniser" as some sources have suggested. All we saw, or wanted to see, was a handsome para-athlete.
To paraphrase a famous phrase from last year: is it okay to hate a disabled person? Is it okay to say they are stupid, or perhaps even wicked? Is it okay to look squarely at someone with a disability and see what was really always there - a spoiled, petulant, angry, alpha male. Who could snuff a life out faster than he could run 100 metres.