Updated 08 August 2008
Samuel Kamau WANJIRU, Kenya (Marathon)
Born 10 November 1986, Nyahururu, Laikipia District, formerly in Kenya's Central Region, but now in Rift Valley
Height 1.63m; weight 51kg
Club: Toyota Kyushu track team
Coach: Koichi Morishita
Manager: Federico Rosa
Samuel Kamau Wanjiru is quickly developing into a road running phenomenon.
Having reclaimed the World Half Marathon record (58:33) in 2007, Wanjiru tried his hand in marathon running last year setting a course record in Fukuoka marathon before running 2:05:24 in London this year to underline his potential as the next big thing in the 42-kilometre discipline.
Wanjiru’s rise to the apex of distance running has been exceptional. He set his first Half Marathon World record two years ago at the age of 18. Wanjiru, like so many runners hailing from his Kikuyu community, especially the Nyahururu area, 200km from Nairobi, set up base in Japan while still in his teens.
For many of the corporate track teams in Japan, Kenyan runners are their big guns in the national passion of ekiden racing. So, despite restrictions on the entry of foreign runners, many corporate track teams in Japan, along with some high schools and colleges, have been actively recruiting Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes in recent years.
The first great Kenyan runner who ran for a Japanese corporate track team was Douglas Wakiihuri, who moved to Japan to run for S&B Foods. Wakiihuri won the World Marathon title in 1987 and silver at the 1988 Olympics. More recently, Eric Wainaina, who runs for the Konica-Minolta track team, won a bronze at the 1996 Olympic Marathon and silver at the 2000 Olympic Games.
Wanjiru is the latest sensation to move to the Far East nation, having gone there in 2003. “I heard from Mr. Kobayashi that there was a race to select student-runners to attend high school in Japan,” explains Wanjiru. By winning the selection race, Wanjiru was chosen to attend the Sendai Ikue High School located in the northern city of Sendai. “It was very cold,” said Wanjiru
As a member of the track team in Sendai Ikue high school, he was expected to be a valuable member of the school’s ekiden team. “I did not know anything about ekiden before I came to Japan,” confessed Wanjiru. “But I now enjoy running ekiden.”
In April 2004, he finished eighth in a 10,000m in Hyogo, Kobe, clocking 28:00.14. Days later, he ran 5000m in 13:12.40 to finish fourth in the Hiroshima Oda. He also won the 5,000m at Tendo meet in 14:05.99 in June and in Hiroshima in August, he was third in 5,000m in 13:47.22 .
After graduating from Sendai Ikue high school in March 2005, Wanjiru now runs for Toyota Kyushu, and is coached by Koichi Morishita, a silver medallist at the Marathon in the 1992 Olympic Games.
But 2005 was the year where he shot to global prominence, winning a string of races in Japan and setting his first World Half Marathon record. He started with a third place finish in San Juan and followed it with victories in the Chiba ekiden 12k race in 34:54 in February and the IAAF Permit Fukuoka Cross Country 10k race in March in 29:20.
In May, Wanjiru, then aged 18, slashed 42 seconds off Mathathi’s Japanese all-comers 10,000m record of 27:08.42 to set a new mark of 27:08.00 in Shizouka.
That was then third fastest all time on the World junior list. In July, he won the Sendai Half Marathon in 59:43.
On August 26, 2005, Wanjiru set a new World junior record over 10,000m (26:41.75) at the IAAF Golden League Van Damme Memorial race in Brussels. Then on 11 September, he set his first Half Marathon World record (59:16) in Rotterdam, beating the mark held by Paul Tergat since 1998.Wanjiru finished a storming 2005 season by winning Kenya’s Most Promising Sportsman of the Year award.
Wanjiru started 2006 on a sour note as he lost his World Half Marathon record to Ethiopian track and road running legend Haile Gebrselassie (58:55) on 15 January. A relatively unsuccessful 2006 for Wanjiru was put to rest early in 2007 when he reclaimed his World Half Marathon record in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, on 9 February (58:53). This mark was however not ratified since EPO tests were not conducted on athletes.
To hammer the point home, Wanjiru returned to lower that time on 27 March in The Netherlands, setting the current best time of 58:33 as he won the Fortis City-Pier-City Half Marathon in Den Haag.
Wanjiru is clearly a man who keeps his word. Two days ahead of the 33rd edition of the City-Pier-City he had promised a World record. “I told the organisers that I want to cover the first ten kilometres in a pace of 27:30,” Wanjiru said of his race day agenda. “That is 17 seconds faster than I did during my World record race in February. I am in a very good shape. The temperature is nice here and I heard the course is very fast.”
His mother works in a children home in Nyahururu and that is where he donated his $25,000 bonus for shattering the World record in Den Haag. “I'm gonna tell her now by phone about my World record and the $25,000 dollar they will get.” he said then.
In May, he won a 10,000m race in Kitakyushu (27:40.46) and the following month he was first in a 10,000m in Shibestu (27:20.99). Then came the national trials for Osaka on July 28 in Nairobi. He finished fourth behind Japan based duo Josephat Muchuri Ndambuki and Martin Mathathi and 2007 All Africa Games silver medallist Josephat Kiprono Menjo.
Wanjiru, who was recovering from malaria, had led the race until the last two laps, setting a blistering pace on a hot day at the Nyayo National Stadium track. He was included in the Osaka team but the decision was met with disquiet in the national team camp and a week later, he announced his withdrawal.
Selected to compete in Udine at the World Road Running Championships, Wanjiru was hampered by injury finishing 51st.
The following month he recovered sufficiently from injury to make his eagerly awaited debut in marathon in Fukuoka.
Running most of the race on his own, Wanjiru set a new course record of 2:06:39 just as he had predicted earlier in the year. “I hope to run 2:06 on my debut Marathon,” he said
Wanjiru began 2008 by winning Granollers half marathon in Spain in 59:26 before competing in the lucrative Zayed International marathon in the UAE winning $300,000 with which he promised to buy his mother a tractor to farm their land.
In April, he made his debut in London marathon and he did not disappoint. Keeping close touch with the leaders and the experienced athletes, Wanjiru looked at home and was the only athlete who kept up with eventual winner Martin Lel until the final few hundred metres. Wanjiru went on to clock a new personal best of 2:05:24.
Days later he was included in the Olympics team and is seen by many as the dark horse for the race which will be held on the final day of the Games.
What about the World record? “I think Wanjiru can eventually set the World record, but I’d rather see him win big races. He never gives up during the race, which is a valuable asset for a marathon runner,” observed Morishita.
5000m: 13:12.40 (2005)
10,000m: 26:41.75 (2005)
Half Marathon: 58:33 WR (2007)
Marathon: 2:05:24 (2008)
5,000m: 2004 – 13:47.22; 2005 – 13:12.40; 2007 – 13:18.25
10,000m: 2002 – 28:36.08; 2003 – 28:20.06; 2004 – 28:00.14; 2005 – 26:41.75 WJR; 2007 – 27.20.99; 2008 – 27:56.79
Half Marathon: 2005 – 59:16 WR; 2007 – 58:33 WR, 2008-59:26
Marathon: 2007-2:06:39, 2008-2:05:24
2005 1st, Rotterdam Half Marathon (WR 59:16)
2007 1st, Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon, UAE (58:53)
2007 1st, Fortis City-Pier-City Half Marathon, Den Haag, Holland (WR 58:33)
2007 1st Fukuoka Marathon
2008 2nd London marathon
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2007