Kenyan Olympic Marathon Runner Falls to His Death

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REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

Kenyan Olympic marathon runner Samuel Wanjiru died in the early hours of Monday morning, May 16, from injuries after a fall from the balcony of his first-floor Nyahururu home near the Rift Valley in central Kenya. (via BBC)

As Kenyans lined up outside a funeral home to pay their respects to their national hero, the police were still investigating the cause of the 24-year-old’s death and whether he had deliberately killed himself. Wanjiru appeared to have sustained internal injuries after the fall and was confirmed dead by doctors at a nearby hospital.

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National police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said Wanjiru killed himself, but Nyahururu local police chief Jasper Ombati said the death may have been an accident during an argument with Triza Njeri, his wife. “It is not yet clear whether it was a suicide or if he jumped out of rage or what caused him to fall to the ground,” said Ombati. Ombati believed the dispute began when Njeri found Wanjiru with a female friend in their home in Nyahururu. Police are currently questioning both women about the incident.

Federico Rosa, Wanjiru’s agent, dismissed the notion of suicide in an interview with the BBC by recalling his last conversation with Wanjiru over the weekend. He was “very focused,” Rosa said. “He asked to borrow my car, and he was supposed to be back early this morning with my car, so for sure there was nothing to do with suicide. It was just a terrible accident that happened.”

Not only was Wanjiru the first Kenyan to win Olympic gold in the marathon, at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games; he triumphed in an Olympic-record time of 2 hrs., 6 min. and 32 sec. Other high-profile wins for the Kenyan star included the Chicago and London marathons. Wanjiru was also a former world-record holder in the half-marathon, with a time of 58:33. He became the youngest runner to win four major marathons and ran the fastest time ever recorded in a marathon in the United States.

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But despite his success, Wanjiru experienced many troubles in his personal life. Fellow Kenyans believed his domestic problems were linked to his sudden wealth from his prize money.  In December 2010, Wanjiru was charged with making death threats against his wife and illegally possessing an AK-47 rifle. At the time, prosecutors alleged he was drunk when he made the threats.  He pleaded innocent, and his wife later dropped the charges, though he still faced a weapons charge. Wanjiru also was unfortunately forced to withdraw from the London Marathon, a key event ahead of the 2012 Olympics, after suffering injuries in a car accident in Kenya in January.

Expressions of shock and condolences spread across the world of athletics, including this from fellow Kenyan marathon runner Paul Tergat: “We have lost a very young and talented athlete.” Ethiopia’s star runner Haile Gebrselassie tweeted, “One wonders if we as an athletics family could have avoided this tragedy.”

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