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The Tragic Fall Of Oscar Pistorius, A Modern-Day Icarus

The Greek tragedy featured man-made wings melting under the sun. In South Africa, the bladerunner may have gotten too close to the gods as well.

Oscar Pistorius at the 2012 London Paralympics
Oscar Pistorius at the 2012 London Paralympics
Rinny Gremaud


GENEVA - When I heard that Oscar Pistorius had murdered his girlfriend, I told myself: When you spend your life convincing yourself that there is no barrier that cannot be broken, you are headed for a mid-air explosion.

It is not surprising that a man who is famous for defying standards and rules, encouraged by those around him to believe that he is all-powerful, has no inhibitions when faced with a deadly danger.

Later, reports started spreading that Pistorius was on anabolic steroids, and that men who are hopped up on testosterone can experience uncontrollable fits of anger.

Naively, to me, this rumor seemed plausible. After all, Pistorius overcame his handicap thanks to modern technological contraptions, so why wouldn’t he use a syringe to push back the limits that nature arbitrarily imposed on him?

I’m not sure we realize how far down this man has fallen. It was heartbreaking to see Pistorius crying in court – like a child who has just realized the irreversible and definitive nature of his actions.

I remembered watching him in the London Olympic Games, thinking that this guy was a real cyborg, a fascinating kind of enhanced human. He reminded me of Steve Austin, “The Six Million Dollar Man.”

At the time, I had heard sociologists explaining on the radio that Oscar Pistorius posed a problem for sports institutions, who still believed in the obsolete myth of a healthy body and a healthy mind, defying the law of nature thanks to its inherent qualities. This myth is no longer true – all the top athletes today are the product of a technology, whatever it may be.

Oscar Pistorius, with his hybrid body, is the perfect example of this. He managed to remove the barriers between performance and pathology, normal and abnormal, natural and artificial.

From a Nike icon to a life sentence

It made me think about Icarus, of course, although the Greek myth has become irrelevant in today’s society, where defiance and disobedience are highly-regarded qualities. In 2013, Icarus would be perfect as the hero of a Nike advert.

I went on the Internet to watch the now-infamous Nike advertisement that the company is so embarrassed about. The one where Oscar Pistorius says, “I am the bullet in the chamber.” The video shows all the top South-African athletes with a voice-over saying: “My body is my weapon. This is how I fight, how I defend, deter, attack. This is my weapon. How I defeat my enemies. How I win my war. How I make victory, mine.”

Honestly, this video is worth watching again. It has everything in it, condensed in one minute: the machine-body of the elite athlete, the cult of performance and the image of sports as the catharsis of violence.

As I watch him fall, I tell myself that Oscar Pistorius will never be able to recover from what he has just done to himself. How will such a body, so remarquable and spectacular, survive a life-long imprisonment?

Nike South-Africa commercial (YouTube/a>)

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