JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A South African newspaper published a grainy cellphone photograph of Oscar Pistorius at a running track in his carbon fiber blades Thursday as the Olympian's agent said his return to training was now imminent — but denied he was already in training.
The Afrikaans-language Beeld newspaper had the image of what it said was Pistorius, who was charged with murder for the Valentine's Day shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, on the front page of its Thursday edition.
In the photograph — taken by a high school student from a bus passing by the track — the double amputee is seen from some distance wearing his blades and dark lycra running clothes and is walking on a track with his hands on his hips.
The photo was taken on March 24 by teenager Lisa Smith, her field hockey coach said, when their team was visiting the University of Pretoria where Pistorius' regular practice facility is.
The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that Pistorius had been at the track in the South African capital city on the day of the photograph.
It was the first time Pistorius had put his blades on since he shot dead Steenkamp in his home in the early hours of Feb. 14, his agent, Peet van Zyl, told the AP later on Thursday.
Pistorius was only "having a jog around the track," the agent said, as the newspaper claimed sources had told it the Olympic 400-meter runner and Paralympic champion had begun full training at the university on March 21. Van Zyl disputed that and said neither he nor Ampie Louw, Pistorius' coach and the man who controls his training sessions, were present at the track on the day the photograph was taken.
Field hockey coach and school sports director Charmaine Koekemoer said she was driving the bus past the track at around 10.15 a.m. on the Sunday morning when members of her Hoerskool Voortrekker girls hockey team started shouting "There's Oscar, there's Oscar!" from the back.
Student Smith then took the photo on her BlackBerry, Koekemoer said. It shows Pistorius in the distance with the bars of a metal fence in the foreground. He is the only person in the shot.
"The kids were very excited," Koekemoer told the AP. "That was the excitement, seeing a world icon in real life. It was nothing to do with his case.
"We didn't see him running around the track. He was just walking to the 100 meter end line down the final stretch. It looked like he was going to take his blades off."
The single photo, a grainy image taken through the black fence and showing Pistorius walking on the far side of the track, was accompanied by a front-page story in Beeld under the headlines "Oscar is back on the track" and "In training with other athletes."
Pistorius' management team was expecting the photo to be published, Van Zyl said, after Pistorius had told them he had visited his track with some Australian athletes on the day a little under two weeks ago. Koekemoer — who was visiting with her students from the eastern city of Pietermaritzburg — said there were other athletes around Pistorius when they saw him.
Neither Pistorius' coach nor his agent knew about the track visit until afterward, Van Zyl said.
But while Pistorius wasn't yet in a training routine, the agent said, his return could be any day now. The image of the world's most famous disabled athlete back on his unmistakable running blades was likely now to become more and more common again.
"He might get up this morning and call (coach) Ampie (Louw) and say he wants to be at the track at one o'clock," Van Zyl said. Van Zyl also said Pistorius' desire to start training again did not show disrespect to the family of Steenkamp.
Pistorius denies murder in the Valentine's Day killing of model Steenkamp, saying he mistook her for a nighttime intruder in his home. His next scheduled court appearance is June 4, when prosecutors say they intend to serve indictments.
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