16 MAY 2011 General News

Samuel Wanjiru, Olympic Marathon champion, dies at 24

Samuel Wanjiru crosses the line in an Olympic record of 2:06:32 after leading the marathon for most of the way (Getty Images)Samuel Wanjiru crosses the line in an Olympic record of 2:06:32 after leading the marathon for most of the way (Getty Images) © Copyright
The IAAF is saddened by the news that Samuel Wanjiru, the 2008 Olympic champion in the Marathon, died early this morning (16) from injuries sustained after a fall from a balcony at his home in Nyahururu, in Kenya’s Rift Valley. Wanjiru, more commonly known as ‘Sammy’, was 24.

One of the most talented long distance runners of his generation, Wanjiru will be most remembered for his remarkable victory at the 2008 Olympic Games where he became Kenya’s first Olympic champion in the Marathon. Despite Beijing’s hot conditions, Wanjiru crossed the finish line at the Bird’s Nest stadium in 2:06:32, breaking the Olympic record that was set three years before he was born by nearly three minutes. Only 21 at the time, Wanjiru became the youngest Olympic Marathon champion.

Wanjiru burst into prominence as a teenager in 2005 when he won the Fortis Half Marathon in Rotterdam, clocking a World record 59:16, still the fastest ever performance by a junior athlete. In March of 2007 he broke the World record over the distance for the third time, running 58:33 at The Hague and remains the second fastest half marathoner of all time.

He then turned his full attentions to the Marathon and immediately became a dominant force. He made his debut in Fukuoka in December 2007, winning in 2:06:39. He improved significantly in his next race, finishing second in London in 2:05:24. Four months later he would be crowned Olympic champion.

He won the London Marathon in 2009 clocking 2:05:10, then a course record. Later that same year he won the Chicago Marathon in 2:05:41, a course record which still stands. He defended his title last October clocking 2:06:24 in a performance which would be his last.

Many of his fellow athletes are sharing their shock and grief over his passing, and paying tribute as well.

“I am totally shocked of the news of the death of Sammy Wanjiru,” Marathon World record holder Haile Gebrselassie said via Twitter. “Of course one wonders if we as an athletics family could have avoided this tragedy. My thoughts are with his family and all his friends and colleagues.”

“I am so sorry for his family and friends to lose this great athlete and person,” Kenenisa Bekele, the World record holder in the 5000m and 10,000m, said. “I looked up to him and saw him as a great marathon athlete. I was looking forward to meet him in the future at the marathon distance and to race against him.”

“Death is always sad, but in his case, he was a young man and a great athlete, so I am touched by that,” said Tsegaye Kebede, the Olympic bronze medallist who last raced against Wanjiru in their epic battle in Chicago last October. “I remember our exciting race in Chicago and I was looking forward to meet him again in a new battle. My thoughts are with his family.”

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF