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Tragedy as Olympics hero plunges to death

Monday May 16 2011

On September 5, 2008 Beijing Olympic Games marathon champion Samuel Wanjiru (left) of Kenya shows his gold medal. Centre: His Nyahuru home. Right: His wife Trizah Njeri is consoled by a friend outside the town mortuary on May 16, 2011. Photos/JOSEPH KURIA and FILE

On September 5, 2008 Beijing Olympic Games marathon champion Samuel Wanjiru (left) of Kenya shows his gold medal. Centre: His Nyahuru home. Right: His wife Trizah Njeri is consoled by a friend outside the town mortuary on May 16, 2011. Photos/JOSEPH KURIA and FILE 

By DAVID MACHARIA [email protected] and JAMES KARIUKI [email protected]

World marathon champion Sammy Wanjiru died in unclear circumstances on Monday amid sensational revelations about his troubled family life.

Wanjiru, at only 24, was one of the world’s greatest marathon talents. He had won four top marathons — the London, New York and Chicago races as well as the Olympics in Beijing.

According to police accounts, Wanjiru leapt to his death from the first floor balcony of his Nyahururu home on Sunday night.

His wife, Triza Njeri had returned to Nyahururu unexpectedly and found him in bed with another woman, according to these accounts.

There was a quarrel and his wife locked the door from outside. Wanjiru, wanting to reach out to his wife, found the door locked and opted to jump down the balcony, police claimed.

Earlier in the day, police were generally unsuspicious and seemed satisfied that Wanjiru committed suicide.

But they later said they were making inquiries to establish whether he set out to kill himself by jumping.

Some of his friends and relatives said he was so troubled by his marriage, that he had sent an SMS threatening to kill himself.

But his manager, Dr Federico Rosa, said suicide was out of the question. He had spoken to him on Saturday and he was relaxed and happy and looking forward to races later in the year, he said.

Top security officers in Nyahururu Town, including Nyahururu DC Lucy Mulili, Nyandarua OCPD Jaspher Ombati and DCIO Isaac Onyango, met the family, led by the athlete’s mother, Ms Hanna Wanjiru.

Fellow athletes, some who visited the family, offered to pay some of the funeral expenses. They included world champions Janeth Jepkosgei and Gregory Konchella and marathoners Duncan Kibet and Matthew Kisorio.

Former world champion Charles Kamathi and other Nyahururu based athletes were also there. Wanjiru was a well-off athlete and had invested in property in Nakuru, Nyahururu and Nairobi.

Large crowd gathered

A large crowd gathered at the Nyahururu district mortuary, shocked by the sudden death of a local as well as international sports hero.

Wanjiru was facing a charge of illegal possession of a firearm, which was to be heard on May 23. His wife and watchman had withdrawn their complaints in an assault case against him and charges were dropped.

Police appeared to oscillate between suicide and accident. Mr Ombati’s theory was that Wanjiru’s death was accidental and occurred as he tried to “reach out to” his wife.

Njeri had arrived earlier from Nairobi and surprised her husband who had taken another wife to their home, he said. She let herself in using a spare key and words were exchanged.

Njeri, he said, locked a metal grill on the staircase leading to the bedrooms. “Wanjiru could not go out through the staircase. He opted to jump from the top floor balcony, but hit the concrete floor,” said the OCPD.

Mr Ombati said the runner sustained serious injuries and started bleeding from the mouth as frantic efforts were made to take him to hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Mr Jacob Kanake and the regional CID boss, Mr Isaac Onyango, said doctors at the Nyahururu District Hospital tried to resuscitate him in vain.

Show internal injuries

A police officer who was among the first at the scene said he noticed that the athlete was in a serious condition because the blood appeared to show internal injuries.

Njeri and the woman Wanjiru was with were at the Nyahururu police station but Mr Ombati said they were “only assisting the police to establish exactly what transpired”.

“The person who was with Wanjiru and his wife are within the police station, but nobody is in custody. They are only assisting us,” Mr Ombati said.

Wanjiru arrived from Eldoret in the company of Daniel Gatheru, a friend and fellow athlete with whom he trains.

Gatheru said Wanjiru met a bank employee with whom he had an appointment. “We moved to another hotel for supper and after that we parted ways.

“Later he confirmed to me that he had arrived home. Only to be called later by his watchman, saying that Wanjiru had fallen and was seriously injured”, said a teary Gatheru.

The two had been given a day off training by coach Claudio Berardelli. The coach arrived in Nyahururu accompanied by Wanjiru’s training mates among them middle-distance runners Janeth Jepkosgei and Gregory Konchella, alias Yusuf Said Kamel and marathon runners Matthew Kisorio and Duncan Kibet.

Jepkosgei and Konchella said Wanjiru was in high spirits as usual when they parted ways in Eldoret at about 9am on Sunday.

Nyahururu deputy mayor Irene Wacuka who was among the people who talked to Wanjiru, cried uncontrollably.

She said the athlete called her on Friday, however, she did not reveal details of their conversation.