Oscar Pistorius sentenced to 6 years in prison for murder

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PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee Olympian described by a judge as a “fallen hero,” was sentenced on Wednesday to six years in a South African prison for the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, a ruling viewed by some as too lenient.

However, Judge Thokozile Masipa appeared to anticipate criticism of a jail term that fell far short of the normally mandated 15 years for murder under South African law, declaring: “Our courts are courts of law, not courts of public opinion.”

Pistorius, who shot Steenkamp through the door of a toilet cubicle in his home in 2013, was asked to stand and face Masipa as she announced his sentence in a wood-paneled courtroom in the South African capital, Pretoria. He was calm after the ruling, embracing his aunt and tearful sister before being led down a courtroom staircase to a holding cell ahead of being taken to prison.

Later, a convoy of police cars with lights flashing and sirens wailing left a side entrance of the courthouse. In the convoy was a van with tinted windows, possibly carrying Pistorius.

The sentencing was the latest act of a three-and-a-half year legal drama that has often played out on live television and shown the fall from grace of a runner once viewed as an inspiration to many for overcoming his disability. Both of Pistorius’ legs were amputated below the knees when he was 11 months old because of a congenital defect.

He made history by competing at the 2012 Olympics on his carbon-fiber running blades, and was one of the world’s most recognizable athletes.

“He’s a fallen hero, he has lost his career and he is ruined financially,” said Masipa, who originally convicted Pistorius of manslaughter, a ruling that was overturned by an appeals court that instead convicted him of murder and sent the case back to her for sentencing.

In explaining the sentence, Masipa said there are “substantial and compelling circumstances” to show leniency toward Pistorius because he is a “good candidate for rehabilitation,” is unlikely to commit another crime and had shown what appeared to be genuine remorse over Steenkamp’s death.

MORE: Pistorius timeline since London Olympics

Pistorius, 29, maintained he killed Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and reality TV star, by mistake thinking she was an intruder hiding in the bathroom early on Valentine’s Day 2013. Prosecutors alleged that he killed her intentionally after the couple argued.

Part of the difficulty for the judge in determining an appropriate sentence was that the Supreme Court convicted Pistorius of murder with “indirect intent.” Pistorius was found guilty because he knew someone might die — even an intruder — when he shot. As Masipa noted, the Supreme Court did not find that Pistorius knew he was firing at Steenkamp.

Pistorius will be eligible to apply for parole after three years, according to legal experts. Prosecutors, who had asked that he be sentenced to 15 years in prison, can appeal for a heavier sentence but have yet to comment on whether they will do so.

“The family accepts the judgment,” Anneliese Burgess, a spokeswoman for the Pistorius family, said outside the courthouse.

The Steenkamp family did not criticize the sentence. “The family has said it before they wanted the law to run its course. It has done so. No further comment. They will keep a dignified silence,” said Dup de Bruyn, the Steenkamp family representative.

Legal expert Marius du Toit described the sentence as “lenient but not wrong.”

Some people who gathered outside the courthouse were critical.

“The law didn’t take its course,” said Dukes Masanabo, a South African sports official who had hoped Pistorius would be sentenced to 10 to 12 years, not six.

He said the sentence is too light because Pistorius was sentenced to almost the same sentence — five years — for his earlier manslaughter conviction. He served one year of that sentence before being place under house arrest at his uncle’s mansion in Pretoria, and he had some freedom of movement outside the home during certain hours.

The time that Pistorius already served in prison is not subtracted from his new sentence, which may have contributed to the judge’s relatively lenient decision, say legal experts.

Another South African, Sarah Maete, said she wanted Pistorius to get the full 15 years in prison for murder.

“It’s not enough,” she said.

In delivering her sentence, Masipa referred to the difficulties she faced in deciding a sentence that “satisfies every relevant interest” in a case that captured the world’s attention and led to extremes of opinion over the celebrated athlete. She noted that Pistorius had fired four times — not once — through the closed toilet door and spoke of the devastating effect the crime had on Steenkamp’s family.

Ultimately, “mitigating circumstances outweigh the aggravating factors,” the judge said.

Steenkamp’s parents, Barry and June, were present in the courtroom, which was packed with relatives of both Pistorius and Steenkamp, journalists and other observers.

Pistorius’ defense lawyers had asked for no jail time at all, saying he should be allowed to do charity work with children.

Ulrich Roux, a South African lawyer and commentator who is not involved in the Pistorius case, said it had opened a window for South Africans into how their justice system works, including cross-examination and how a judge reaches a decision.

He said: “It’s been a huge learning curve for our society.”

