The Life and Trails of Oscar Pistorius: Episode 4

The ESPN 30 For 30 sports documentary comes to an end with Oscar asking for forgiveness

There is no time to catch your breath with the final episode of The Life and Trials of Oscar Pistorius, the ESPN (DStv 218) 30 For 30 sports documentary, as filmmakers takes viewers straight into athlete Oscar Pistorius’s testimony during his trial for the murder of model and actress, Reeva Steenkamp.

The date is 7 April 2014, and before Pistorius’ defence attorney, Barry Roux, can start asking him questions, Pistorius makes an emotional apology to his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp’s family for taking her life.

Jennifer Strydom, a family friend of the Steenkamps, is not impressed by the timing of the apology. “No, rehearsed,” she says. “I mean, okay, they (the Steenkamps) didn’t want to see him, they didn’t want to hear him apologise. But one would think if it’s an accident, you would fly down to the parents and to beg for forgiveness. I mean he did none of that. I just felt it was rehearsed.”

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Jennifer Strydom, a family friend of the Steenkamps, didn’t buy Oscar’s apology.

Slow burner

Pistorius’ testimony is a slowburner, explains journalist Barry Bateman. “We dealt with various other peripheral issues, what kind of person was he. Was he scared of crime?” The important role his mother played in his life up until her death when Pistorius was 15 is also highlighted, but as Oscar comes to the events of the night of Steenkamp’s death, he becomes increasingly emotional.

Even though we can’t see his face on camera (as Judge Masipa ruled against showing the faces of witnesses who were giving testimony while the trail was being broadcast on TV), his voice is laboured. At one stage, Pistorius sobs, heaving profusely, and that is when Judge Masipa calls for an adjournment.

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Barry Bateman explains Pistorius’ testimony.

Back in time

As if the filmmakers sense that the viewers also need a break, they rewind to 3 years prior in the city of Gemona, Italy. Gemona became a hub for sports and wellbeing, and invited Pistorius to be an ambassador for the “Gemona City of Sport and Benstare” project, and to train there in 2011 as he prepared to qualify for the Olympic Games in 2012.

“The arrival of Pistorius in Gemona was truly an important moment,” says the then-mayor of Gemona, Paolo Urbani. “His desire to be normal despite his disability was not unlike the struggles that our community faced since we suffered our own ‘disability’.” This disability the mayor refers to is the tragic earthquake 35 years ago, in 1976, that ripped through the city and caused death and devastation.

“The city wanted to move on, and in that sense, I see similarities with Pistorius’ story, thanks to his persistence and determination, he managed to achieve so much and that is why I asked him to become the ambassador.”


Mayor Paolo Urbani talks about Pistorius being the ambassador of the city of Gemona’s project of sport and wellbeing.

In July 2011, Pistorius competes at the Lignano Athletics Meeting in Italy and qualifies for the Olympics in the able-bodied men’s 400m men event, winning with a time of 45.07 seconds.

“It was euphoria,” says Pistorius’ agent, Peet van Zyl. “The celebration between his training partner, hugging each other falling on the track, just being overjoyed at knowing he has achieved that qualification.”


Pistorius celebrates his Olympic qualification with his training partner.

The Olympics

“His career was his whole life,” explains Pistorius’ ex-girlfriend, Samantha Taylor. “He always wanted to prove something. He’s now made the Olympics, and he wants to prove to the world he is worth it, and he is not different to anyone else.”


Samantha Taylordiscusses Pistorius’ fears about being good enough.

Come July 2012, the Olympic Games start and Pistorius qualifies for the men’s 400m semi-final, but that is where the road ends, as he finished last in the final.


Oscar running on the track at the 2012 Olympics.

Enter the bulldog

Jumping back to 2014, a tough cross examination is an understatement when viewers witness state prosecutor Gerrie Nel grilling Pistorius on the stand. “We knew Gerrie Nel, having this bulldog reputation, is going to start with something dramatic, but what would it be?” asks broadcaster David O’Sullivan.

A video of Pistorius and his friends shooting a watermelon that literally explodes is shown, and Nel compares it to the events of Valentine’s Day 2013 when Steenkamp was shot and killed.

The rest of Oscar’s testimony scrutinised intensely by Nel, and by the time Judge Masipa gives her judgement on 11 September 2014, she calls Oscar an “unimpressive witness”.


Gerrie Nel held nothing back in his cross examination of Pistorius.

Asking forgiveness

Initially, Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide by Judge Masipa, but after various appeals by the state in 2017, he is found guilty of murder and sentenced to 13 years and 5 months in prison.

In the final 5 minutes of the doccie series, viewers get a small glimpse of the Pistorius of today, through the eyes of his former high school principal, Bill Schroder. Bill recently visited Pistorius in prison after Pistorius phoned him to offer his condolences for the passing of Bill’s wife.

“I was very apprehensive, I didn’t know what to expect,” says Bill about his visit. “I saw Pistorius coming through the door, and he gave me a huge hug and started crying. He doesn’t look too bad; he’s grown a beard, which I don’t think does him any justice. He’s smoking, I didn’t mention it, but I could smell it on him when we hugged, which is a pity.”

Pistorius also mentioned he thought he would never run again, but Bill points out that he is only 31, and he might still be able to in the future.

“He was very emotional and kept on saying to me, ‘I just want forgiveness.’ He is desperate to get that sort of feeling – but he will never get it. I don’t think.”

Bill concludes by saying to Pistorius that the only forgiveness he will get, is to forgive himself.


Oscar’s high school principal, Bill Schroder, recently visited him in prison.

The Life and Trials of Oscar Pistorius Episode 4 will be rebroadcast on Sunday, 13 December at 20:00 on ESPN (DStv 218). Episodes 1 – 4 are also available to watch as a Box Set on Catch Up.

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