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Clare Balding "Where are the true heroes?"

Oscar P hero.jpg
Clare Balding hero.jpg

I have been thinking a lot about Oscar Pistorius. Every morning, I turn on the radio and check Twitter to see the latest developments, trying to work out what possible explanation there can be for the undisputed fact that he shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, and killed her. It is an unmitigated tragedy. She has lost her life and his life will never recover, whatever the outcome of the trial.

Like many people, I have been in a state of shock. Thankfully, we in the UK don’t live in a society that expects us to keep guns next to our beds but the shock is about more than the brutal act. It’s the fact that Oscar is at the centre of it all. Not Oscar.

I have met Pistorius many times, I have spent time with him and even hosted his press conference at the London Paralympics. We chatted in the green room beforehand and I showed him pictures of my dog (I’m a bit sad like that). He was patient and gracious and friendly. I then sat next to him as he brilliantly fielded questions from a couple of hundred reporters. The flashlights popped incessantly and he smiled, conscious of his image but seemingly unconscious. His sunglasses were perched on his head and I remember thinking that was odd, given that we were indoors, but then I am a bit naive about sponsorship deals. After the press conference, I did a one-on-one interview with him for Channel 4. He answered the questions as if he hadn’t been asked them a million times and he seemed to genuinely engage. He told me he hoped to win gold in the 200m and 400m but that he couldn’t win the 100m. I thought, ‘Good, he’s realistic and good, the pool is deeper than just one man.’

Then the 200m took place and Brazil’s Alan Oliveira finished like a train to catch Pistorius on the line. Pistorius was furious. Funnily enough, I did not think his behaviour after the 200m was odd. Just interesting. I have seen plenty of sportsmen react badly to defeat and for him to blame the length of Alan Oliviera’s blades was petulant and unsporting, but it wasn’t odd – except that it came from him. The stranger thing was the way he appeared at the medals ceremony the next day. The look was very ‘Clark Kent’. Oscar’s hair was gelled flat, he was clean shaven and wearing black rimmed spectacles. He bowed his head on the podium, saying clearly with his body language, ‘I am contrite, I am humbled. Please still love me.’

Either he had decided on this behaviour himself or he had been ‘advised’ to do so.

I first interviewed Pistorius at the Athens Paralympics when he was just 17. He was the big new star of the athletics scene and duly won his first gold medal. He was not the smooth skinned, polished, branded model back then but he had a story to tell, good things to say and he was a TV dream. He smiled that mega-watt smile and the world smiled back at him. He became the face of South African sport and of the Paralympic movement. He became one of the biggest names in global sport because he didn’t just race, he also fought for what he believed was right – for equality and for the triumph of ‘ability over disability’.

Having written about Lance Armstrong last month and now Oscar Pistorius I am beginning to wonder who the hell can we believe in? Where are the true heroes, the ones you can trust? What happened to them?

He fought for the triumph of ‘ability over disability’.

Since hosting Britain’s Brightest I have become fascinated with the workings of the human brain. One of the best, and most disturbing books on the subject, is The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. He argues that the world is full of functioning psychopaths and that modern society is designed to suit them. Their ruthlessness in business combined with their extreme charm means that they are very successful. They thrive under pressure, they can lie without compunction, they have a confidence that convinces those around them that they are invincible.

You know the song that goes ‘If you don’t know me by now, you will never, never know me’? Well, the truth is just the second part of the lyric – ‘you will never, never know me’ because we struggle hard enough to understand our own brains, let alone the workings of someone else’s.

The truth of what happened in the early hours of Valentine’s Day in Oscar Pistorius’s house will emerge during the trial. Thankfully, the Paralympic movement has a deeper pool of talent now than it did eight on one man. It will survive and so will we, albeit a little bruised and a little more suspicious of theimage presented to us.”

Do you agree with Clare? Share your views in the comments below or tweet us @StylistMagazine.

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