Oscar Pistorius faces harsh cross-examination at murder trial

Oscar Pistorius
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Oscar Pistorius was told to look at a graphic photo of dead girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp‘s head and to “take responsibility for what you’ve done” by a prosecutor at his murder trial Wednesday.

A crime scene photo of one side of Steenkamp’s head, bloodied from a bullet wound, was displayed on screens around the room, and shown on video streams on the first day of his cross-examination.

It came after prosecutor Gerrie Nel showed a clip of this video news report of Pistorius at a gun shooting range, firing at a watermelon that exploded on impact.

“You know that the same happened to Reeva’s head,” Nel said just before the photo of Steenkamp came on the screens. “It exploded. Have a look. I’m going to show you, Mr. Pistorius, it had the exact same effect, the bullet that went into her head.”

Pistorius, the first double amputee to run in the Olympics in 2012, said he thought Steenkamp was an intruder locked in his bathroom when he shot four times through a locked door, hitting and killing her inside on Valentine’s Day 2013. The prosecution claims Pistorius killed Steenkamp after an argument.

He faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder. If not found guilty of premeditated murder, he could be convicted of culpable homicide, South Africa’s version of manslaughter for negligent killing.

Graphic photos of Steenkamp had been shown during the trial on previous days, accidentally while scanning through slideshows and only for brief seconds. The photo was up for about one minute Wednesday.

“Have a look there,” Nel said to Pistorius. “I know you don’t want to because you don’t want to take responsibility, but it’s time that you look at it. Take responsibility for what you’ve done, Mr. Pistorius.”

Pistorius, who had thrown up during graphic autopsy testimony March 10, had a green bucket nearby in the witness box Wednesday. Pistorius tried not to look at the photo next to his face, according to court reports. He responded emotionally.

“I’ve taken responsibility … waiting for my time on this stand to tell my story for the respect of Reeva and for myself,” Pistorius said, his voice trembling. “I’ve taken responsibility. But I will not look at a picture where I’m tormented by what I saw and felt that night. As I picked Reeva up, my fingers touched her head. I remember. I don’t have to look at a picture. I was there.”

Pistorius sobbed and buried his head in his hands, causing Nel to ask for an adjournment.

Earlier, Nel aggressively began his cross-examination by telling Pistorius, “Say yes, I shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp.”

“I did,” Pistorius said, repeating that he “made a mistake” and adding, “I’m human. I make many faults. I have sins.”

Later, Nel questioned Pistorius about crime scene details and accused him of lying in his version of events and having rehearsed answers.

“My memory isn’t very good at the moment,” Pistorius said. “I’m under a lot of pressure sitting here. It’s not easy. I’m defending for my life.”

Pistorius repeatedly said that the shooting was an accident.

“Before thinking, out of fear, I fired four shots,” he said. “When I realized the scale of what was happening, I stopped firing, and I stood there, and I was in shock.

“I didn’t intend to shoot anyone. I fired my firearm before I could think, before I even had a moment to comprehend what was happening. I believed someone was coming out the toilet.”

Here’s NBC News’ full coverage of the trial.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 3:30 a.m. ET on Thursday with more cross-examining from Nel

“I’m not going to go away,” Nel told Pistorius shortly before the end of Wednesday’s proceedings.

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Football takes significant step in Olympic push

Flag Football
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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Football took another step toward possible Olympic inclusion with the IOC executive board proposing that the sport’s international federation — the IFAF — be granted full IOC recognition at a meeting in October.

IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the Olympics down the line. The IOC gave the IFAF provisional recognition in 2013.

Specific measures are required for IOC recognition, including having an anti-doping policy compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency and having 50 affiliated national federations from at least three continents. The IFAF has 74 national federations over five continents with almost 4.8 million registered athletes, according to the IOC.

The NFL has helped lead the push for flag football to be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Flag football had medal events for men and women at last year’s World Games, a multi-sport competition including Olympic and non-Olympic sports, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Football is one of nine sports that have been reported to be in the running to be proposed by LA 2028 to the IOC to be added for the 2028 Games only. LA 2028 has not announced which, if any sports, it plans to propose.

Under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

For Tokyo, baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added. For Paris, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut. Those sports were added four years out from the Games.

For 2028, the other sports reportedly in the running for proposal are baseball and softball, breaking, cricket, karate, kickboxing, lacrosse, motorsports and squash.

All of the other eight sports reportedly in the running for 2028 proposal already have a federation with full IOC recognition (if one counts the international motorcycle racing federation for motorsports).

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Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt
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One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. It is produced by Religion of Sports, the venture founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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