Those who knew Christopher St. Clair Brathwaite called him the "old man" of track and field. His 35th birthday would have been Dec. 8.
Earlier this week, the track community of this town was stunned when a sniper killed Brathwaite, a two-time Olympic sprinter for Trinidad. Townspeople say it is the biggest shock this community has received since the death of Steve Prefontaine in an auto accident nine years ago.
Brathwaite was killed with a single shot from 200 yards away near a wooden bridge on a jogging path called Pre's Trail (named after Prefontaine) at the University of Oregon. Police say Michael Evan Feher, 19, who had earlier shot and wounded a member of Oregon's wrestling team, spotted Brathwaite jogging, from high up in the school's stadium. Minutes after shooting Brathwaite, Feher committed suicide.
Brathwaite's friends found it ironic that a man who spent most of his adult life helping troubled youngsters was shot by an anguished teen-ager. Brathwaite was shot only a few hundred yards from the Skipworth Juvenile Detention Center, where he was a senior counselor.
"He dedicated his life to help others reduce the issue of violence," said Paul Lenarduzzi, an administrator at the center. "He was not a violent person. He appreciated life. I guess his life was dedicated to trying to get children not to react to violence and become a part of violence."
Knolly Henderson, former president of the Trinidad Olympic Association and a friend of Brathwaite, agrees. Henderson told a Eugene newspaper, "This man never offended a soul. As a matter of fact, his profession was to bring back on line misguided youths."
Athletes here admired Brathwaite because he remained competitive into his mid 30s. John Gillespie, assistant athletic coach at Oregon said, "It was really an inspiration to see him still training and competing. Distance runners like Carlos Lopes of Portugal, who won the Olympic marathon this year at 37, are quite common. The sprinters don't last past their 20s."
Gillespie, who observed Brathwaite as a student and then a reporter for a track weekly and later as a coach, says, "Runners around here can look at Chris and realize that you can live with the sport a lot longer. He was still competitive and you don't talk about age around Chris."
Brathwaite, a U.S. resident and a Trinidad citizen, began competing at the international level in 1975. Earlier this year, he was frustrated at not being picked to represent Trinidad in the 100 meters at the Summer Olympics. He placed second at the Olympic trials in Trinidad last May, but the government decided to send only one runner.
Besides competing at the Montreal and Moscow Olympics (where he missed making the 100-meter final by one place), he took part in the 1975 Pan Am Games and the 1983 world championships at Helsinki, and won a silver medal at the 1978 Commonwealth Games. His career best was 10.22 in 100 meters and 20.66 in 200 meters.
As a teen-ager Brathwaite played cricket and soccer, but turned all his energy toward running when he turned 19. After attending a community college in Spokane, Wash., Brathwaite arrived in Eugene in 1974 and competed for the Oregon track team in 1975 and 1976. He obtained a B.A. in sociology and master's degree in correctional counseling in 1977.
Brathwaite adopted Eugene as his home town and was well accepted by the people of the town.
Craig Brigham, now a doctor in Chicago and a former track and field teammate of Brathwaite's at Oregon, said, "Prefontaine's death was sad. But this is even sadder because it is a wanton type of killing.
"It is unbelievable."