London: Out in the small Italian town of Gemona, as in many places around the world, the arrest of Oscar Pistorius on murder charges was hard to believe.
It was on a new track in the north-eastern corner of Italy that the double-amputee from South Africa trained last year for his Olympic debut, running lap after lap on his Cheetah Flex-Foot blades in preparation for his trip to the world’s biggest sporting event.
On Thursday, shortly after Pistorius was charged in South Africa with the shooting death of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, the mayor of Gemona said it was tough to take.
“The news shocked not only me personally but also the whole of Gemona and the region. It’s come as a huge shock to everyone who knew him,” mayor Paolo Urbani said.
Nick Symmonds, an American athlete who finished fifth in the 800 meters in London, is friendly with Pistorius. He learned the news when he woke up at 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.”
Ato Boldon, a four-time Olympic medalist, said Pistorius’ name would have been the last to come to mind if someone told him a track athlete was charged with murder.
“He exudes class. He’s gracious. He’s humble,” said Boldon.
The International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee each had little to say about the case.
“This is not the moment for the IOC to be commenting on this tragic incident. Our thoughts are with the families affected and we send them our deepest sympathies,” the IOC said. The IPC said it was “police matter.”
Pistorius’ father, Henke, declined to comment, saying only “we all pray for guidance and strength for Oscar and the lady’s parents.”
Former 100-metre world record-holder Asafa Powell tweeted about Steenkamp’s death. “Sad news about @oscarpistorius & fatal shooting of his girlfriend he’s a true inspiration & amazing athlete. A real tragedy for all,” Powell wrote.