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Running Community Mourns Olympian David Torrence, Found Dead At 31

David Torrence, an athlete who ran in last year's Summer Olympics and had been training for more races, was found dead in a swimming pool in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Monday, according to local news reports and Torrence's friends.

"The track world lost a great friend and athlete today," USA Track & Field said in a tweet about the 31-year-old runner's death.

Torrence, a popular member of America's running community, was found at the bottom of an apartment complex's pool Monday morning, the Arizona Republic reports, citing Scottsdale police. A cause of death has not been reported; his death is under investigation.

A California native, Torrence was a middle-distance runner who holds the American indoor record for the 1,000 meters. From 2009 to 2011, he won three straight USATF Road Mile titles. Torrence won silver medals at the 2014 IAAF World Relay Championships and the 2015 Pan American Games.

"Today we lost an amazing athlete and an even greater friend," Kyle Merber, another elite runner and a friend of Torrence, said via Twitter.

Merber added, "I was going to pick David up at the airport in a few days to come to my house like he does every September. He was going for #3 this year."

That last reference is to the Hoka One One Long Island Mile — a race that Torrence won last year — and that Merber says will now be renamed to honor its two-time champion and record holder.

"David was an amazing man who showed tremendous strength and dedication in everything he did both personally and professionally," Wendy Yang, president of Hoka, said via an email to NPR. "He will be greatly missed and our thoughts are with his family and friends during this difficult time."

The Republic reports, "Torrence, a University of California-Berkeley alum, left his home in Malibu, California, to train in Arizona a few weeks ago."

At the Summer Games in Rio, Torrence ran for Peru, his mother's country. Competing in the men's 5,000 meters, he came in 15th. He is now Peru's national record holder in several events, from the 800 meters to the 5,000 meters.

As the site LetsRun notes, "while David made his name as a professional, he became a LetsRun.com legend as a 20-year-old in 2005. In October of that year, 'after a night of trash talking and pasta,' David made a bet with a teammate: he would run a sub-4:00 mile by the end of the year; if he was successful, his teammate would have to run a naked mile."

The bet played out in unusual fashion, with Torrence running the mile downhill — on a city street at 2 a.m. — in a feat immortalized in a popular Web video that was filmed from a vehicle blasting the song "Eye of the Tiger." (Warning: The video includes a wide range of profanity.)

Torrence "never ceased to inspire the running community with his athleticism, enthusiasm and compassion," the FloTrack site says, adding that he was "by far one of the kindest athletes our staff had the honor of working with over the years."

In the world of elite running, Torrence was famous for speaking his mind — whether it was to show his emotions or to denounce performance-enhancing drugs. He reportedly played a role in an anti-doping investigation into a coach who was arrested last summer, and he was outspoken about how his sport should treat athletes who were implicated in doping.

Runner's World also highlighted a 2013 interview in which Torrence gave advice to young runners that also hinted at what athletics and his coach meant to him. Here's an excerpt:

"My coach would tell me during particularly hard workouts, 'This last repeat isn't about getting into shape; this is about becoming a man. Twenty years from now, you may be tired after a day of work and not want to talk to your wife or play with your kids or pay your bills, but you have to suck it up and learn how to get it done.'"

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.