NEW YORK – Classy, gracious, humble.
That was Oscar Pistorius. Before Thursday, Ato Boldon said, Pistorius’ name would have been the last to come to mind if someone told him a track athlete was charged with murder.
“Not the second-to-last, not the third-to-last,” the retired sprinter said. “The very last.”
Boldon, a four-time Olympic medalist, spent Thursday morning exchanging shocked text messages and social media posts with his cohorts in the track community. They knew the double-amputee from South Africa as a transcendent figure who reminded fans of sports’ greatest virtues.
Then came the news, six months after Pistorius competed at the Olympics on his carbon-fiber blades, that he was arrested in the shooting death of his girlfriend.
“He exudes class. He’s gracious. He’s humble,” said Boldon, who felt he knew Pistorius well.
Several American stars found themselves answering questions about Pistorius at a news conference in Manhattan promoting Saturday’s Millrose Games.
Nick Symmonds, who finished fifth in the 800 meters in London, is friendly with Pistorius. He learned the news when he woke up at 6 a.m. and turned on the TV.
“I was just shocked like everybody else,” he said. “We’re going to have to let the courts down in South Africa sort out the facts.”
In a sport that struggles to stay relevant in the U.S. for the four years between Olympics, Pistorius drew in fans who may never have even watched a race. On this day, track was all over the news for the most horrible of reasons.
“There are housewives and kids that couldn’t name another track and field athlete who know the name Oscar Pistorius and know his story and feel like they were along on that amazing journey with him last summer,” Boldon added.
Former Washington State track star Bernard Lagat, owner of six outdoor world championship medals, is often called an ambassador for the sport with his outgoing personality. He doesn’t know Pistorius well, but feels the ache of a dark day for track.
He wants fans’ reactions to be: “Did you see that? Did you see that world record? Did you see that amazing marathon?” When the attention has nothing to do with such feats, Lagat said, “that’s the saddest thing.”