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Domestic News | February 18, 2013

Another athlete tumbles from grace

Domestic News

Paralympian Oscar Pistorius accused of murder, cancels races

Pistorius starts the men's 400-meter semifinal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. (Associated Press/Photo by Anja Niedringhaus)

Double-amputee Olympian and Paralympian Oscar Pistorius won't be running in any of his upcoming scheduled races after being charged with the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, just hours after she was found dead in his house in Pretoria, South Africa, Valentine's Day morning.

"I have decided that following these tragic events that we have no option but to cancel all future races that Oscar Pistorius had been contracted to compete in," Pistorius' agent Peet van Zyl said in a written statement Sunday.

Nicknamed "Blade Runner," the 26-year-old runner became a South African hero last summer when he participated in the Olympics Games in London. Now it seems likely Pistorius and his carbon fiber blades will never compete again.

Steenkamp, a South African model, was part of a reality television program, Tropika Island of Treasure, scheduled to air just days after her death. A law school graduate, Steenkamp encouraged the empowerment of women in her country, using Twitter to urge women to stand up against rape.

Her murder and the subsequent charges against Pistorius have stunned South Africa. The nation had held Pistorius up as a symbol of the human ability to overcome tremendous adversity. Despite having both of his legs amputated before the age of 1, Pistorius was able to compete against able-bodied runners in the 400-meter semifinal and the 4x400-meter relay during last summer's Games.

"He was an icon for South Africa," Hennie Kotze, one of Pistorius' Olympic coaches, told The New York Times. "It was the way he handled his disability with such character and discipline. It is a big shock for everyone."

In a South African courtroom Friday for his bail hearing, Pistorius broke down in tears, covering his face with his hands. Charged with premeditated murder, he could face life in prison.

"I wasn't there; I have too much respect for Oscar to speculate," said Henke Pistorius, Pistorius' father, in a phone interview with the Times. "I have no clue what happened. The only person who can make any statement will be Oscar himself."

Members of his family, along with his agent, visited Pistorius on Sunday at the Pretoria police station where he is being held.

Pistorius' downfall continues a recent trend of superstar athletes tumbling from grace. While the weight of their actions ranges widely- it's impossible to compare murder charges with positive steroid tests- many once-beloved icons have fallen out of favor with the public.

Last month, cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs and then lying about his actions for years. In 2009, it was pro golfer Tiger Woods and his marriage infidelity. In 2007, it was runner Marion Jones, who used illegal substances to boost her record-setting performances. Other disgraced stars include baseball's Alex Rodriguez, Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson, college football's Manti Te'o, pro football's Michael Vick, and cycling's Floyd Landis.

Another fallen athlete, baseball great Pete Rose, saw more consequences of his past misdeeds last week. Topps, the company that has exclusive rights to Major League Baseball-licensed trading cards, has decided to strip Rose of his all-time hits record on the cards they produce. The 2013 Topps baseball cards do not credit the former Cincinnati first baseman with his impressive record of 4,256 career hits. Major League Baseball banned Rose from the game in 1989 and declared him ineligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame for betting on games during his time as player and manager of the Reds.