Monday, 16 May 2011

Kenyan Olympic marathon champion Sammy Wanjiru dies after fall

• 24-year-old believed to have jumped from balcony, police say
• Wanjiru won in Beijing in 2008 in Olympic record time
    Sammy Wanjiru 
    Sammy Wanjiru broke the Olympic marathon record when he won gold in 2008. Photograph: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
    The Olympic marathon champion Sammy Wanjiru has been killed in a fall from a balcony at his home in Kenya following a domestic dispute, police said on Monday. Wanjiru, 24, died late on Sunday night in the town of Nyahururu in the Rift Valley, allegedly after his wife caught him with another woman. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Wanjiru became the first Kenyan to win a gold medal in the marathon, finishing in an Olympic-record 2hr 6min 32sec. His death has stunned fellow athletes. Local media reported that relatives found Wanjiru lying on the concrete floor bleeding through the mouth and ears. Police said he suffered internal injuries and was confirmed dead by doctors at a nearby hospital. Eric Kiraithe, Kenya's national police spokesman, told the Associated Press: "The fact of the matter is that Wanjiru committed suicide." The police commissioner Mathew Iteere also said initial reports indicated Wanjiru killed himself, though a local official offered a different account. Jasper Ombati, the regional police chief, told AP: "Wanjiru came home with another woman friend at around 11.30pm and then when his wife came home and found them she inquired who the lady was. They got into an argument. His wife locked them in the bedroom and ran off. "He then jumped from the bedroom balcony. 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." Ombati said Wanjiru's wife, Tereza Njeri, and his female companion are assisting police in investigating the death. The athlete had a history of domestic problems. Last December he was charged in court with threatening to kill Njeri and illegal possession of an AK-47 assault rifle. Njeri later withdrew her accusation of attempted murder against him in court, saying the couple had reconciled. But Wanjiru was due to appear in court on 23 May on the charge of illegal possession of a firearm. He also suffered minor injuries from a car crash in January when he swerved to avoid an oncoming truck, hit a pot hole and rolled his car. It was reported that some Kenyans believe Wanjiru found it hard to handle the sudden financial rewards that came with his success. He was the youngest runner to win four major marathons. In addition to the Olympics, he won in London in 2009 and Chicago in 2009 and 2010, running the fastest ever time recorded in a marathon in America. He moved to Japan at the age of 15 and won major cross country events while also competing in track competitions. Moving to Europe to advance his promising career, Wanjiru won the Rotterdam Half Marathon in 2005 in a world record time. He twice improved on that record before stepping up to the full marathon in 2007, back in Japan, winning the Fukuoka marathon. The following year he finished second in the London marathon, and then claimed the ultimate prize of Olympic gold in Beijing. A big crowd gathered around Wanjiru's house on Monday morning. The Ethiopian marathon veteran Haile Gebrselassie, a two-time Olympic champion and world record holder, said on his Twitter feed that he was "totally shocked" by the news. "My thoughts are with his family and all his friends and colleagues," Gebrselassie said. "Of course one wonders if we as an athletics family could have avoided this tragedy." The American marathon runner Ryan Hall posted on Twitter: "Incredibly sad news about Sammy. I am shocked and saddened." Britain's Mo Farah, who trained with Wanjiru in Kenya, added: "So sad to hear about Sammy Wanjiru. He was a legend and still so young."

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