The reigning Olympic marathon and World Marathon Majors champion, Sammy Wanjiru, died Sunday in a fall from a second-floor balcony in his home in Nyahururu, Kenya in the Rift Valley.
Varying reports have circulated calling his death a suicide and an accident. All accounts center on a dispute between Wanjiru, his wife and another woman.
“The fact of the matter is that Wanjiru committed suicide,” national police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said to The Associated Press.
But local police chief Jasper Ombati gave the AP a different interpretation of the events.
“Wanjiru came home with another woman friend at around 11:30 p.m. and then when his wife came home and found them she inquired who the lady was,” Ombati said. “They got into an argument. His wife locked them in the bedroom and ran off.”
Ombati told Reuters that Wanjiru’s wife, Triza Njeri, found him in bed with the other woman. According to Ombati, Wanjiru had been drinking heavily.
“He then jumped from the bedroom balcony,” Ombati told the AP. “He is not here to tell us what he was thinking when he jumped. We do not suspect foul play. In our estimation we think he wanted to stop his wife from leaving the compound.”
Wanjiru’s agent, Federico Rosa, told The New York Times that Wanjiru could not have committed suicide.
“I am 100 percent sure there was no suicide,” Rosa said. “That’s completely out of the question.”
Wanjiru was an outspoken and talented runner, who had his eye on the marathon world record; he twice held the half-marathon world record. At just 24 years of age, he was already one of the most decorated marathoners in the world. In 2008 and 2009 Track & Field News ranked him as the top marathoner in the world. His win at the 2008 Beijing Olympics is still considered one of the most spectacular marathon performances in history, if not the best. He also won the 2009 London Marathon and the Chicago Marathon in both 2009 and 2010, clinching the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 World Marathon Majors titles.
But he’d been struggling with personal problems since his October victory in Chicago, including a hamstring injury, rumors of heavy drinking and legal charges stemming from another domestic dispute with his wife. In December, he was charged with injuring a security guard and threatening his wife and a maid with an AK-47 assault rifle. His wife and the security guard eventually dropped the charges, but Wanjiru still faced legal action for possessing an illegal firearm. Wanjiru himself had been the victim of two home invasions, his agent Rosa told The New York Times and the AP.
The running world has responded to Wanjiru’s death with a mixture of shock and sadness. His competitors, like Haile Gebrselassie and Ryan Hall, have tweeted their grief.
“I am totally shocked of the news of the death of Sammy Wanjiru,” marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia wrote on his Twitter account. “Of course one wonders if we as an athletics family could have avoided this tragedy.”
Race directors for the World Marathon Majors, a two-year series that includes the New York, London, Chicago, Boston and Berlin marathons, also offered their condolences.
Mary Wittenberg, the president and CEO of New York Road Runners, tweeted about the “crushing loss” of Sammy Wanjiru. “Huge talent,” she wrote. “I will remember his big smile and positive spirit.”
“On behalf of the Race Directors of the World Marathon Majors’ events, our loss of Samuel is immense,” said David Bedford, Race Director of the Virgin London Marathon, on the World Marathon Majors website. “He was in my opinion the best marathon runner ever and was likely to break the World Marathon Record… his record speaks for itself. London will miss this great man who was always of generous spirit and considerate. R.I.P. Samuel.”
Karla Bruning is an award-winning journalist and running nerd. She has completed four marathons, trains with the New York Harriers and is a member of New York Road Runners. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at RunKarlaRun.com, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning. To listen to an interview with Karla, check out The Marathon Show, available for streaming or download on BlogTalkRadio and iTunes.