All smiles - Sammy Wanjiru with his Marathon debut souvenir in Fukuoka (Kazutaka Eguchi/Agence SHOT) © Copyright
General News

Samuel Wanjiru ready to tackle his first Olympic Games

Resting on a railing overlooking the 81 metres Thompson Falls in Nyahururu, some 190km east of the capital, Samuel Wanjiru's gaze is firmly on the water and the spectacle around it.

"The speed of the falling water is constant," says Wanjiru who at age 21 is shaping up as a record breaking powerhouse.

Since setting a new World mark of 59:16 at the Half Marathon on 11 September 2005, Wanjiru, is still the second fastest half marathoner this year after posting  59:26 in Granollers, Spain, on 3 February - his sixth performance under one hour in his short but fruitful career.

 Notching notable victories here and there has become his trade mark.

Wanjiru talks with the confidence of a veteran and would rather the walk do his talking after lowering the World Half Marathon record three times. Last year he broke his own record twice in Ras Al Khaimah (58:53 minutes) and Den Haag (58:33 min). As testament to his latitude, on 26 August 2005, Wanjiru set a new World Junior record of 26:41.75 over 10,000m during the IAAF Golden League Van Damme Memorial race in Brussels to show he is equally talented on the track.

A Marathon: two consistent halves

Track racing his not as appealing to him as road running which was the reason he opted out of the Osaka World Championships even after Athletics Kenya gave him a wild card.

Back to the topic at hand, Wanjiru continues:   "I think that is how a marathon race is supposed to be run in both sides of the half way mark- consistently like the water through the falls."

He plans to tackle the Olympics that way. He alternates his training between Nyahururu which is at an elevation of 7600 feet above sea level and Ngong Hills near Nairobi especially on the floor of the Great Rift Valley where in some parts temperatures can soar up to 30 degrees at this time of the year.

Wanjiru is using the same trail of Ole Tepes/ Ole Polos/Ngong view point which Paul Tergat devised in his Olympics preparations four years ago.

 The young Kenyan is under pressure to sustain a tradition now 20 years old- that of Kenyans training in Japan and making a big impression at the Olympic Games in the Marathon.

This was started by Douglas Wakiihuri who went to Japan in mid 80s, perfected his skills over the 42km standard before winning the World title in 1987 which took another Kenyan Luke Kibet two decades to match.

In the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Wakiihuri won a silver medal before passing the mantle to another Japan-based Kenyan Eric Wainaina, a bronze medallist in the 1996 Atlanta Games and a silver medal winner in Sydney four years later. Wainaina bowed out in style by competing in Athens.

"Now is my turn and there is a lot of expectation from me in Japan and especially Fukuoka where I live," said Wanjiru.

Pre-Olympic training in Kenya

Unlike Wakiihuri and Wainaina, Wanjiru has opted to train at home and plans to remain put until flying out three days before the men's Marathon race. He is logging an average 120km weekly in training accompanied by a group of 30 athletes, his great friend Isaac Macharia, previous winner of Nagano Marathon in the front and Sally Barsosio (1997 World champion at 10,000m) in the rear.

With two marathon races under his belt - a win in Fukuoka and second in London - Wanjiru is convinced that pace will be of essence at the Olympics unlike City races one is always on his or her own.

"Before Fukuoka I had never done a full marathon. But I was in company of my friend Macharia," says Wanjiru who has taken his mother's name as his surname.

"Along the way Macharia (second in Dubai Marathon this year) who was pacing me told me not to rush into the unknown. He actually bridled my intentions.

"When I was on my own I did not know whether to slow or increase the pace. Now I know when and how to win marathon races in record-breaking time.”

Wanjiru posted 2:06:39 in his debut marathon then the third fastest of the season as well. In London he ran 2:05.24, the third fastest this year behind Haile Gebrselassie and compatriot Martin Lel.

Lel and Boston Marathon champion Robert Cheruiyot are the other members of the Kenyan Olympics team.

On the footsteps of the great Haile

Wanjiru is going to the Olympics not as a rookie but great student of the great Haile Geberselassie, a man he says is motivating him into thinking of going after his World record in the near future possibly next year or 2010.

As an afterthought, Wanjiru predicts Haile Gebrselassie's World record of 2:04:26 could fall in Berlin.

In Haile, Wanjiru has found a standard gauge in his running. "I admire Haile because he breaks records which are usually a good challenge for me. He breaks, I break them," says Wanjiru in reference to the Ethiopian's new World standard of 2007.

Wanjiru says that when the Ethiopian great eclipsed Paul Tergat's previous mark of 2:04:55 with a new standard of 2:04:26 in Berlin last year,  he took notice.  His next mark of 2:04:53 in Dubai in February excited the young Kenyan even more.

If he wins the Olympics, Wanjiru says, his next target is to continue re-defining road racing by going into unchartered territory, that of breaking record. This is not false bravado of a young man. It is the intention of a great sportsman for this father of one daughter, Wanjiru Kamau.

"I know myself and don't as much depend on pace setters because I like running my own race and in Berlin I will certainly attempt the record."

Peter Njenga for the IAAF