Blade runner Oscar Pistorius broke down in tears as he appeared in court accused of murdering his girlfriend at his exclusive South African home.

The world's best-known Paralympian was taken into custody on Thursday after Reeva Steenkamp, 30, was shot dead at the luxury gated Silver Lakes Golf Estate in the South African capital Pretoria.

Pistorius, 26, sat with his head bowed when he was brought before magistrates, charged with one count of murder.

The gold-medal winner, who earned his Blade Runner nickname because of his prosthetic racing legs, was earlier met by a media frenzy as he arrived at the packed court house, having left a police station with a coat over his head. He attempted to obscure his identity, covering his face with a note pad as he was driven into the precincts.

The sprinter's arrest triggered shock across the globe and prompted speculation he may have mistaken his girlfriend for an intruder in what could have been a Valentine's Day surprise gone wrong. But police swiftly distanced themselves from the suggestions.

Miss Steenkamp's body was discovered at around 3am, after neighbours reported hearing screams and gun shots coming from the athlete's home. According to the Beeld newspaper, she was blasted four times through a bathroom door. Police said the model was shot in the head and upper body. They recovered a 9mm pistol from the scene.

Pistorius's father Henke, brother Carl and sister Aimee gathered in court to support the athlete who arrived dressed in a grey suit and blue tie.

The celebrated runner began sobbing, covering his face with his hands, as the charge against him was read out. Chief magistrate Desmond Nair told him: "Take it easy. Come take a seat."

The hearing came after a two-hour delay while Pistorius's lawyers objected to the scrum of local and international reporters packed into the courtroom.

A bail hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday, with police expected to oppose the application. The hearing was adjourned and Pistorius will be held at a local police station until his next court appearance.