Former 800-meter world champion Mbulaeni Mulaudzi was killed in a car crash on Friday while traveling to an athletics meet, the spokesman for South African President Jacob Zuma said.
He was 34.
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Presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj said Mulaudzi was killed in an accident while traveling to the meet in Johannesburg. President Zuma released a statement saying he was shocked and saddened by Mulaudzi’s death.
"The nation has lost a true hero and one of our most disciplined and talented athletes who flew the South African flag across the sporting globe," Zuma said.
World athletics body the IAAF, the South African Olympic committee and South Africa’s ruling ANC party also paid tribute to Mulaudzi, who had retired last year after a 13-year career during which he became the No. 1-ranked athlete in the 800 meters.
Mulaudzi won the world title in Berlin in 2009. He was also a former Commonwealth and world indoor champion over 800 meters and South Africa’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony at the 2004 Athens Olympics, where he won silver. He collected seven medals in total at the Olympics, world championships and Commonwealth Games and had a reputation as a tough, hard-working runner who many commentators said was underrated.
The IAAF said it was "deeply saddened" to learn of his death, while South Africa’s Olympic committee called him a "sports hero."