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Cape Town - Oscar Pistorius and Iwan Thomas have trained together, socialised together and been firm friends for the best part of a decade. And during all that time, says the former British 400m champion, he has never once seen the Blade Runner with a gun.
The image painted by some of Pistorius as a gun enthusiast who frequents shooting ranges as a way of releasing pent-up emotions is not one that chimes with Thomas.
“I’ve never seen Oscar with a gun; he has never mentioned guns and, apart from thinking it was likely he would own a firearm to protect himself at home, I have no knowledge of any history between Oscar and guns.”
“We’ve been mates for seven years and we share an interest in cars and fast motorbikes. Oscar has told me that the way he unwinds is to take his bike out at night for a spin.”
Thomas has followed the tragedy of Reeva Steenkamp’s death and the allegation that Pistorius, 26, murdered his girlfriend in cold blood with understandable grief and concern. His first thought is for Steenkamp. “The saddest thing is that a young woman has died and my heart goes out to her family,” he said.
But in the maelstrom of claim and counter-claim about how the 29-year-old died in the early hours of Valentine’s Day, Thomas hopes against hope there is a rational explanation for the tragedy.
Pistorius spent most of last week fighting to be released on bail. On Friday he was granted R1-million bail, with the case postponed to June 4.
Thomas, 39, won world, European and commonwealth titles in the 400m, as well as picking up an Olympic medal in 1996 and he did so using Pretoria, where Pistorius lives, as his regular training base.
The Welshman understands why ordinary householders “let alone a celebrity such as Pistorius” might choose to sleep with a gun nearby.
Thomas and Pistorius first met on the competitive circuit, then developed a relationship as Thomas’s media career led him to cover the Blade Runner’s rise to fame as an icon of both Paralympic and South African sport.
“It’s hard to think it’s rational to sleep with a 9mm pistol under your pillow, as Oscar did, but if you’ve ever spent much time in South Africa, you’ll appreciate that it’s a totally different mindset,” said Thomas. “The crime is appalling. I know because I regularly used Pretoria as a base.”
Thomas heard of Steenkamp’s death when a friend sent him a message via Twitter.
“I’m in shock that someone I know so well has been caught up in something as awful as this,” Thomas said.
“I so desperately want to believe it was all a tragic accident.”
He recalls one training weekend with Pistorius a few years ago in Grosseto, Italy. “He trains so hard. I keep myself in good shape but he wiped the floor with me, so much so that I was sick. Then we went to hang out on the beach, have an ice cream, normal stuff.
“I’ve been with him in different environments and he has always been the same. At the World Championships in Daegu (South Korea) in 2011, we went for a night out. I’ve seen him when perhaps we’d had too many beers and he’s still a lovely, respectful guy.”
Thomas insists Pistorius deals with professional setbacks well and he does not believe his outburst at the London Paralympics about the length of winning 200m rival Alan Oliveira’s running blades indicated a darker side: “It was just an honest reaction coming from someone disappointed at losing a race.”
“I don’t look at that now and think it’s indicative of a dark side. It just wasn’t. I’ve seen him with cameras around and I’ve been with him in private situations and social situations. If he does have another side to him then he did very well to hide it from me.
“You go through your head, every occasion you’ve spent time with him, replaying what we did and his behaviour, to see if there were any signs. And I can’t think of anything, not a single thing. And you start doubting yourself, thinking you’ve missed something.
“I don’t expect bad things to happen to good people and, in my experience, Oscar is a good person. It could turn out that I’m totally wrong but if the person I’ve known for seven years turns out to be someone so completely different, then I’ll be as confused as anyone.
“Whatever happens now, there is no good outcome here. Reeva has been killed. Whether it turns out to be a tragic accident or something else then Oscar will have to live with that for the rest of his life.”
Mail on Sunday