JOHANNESBURG — His head shrouded by a sports hoodie, the young man walked unnoticed through a bustling crowd outside the gates of the Olympic village in London last year. When he got close, I saw a familiar face smiling at me.
It was Oscar Pistorius. "Gerald!" he called and then raised both hands for a double high-five greeting followed by a hug.
On Feb. 14, I saw Pistorius in a hood again, and this time he stared straight at the ground, hands thrust into the pockets of a gray sports jacket. He was flanked by officers as he left a police station. Hours earlier, he'd been charged with killing his girlfriend.
It is hard to reconcile the easygoing, charismatic man I interviewed on several occasions with the man accused of premeditated murder in the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp in his South African home. Prosecutors painted him as a man prone to anger and violence, though he had no prior criminal record. The Olympian says he shot Steenkamp by mistake, thinking she was a nighttime intruder, while prosecutors allege he intentionally shot her after the couple argued.
Who is Oscar Pistorius? I thought I had some idea, and in a sense, so did the millions around the world who cheered the double-amputee athlete as a symbol of determination over adversity.
Now he is as much of a mystery as whatever happened in his home in the early hours of Valentine's Day.
My meeting with Pistorius in London was one of several in the three years I have been covering his remarkable story for The Associated Press, from South Africa to Italy to London — and last week to Courtroom C on the first floor of the red-bricked and gray-walled Pretoria Magistrate's Court in the South African capital.