Oscar Pistorius and his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp (Reuters)
Oscar Pistorius and his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp (Reuters)

Paralympic and Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius broke down in tears in court as he was formally charged with the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius, 26, appeared at Pretoria Magistrates Court accused of shooting Steenkamp at his home in the gated community of Silver Woods.

South African media reported the athlete shot his girlfriend four times through a bathroom door.

As the murder charge was read out, Pistorius was seen "sobbing uncontrollably" and holding his head in his hands.

The prosecution will argue Pistorius, also known as the Blade Runner, is guilty of "premeditated murder".

Lawyers for the track runner are expected to apply for bail, but police have said they will reject any applications.

An application has been lodged for the bail hearing to be postponed until 19 February. Pistorius will remain in custody at a police station in Brooklyn, Pretoria until then.

The hearing was delayed for two hours as Pistorius's lawyers objected to the reporters who packed into the courtroom for the hearing. Members of the runner's family were also present at the court.

Pistorius was arrested after Steenkamp was found dead at his home with four bullet wounds. Police recovered a 9mm pistol at the scene and took the 26-year-old into custody.

His lawyer, Kenny Oldwage, said he is "doing well but very emotional", but gave no further comment. 

A police spokesperson told reporters there had been previous allegations of a "domestic nature" at the home of Pistorius, but did not elaborate on this. 

Police added they are "surprised" at the earlier reports suggesting that Pistorius shot Steenkamp after he mistook her for an intruder and this information "did not come from them".

Pistorius, who wears carbon fibre prosthetic blades to race, made history last year when he became the first double amputee to run in both the Olympic and Paralympic games, competing in the 400m and 4x400m relay.

The Johannesburg-born athlete was born without fibulas in his legs and had the limbs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old.

He won a legal battle with the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in 2008 for the right to compete in able-bodied competitions.