Oscar Pistorius hangs heavy over the global names at Birmingham


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The Independent Online

It was fair to say that Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was still in a state of shock yesterday. "When I got off the plane at Heathrow yesterday and gave the immigration officer my passport, she asked 'What's your purpose for being here?'" the Jamaican sprinter, who won the Olympic 100m title in Beijing in 2008 and at London 2012, recounted. "I said: 'Oh, I'm an athlete. I'm here to compete in Birmingham.' She said: 'OK, so were you at the Olympics?' I was like: 'Yes, I was at the Olympics.' She said: 'Do you know Oscar Pistorius?' I said 'Yes.' She said: 'He shot his girlfriend.' 'I was like: 'Are you serious?'"

It was a similar story for many of the international stars travelling to Birmingham for the showpiece event of the winter indoor athletics season, the British Athletics Grand Prix at the National Indoor Arena today. Fraser-Pryce – clearly not as recognisable a public figure as her Jamaican team-mate Usain Bolt, despite her own back-to-back Olympic 100m successes – runs in the 60m, her first-ever indoor race. "We don't have any indoor tracks in Jamaica," she said. "We don't have any need for them."

Like the rest of the athletics world, she is still coming to terms with the news that a fellow 2012 Olympian has been charged with murder. "When I left passport control at Heathrow, I went straight on my phone and Googled it and a whole list of articles came up," Fraser-Pryce said. "I tried to read as much as I could.

"I was like, 'Wow, I need to wait until I can see everything on the TV.' But I've not really drawn a conclusion yet. I've not really processed the information. I've not heard what he has to say so it's very difficult to actually comment. I don't know Oscar well. I've seen him but I've never really spoken to him."

Asked whether it was "the talk of the athletes" at the meeting hotel in central Birmingham, Mo Farah, Britain's Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m champion, admitted: "Yeah. It is – because you turn on the television and it's something that you can't miss. It's all over the world. But at the same time we don't know what's going on, so you've just got to try and keep going with your own thing. For me, my main job here is to run the 3,000m race I have tomorrow, and try and win it and not think about anything else.

"I knew Oscar to say hello to on the circuit, as you do. And for what he's achieved as an athlete, you've got to admire that. But I didn't know him personally. I'm just the same as everyone else, seeing the news. Obviously it's a sad situation but I don't know what's going on, so it's hard to comment."

Asked whether it was sad to see athletics on the front pages for such tragic reasons, Farah replied: "Yeah, it is sad. We don't want to see our sport like that." It was suggested that the tragedy might have "tainted the vision of the Paralympics". Farah shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know," he said. "I don't know what's going on. I haven't got a clue."

High-jumper Ivan Ukhov, another of the Olympic champions in action today, said: "It is a big tragedy. That is all I can say. We don't know what happened. We will have to wait and see."

American sprinter Carmelita Jeter, who anchored the US to Olympic 4x100m gold in world-record time, said: "I really don't know Oscar. I've seen him a couple of times at track meets, and he has always spoken to me and been very nice. That's all that I know of him. I don't really know him as a person. It's definitely a sad situation, but the only thing I know is the same thing that everyone else has seen on the news."

Martyn Rooney, Britain's leading 400m runner, issued a brief statement yesterday, giving his reaction. The Croydon Harrier, who will not be in action in Birmingham, has been a close friend and supporter of Pistorius for several years and returned home to Britain only on Sunday after spending a month training with him in South Africa.

"My thoughts and prayers go out the families and friends of those involved," Rooney said. "I will not be making any further comment on the events of this week and ask that this decision is respected."