Blake Leeper finished second to Oscar Pistorius in the 400 meters at the… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
Blake Leeper, a rising U.S. star in Paralympic track, expressed shock Thursday after learning that his chief rival and mentor, Oscar Pistorius, was charged with murder in South Africa.
Pistorius, known as "Blade Runner," was a superstar in the sport and the first Paralympian to compete in the Olympics, running in the 400 meters and 4x400 relay at the London Games last summer.
The 26-year-old athlete is facing a murder charge after his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was shot four times inside his Pretoria home during predawn hours.
"That's something I would never associate with him," Leeper said in a telephone interview from the U.S. Olympic Committee training center in Chula Vista. "He was a very mellow, humble dude. Extremely, extremely calm."
Leeper, who has been competing at the international level for only a few years, said that Pistorius quickly became like a big brother, the two spending hours talking on the track and having lunch together. Pistorius continued to offer advice even as they faced off at their sport's biggest events.
At the London Paralympics, Pistorius won gold in the 400 meters and Leeper finished second.
"He went out of his way to be my role model," Leeper said. "You could tell his heart was in the right place."
South African authorities told the Associated Press that Pistorius had a recent history of problems with the police, including "allegations of a domestic nature."
Leeper said he never saw flashes of temper on the track, not even as Pistorius struggled through a rocky London Paralympics, where he failed to win as a favorite in the 100 and 200 meters.
"The hard part is, he inspires a lot of people and now it might be overshadowed," Leeper said. "I hope people can remember that he's done a lot of great things in this world."
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