MORE: After Trials, it’s Caster; U.S. women’s 800m team gets no break in Rio

Noah Lyles runs personal best and is coming for Usain Bolt’s world record

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Noah Lyles ran a personal-best time in the 60m on Saturday, then reaffirmed record-breaking intentions for the 100m and, especially, the 200m, where Usain Bolt holds the fastest times in history.

Lyles, the world 200m champion, won the 60m sprint in 6.51 seconds at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, clipping Trayvon Bromell by two thousandths in his first top-level meet of the year. Bromell, the world 100m bronze medalist, is a past world indoor 60m champion and has a better start than Lyles, which is crucial in a six-second race.

But on Saturday, Lyles ran down Bromell and shaved four hundredths off his personal best. It bodes well for Lyles’ prospects come the spring and summer outdoor season in his better distances — the 100m and 200m.

“This is the moment I’ve been working, like, seven years for,” he said. “We’re not just coming for the 200m world record. We’re coming for all the world records.”

Last July, Lyles broke Michael Johnson‘s 26-year-old American record in the 200m, winning the world title in 19.31 seconds. Only Bolt (19.19) and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake (19.26) have run faster.

Lyles has since spoken openly about targeting Bolt’s world record from 2009.

How does an indoor 60m time play into that? Well, Lyles said that his success last year sprung from a strong indoor season, when he lowered his personal best in the 60m from 6.57 to 6.56 and then 6.55. He followed that by lowering his personal best in the 200m from 19.50 to 19.31.

He believes that slicing an even greater chunk off his 60m best on Saturday means special things are on the horizon come the major summer meets — the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in July (on the same Oregon track where he ran the American 200m record) and the world championships in Budapest in August.

After focusing on the 200m last year, Lyles plans to race both the 100m and the 200m this year. He has a bye into the 200m at world championships, so expect him to race the 100m at USATF Outdoors, where the top three are in line to join world champ Fred Kerley on the world team.

Lyles’ personal best in the 100m is 9.86, a tenth off the best times from Kerley, Bromell and 2019 World 100m champ Christian Coleman. Bolt is in his own tier at 9.58.

Also Saturday, Grant Holloway extended a near-nine-year, 50-plus-race win streak in the 60m hurdles, clocking 7.38 seconds, nine hundredths off his world record. Olympic teammate Daniel Roberts was second in 7.46. Trey Cunningham, who took silver behind Holloway in the 110m hurdles at last July’s world outdoor championships, was fifth in 7.67.

Aleia Hobbs won the women’s 60m in 7.02 seconds, one week after clocking a personal-best 6.98 to become the third-fastest American in history after Gail Devers and Marion Jones (both 6.95). Hobbs, 26, placed sixth in the 100m at last July’s world championships.

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the Olympic and world 400m hurdles champion competing for the first time since August, and Jamaican Shericka Jackson, the world 200m champion, were ninth and 10th in the 60m heats, just missing the eight-woman final.

In the women’s pole vault, Bridget Williams, seventh at last year’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, upset the last two Olympic champions — American Katie Moon and Greek Katerina Stefanidi. Williams won with a 4.63-meter clearance (and then cleared 4.71 and a personal-best 4.77). Stefanidi missed three attempts at 4.63, while Moon went out at 4.55.

The indoor track and field season continues with the Millrose Games in New York City next Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

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Birk Irving, last man on Olympic team, extends breakout season with Mammoth win

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One year ago, Birk Irving was the last man to make the four-man U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team. Since, he continued to climb the ranks in arguably the nation’s strongest discipline across skiing and snowboarding.

Irving earned his second World Cup win this season, taking the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, on Friday.

Irving posted a 94-point final run, edging Canadian Brendan Mackay by one point. David Wise, the two-time Olympic champion who won his fifth X Games Aspen title last Sunday, was third.

A tribute was held to 2015 World champion Kyle Smaine, a U.S. halfpipe skier who died in an avalanche in Japan last Sunday.

“We’re all skiing the best we have because we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts,” Irving said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “We’re skiing for him, and we know he’s looking down on us. We miss you Kyle. We love you. Thank you for keeping us safe in the pipe today.”

Irving also won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Dec. 17. Plus, the 23-year-old from Colorado had his best career X Games Aspen finish last Sunday, taking second.

The next major event is the world championships in Georgia (the country, not the state) in early March. Irving was third at the last worlds in 2021, then fifth at the Olympics last February.

The U.S. has been the strongest nation in men’s ski halfpipe since it debuted at the Olympics in 2014. Wise won the first two gold medals. Alex Ferreira won silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. Aaron Blunck is a world champion and X Games champion.

Irving is younger than all of them and has beaten all of them at multiple competitions this season.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t competed since the Games after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

In snowboarding events at Mammoth, Americans Julia Marino and Lyon Farrell earned slopestyle wins by posting the top qualification scores. The finals were canceled due to wind.

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