Sammy Wanjiru, Marathon Champion, Is Dead at 24
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
New York Times
Published: May 16, 2011
Sammy Wanjiru, who set a blistering pace to shatter the 24-year-old Olympic record in the marathon, becoming the youngest winner of the event, died on Sunday in Nyahururu, Kenya. He was 24.
Mystery Remains in Death of Marathon Champion (May 17, 2011)
His death was reported by the International Association of Athletics Federations, the world governing body for track and field. News reports from Kenya quoted the police saying that Wanjiru had jumped from the balcony of his home after his wife, Triza Njeri, arrived to find him with another woman.
The reports said investigators were trying to determine why Wanjiru, who died from internal injuries, had jumped.
He had been going through a troubled period in his life. Last December, he was charged with threatening to kill his wife and with illegal possession of an AK-47 assault rifle. His wife withdrew the attempted-murder charge against him, saying they had reconciled. He was scheduled to appear in court later this month on the firearms charge.
In January, Wanjiru sustained minor injuries from a crash when he swerved to avoid a truck, hit a pothole and rolled his car.
For all of Kenya’s dominance in long-distance running, no Kenyan had won the Olympic marathon until Wanjiru in Beijing in 2008. He became, at 23, the youngest person to win four major marathons: Chicago in 2009 and in 2010 and London in 2009, in addition to the 2008 Olympics.
In 2008, the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races named Wanjiru the world athlete of the year. In 2008-9 and 2009-10, he won the World Marathon Majors, a competition based on combined performance in the world’s major marathons.
Raila Odinga, the prime minister of Kenya, called him one of his country’s “sure bets for gold” at next year’s London Olympics. His death, he said, “is therefore a big blow to our dreams.”
Wanjiru broke the world record for the half-marathon three times, and his time of 58 minutes 33 seconds at the Hague in March 2007 is still the second best, behind the current world record of 58:23, set by Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea in 2010.
Wanjiru won the Chicago Marathon in 2009 with a time of 2 hours 5 minutes 41 seconds, a record that still stands. His 2:05:10 in the London Marathon that year, his best marathon time, set a race record that has since been surpassed. His Olympic time was 2:06:32.
But he never achieved his goal of running the marathon in less than two hours. The present world record is 2:03:59 set by Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia in Berlin in 2008.
David Bedford, the race director for the London Marathon, said, “He was in my opinion the best marathon runner ever and was likely to break the world marathon record.”
Samuel Kamau Wanjiru, who is survived by a daughter in addition to his wife, grew up in Nyahururu, the rural village where he died. He started running as a means of transportation and impressed people with his speed.
But his family could not afford to send him to training schools for running, and he dropped out of school in the seventh grade. A Japanese scout somehow spotted him, and he ended up going to Japan to complete high school and become a champion runner.
He became known for starting races fast, darting ahead of runners worried about using up their energy too quickly. In the hot, humid conditions in Beijing, he said, “I had to push the pace to tire the other runners.”
Wanjiru won the Olympics in warm-up shoes because he had left his racing shoes in Kenya. He was made an elder of his village when he returned.