Daundre Barnaby, who competed for Canada at the 2012 London Olympics, died in a swimming accident at a national team training camp in St. Kitts on Friday. He was 24.
"He was a very nice guy, he had 'Peace, love and unity' as his slogan for the team," said Peter Eriksson, Athletics Canada's head coach. "And he was a very important part of our 4x400 relay team, and also he had a great future as a 400-metre runner. We expected a lot from him in the years to come."
The runner from Brampton, Ont., was swimming recreationally with teammates when he disappeared. Eriksson said he apparenlty lost his footing and was dragged away by an undertow.
The 400-metre specialist was from St. Ann, Jamaica. He became a Canadian citizen in time to compete at the London Olympics.
Barnaby competed in the NCAA for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. He last represented Canada at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland.
There was an outpouring of grief on social media Friday as news of his death spread.
The Bulldogs' track team tweeted: "Please keep the family of Daundre Barnaby in your thoughts and prayers. Sad day for MSU Track & Field. He was an Olympian and All-American."
Rob Guy, chief executive officer of Athletics Canada, said Barnaby was "an outstanding athlete and an even better young man."
"This is such a sad and profound loss," he said in a statement.
"My heart breaks for Daundre Barnaby's family," wrote Canadian middle distance runner Kate Van Buskirk. "The @CityBrampton, @AthleticsCanada and T&F communities will miss you. . ."
Sprinter Alicia Brown wrote: "Sending my prayers to the family, friends, teammates and coaches of Daundre Barnaby. My heart is heavy #RIP."
Dontae Richards-Kwok, a member of Canada's men's 4x100 relay team tweeted: "Please pray for the family of Daundre Barnaby."
Sarah Wells, a 400-metre hurdler from Toronto, posted a photo of herself and Barnaby — she's smiling, riding piggy-back, and making a peace sign. Underneith she wrote: "I don't know what to say. . . Heaven gained an angel. Daundre Barnaby will be missed. RIP."
Barnaby's body was found by search and rescue personnel in a deep area of water close to the beach, according to an Athletics Canada spokesman. Other Canadian team athletes were swimming with Barnaby and attempted to save him.
Barnaby's mother and brother were expected to arrive in St. Kitts on Saturday.
Eriksson was also flying to St. Kitts on Saturday, along with a grief counsellor and a chaplain to provide support for the athletes, coaches and staff.
"Daundre was a very nice guy, very down to early, very much a team player," Eriksson said. "It's very traumatic for all the athletes down there. I don't think they're doing that great."
Canadian Olympic Committee Marcel Aubut sent his condolences to Barnaby's "family, loved one and teammates.
"Daundre was an outstanding athlete and he will be sorely missed, but never forgotten," Aubut said in a statement.