Sammy Wanjiru, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist in the marathon who was killed in a fall from a balcony after a domestic dispute, is being remembered for his past performances and a future that seemed full of promise.
News of the death of Wanjiru, 24, at his home in Nyahururu, Kenya, was a shock to fellow runners and the running community.
Haile Gebrselassie, two-time Olympic 10,000-meter champion and world record-holder in the marathon, said, via Twitter, that he was “totally shocked” and that “my thoughts are with his family and all his friends and colleagues.”
Of course one wonders if we as an athletics family could have avoided this tragedy.
Wanjiru was the first Kenyan to win a gold medal in the marathon, setting an Olympic record with a time of 2 hours, 6 minutes, 32 seconds in the heat and smog of Beijing in 2008. Amby Burfoot, Running World’s editor at large, called Wanjiru’s performance “the craziest running I’ve ever seen.” In fact, Wanjiru ran two of the gutsiest performances Burfoot says he has seen, in Chicago as well as Beijing.
By holding off Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia over the final half-mile in Chicago last fall, Wanjiru became the youngest man to win four major marathons (Olympics, Chicago twice — in 2009 and 2010 — and London in 2009).
“This is very shocking and sad news to all of us. We have lost a very young and talented athlete,” Paul Tergat, the former marathon world record holder, said. “This is a guy we were all hoping still had a long career ahead of him. He was only 24 years old so he still had about another 10 years at the top of his career.”
“Sammy Wanjiru was an accomplished runner who will be remembered for winning the first Olympic gold medal for Kenya in marathon and setting a new Olympic record in the process,” the International Olympic Committee said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”
Incredibly sad news about Sammy. I am shocked and saddened.
“He had the special gift of the champion,” Federico Rosa, Wanjiru’s agent, told the New York Times. “Besides a big talent, champions have what I could call an arrogance. They know they are stronger than the others. He was so focused on winning, not to be famous or get a lot of money, but just to show that he was the best.”
Wanjiru injured his hamstring this spring and withdrew from the London Marathon. He was aiming for a comaback in the Chicago or New York City marathon in the fall, with an eye on the London Olympics. He was favored to win gold again.
“He wanted to show the world who is Sammy Wanjiru.”
Gallery: Wanjiru’s life in photos