Oscar Pistorius Trial Day 35: Blade Runner's lost life of luxury described in court

Nastasya Tay
Oscar Pistorius Trial Day 35: Blade Runner's lost life of luxury described in court

PRETORIA, South Africa – Fast cars. Favors owed by Italian rock stars. Intercontinental business class flights with his girlfriend at his side. Plans to jet to Tuscany to listen to opera. A deluge of lucrative corporate sponsorship deals.

Murder-accused Paralympian Oscar Pistorius sat silently in the dock Tuesday, his expression inscrutable as his manager described the life he would be leading had the star athlete not shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp dead in the early hours of Valentine's Day last year.

But amid talk of massive contracts being proffered in the wake of the London 2012 Olympics – worth five to six times Pistorius' then salary, according to agent Peet Van Zyl – it appeared to be the image of his lost future life with the blonde model that broke him.

As Van Zyl spoke of Pistorius' request to have Steenkamp travel with him to two upcoming athletic exhibition events – a week before he shot her through a toilet door – the athlete dissolved into quiet sobs.

"For me it was a first. He had never asked me for anything like this," Van Zyl told the court of Pistorius' desire to have his girlfriend accompany him to Brazil and Mexico.

"I then put the question to Mr. Pistorius, 'Why do you want this?' and his reply to me was, 'I actually want Ms. Steenkamp to see what my world is about, the pressure that I'm under, how I need to perform,' " Van Zyl said.

Van Zyl told the court his client became a "global icon" after London 2012, and the opportunities that followed had "substantial financial implications."

Before the Feb. 14 shooting, Pistorius was estimated to receive endorsements worth more than $2 million a year. He even starred in a 2009 Italian music video, strobe-lit as he ran through the dark, accompanied by rock band Negramara.

In the wake of Valentine's Day, despite Van Zyl's public assurances that the sponsorships were safe, sunglasses giant Oakley reportedly cancelled its contract with Pistorius, with Nike following suit, pulling an advertisement featuring the Paralympian on his signature blades, the tagline reading "I am the bullet in the chamber."


Van Zyl, a surprise witness from the defense, described Steenkamp and Pistorius' relationship as "loving and caring," testifying that the celebrity runner wanted to include her in his career and was even planning a special trip to take her to listen to Andrea Bocelli perform.

In cross-examination, Pistorius' manager admitted having met two of the athlete's previous girlfriends, including state witness Samantha Taylor, but insisted Pistorius had never invited them to travel with him when he competed abroad.

Asked about Taylor's testimony that Pistorius shouted at her on several occasions, Van Zyl shook his head. "I never saw him treat any woman or any person for that matter in any aggressive or undignified way," he said.

While the defense's decision to call Van Zyl to the stand may have offered more of a glimpse into Pistorius' relationship with Steenkamp, it has also opened the door to further detailed questioning on the athlete's character.

There were only two incidents when he saw the athlete lose his temper, Van Zyl testified – both on occasions of "abusive questioning" from journalists. "He showed his disappointment and anger," the manager said, but never became aggressive.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel was incredulous, raising a controversial incident at the London Paralympics.

Local radio commentator David O'Sullivan, who wrote of the Pistorius he knew in the wake of the Valentine's Day shooting, described his surprise when he heard from the Blade Runner's roommate at the 2012 Games, Arnu Fourie, who said he was forced to move from their shared room "because Oscar was constantly screaming in anger at people on the phone."

"I was taken aback. I had never thought of Oscar behaving like that," Sullivan wrote.

Van Zyl insisted he knew little of the incident, saying it had been dealt with by team management in the Athlete's Village.

It was not the only incident Nel raised from the London Games.

The first time the world saw a darker side to South Africa's athletic golden boy was at the 2012 Paralympic Games, when Pistorius lost to Brazil's Alan Fonteles Cardoso Oliveira in the T44 200 meter final by .07 seconds, then made a scene on the track. The Blade Runner was furious, telling the cameras in his post-race interview that "we aren't racing a fair race."

Van Zyl was dismissive, suggesting to the court that there was a "long lead up" to the confrontation, which Pistorius at the time said was because Oliveira had an unfair advantage from his longer blades.

There was some irony in Pistorius' anger. His desire to compete with able-bodied athletes meant his blades were restricted to a shorter length, as cleared by the IAAF, the sport's governing body, while blades of Oliveira's length are only legal at Paralympic events.

At the time, one British journalist described him as "a victim of his own ambition."

For a man who never wanted to be defined by his disability, it is a strange twist for him to defend himself in court with his vulnerability. Pistorius' legal strategy of "putative self defense" relies on his ability to demonstrate how he feared for his life.

Van Zyl described his star client as having a "heightened sense of awareness," being "always fidgety," insisting on being seated with a clear view to the entrance and exits of restaurants, and on one occasion grabbing his arm on a crowded New York street when they heard a "bang."

Peet van Zyl in 2013 after visiting Oscar Pistorius in jail. (AP)
Peet van Zyl in 2013 after visiting Oscar Pistorius in jail. (AP)

The manager – who met Pistorius in 2004, and has represented him professionally since 2006 – said he was unaware of the athlete's love for guns until his client brought one to his home in November 2012.

"He specifically replied to me he was carrying a gun because he was fearing for his own safety," Van Zyl told the court.

Van Zyl spoke of how Pistorius always kept the latch on his hotel room door while traveling, ensured he parked in lit spaces and once drove "very fast" to ensure they were not being followed.

But Yahoo Sports understands that the substantial psychologist's report from the murder-accused's 30-day evaluation – in excess of 30 pages – clearly states that the athlete does not have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, a direct contradiction to defense forensic psychiatrist Merryl Vorster's diagnosis.

While it represents the opinion of a single member of the panel of four experts who assessed Pistorius – the three psychiatrists authored a separate single-page report stating that Pistorius is fit to stand trial and does not lack criminal responsibility for his actions – it is still a hefty blow to the defense, who must show that the Paralympian genuinely felt his life was threatened.

Another defense expert came under fire in cross-examination Tuesday.

Acoustic engineer Ivan Lin testified Monday that it would be "very unlikely" for a neighbor in bed at a distance of 177 meters to hear a scream, "let alone interpret if it was male or female."

Several state witnesses described hearing the "terrified" screams of a woman – a crucial pillar of the prosecution's case for pre-meditated murder.

On Tuesday, Lin conceded that he could make no finding on a person's ability to differentiate between a male and female scream.

"Am I right in saying it's common sense, that more often than not, we would be able to identify a woman and a male's voice screaming, but we cannot say it's absolutely certain?" Nel asked.

"That's correct," Lin agreed.

Lin admitted that he based his investigation, done only in the past two weeks, on scenario information provided by the defense, which did not take open windows into account (which could help sound carry), nor new houses on the estate (which could stifle sound).

At one point, Nel suggested that Steenkamp's screams of "absolute fear" could be as loud as 120 decibels, speculating that such noise could carry over substantial distance.

"I think one needs to understand what that means," Lin responded, "It's almost hearing a jet taking off, from 100 meters away …"

The trial continues, with Van Zyl facing further cross-examination Wednesday. But with the defense expected to call very few other witnesses, court is likely to adjourn later this week for both legal teams to put together their closing arguments.