• A year on...The Mercurial Life and Mysterious Death of Sammy Wanjiru

  • Share on Facebook  

  • Samuel Wanjiru.(Photo:File)Samuel Wanjiru.(Photo:File)
May 15, 2012-

Residents of Nyahururu won't soon forget the morning of May 16, 2011, when their agricultural town began to swell with people.

They flowed in by the thousands, packed into cars or clinging to the sides of crammed minibuses known as matatus. In the best of times traveling the valley's rutted roads is slow and perilous, but that day, with donkey carts and automobiles pressed as tightly as Tetris pieces, the streets were choked to a standstill.

All of those people were coming to see if it was true: Could Sammy Wanjiru really be dead? And how could you blame them? Wanjiru had brought home the last talisman of distance running that Kenya lacked—an Olympic gold medal in the marathon—and after the 2008 Games the people of Nyahururu had taken him into the town's stadium on top of a truck to rejoice in his superhuman strength.

The pundits at the Beijing Olympics said that the marathon would be slow. The temperatures exceeded 80º. And it was slow—for everyone except Wanjiru.

"The athletes in Beijing will be strong with five kilometers left," Wanjiru told one of his coaches, Francis Kamau, before he left for China. "The only way to kill them will be to kill them from the gun. Then when they try to come, they will never come."

That was exactly how he ran the greatest marathon in history. In the sweltering humidity he took off at world-record pace, stringing out the field from the start.

The pace was still breakneck when Wanjiru surged at the 10-mile mark. Just four runners hung on, and he tormented them.

He glanced at his watch, he later told his countryman Peter Kirui, to unsettle his competitors. When rivals tried to draft behind Wanjiru, he swerved. By the time he entered the Bird's Nest stadium, he had been alone for 15 minutes.

He sprinted to the line even though there was no one close, and he finished in 2:06:32, shattering the Olympic record by nearly three minutes. Less than three years later, sometime after 11 p.m.

On May 15, 2011, Wanjiru was found lying on his back on the pavement below a balcony at his walled-in compound, blood oozing from the back of his head.

By midnight he was dead. The police hastily issued a statement declaring Wanjiru's death a suicide. They said he had jumped to his death after his wife caught him at home with another woman.

At its highest point, the balcony is 14 feet from the pavement. No one believed the police statement.

Everyone who knew Sammy Wanjiru understands that he was killed by his own gun. It took his life without ever firing a bullet. If not for the gun charge, he would never have been in Nyahururu on the night of May 15.

He was dry and getting back into shape in Eldoret while living with manager Claudio Berardelli, who demanded that he be home for dinner each night. Wanjiru just had to go to Nyahururu for one day to pay his lawyer to settle the gun case.(Federico Rosa had transferred money to Wanjiru's account because he was out of cash.)Then he would be free to move to the U.S.

Berardelli let Wanjiru borrow a Toyota Prado and sent Gatheru along with him. But on the way to Nyahururu that day Wanjiru's old habits returned.

To Gatheru's dismay, Wanjiru wanted to make multiple stops. A last hurrah, perhaps. The first was at the Tas Hotel bar in Nakuru, where Wanjiru had drinks with friends.

They left around 3:30 p.m., and Wanjiru then rendezvoused with one of his girlfriends, Judy Wambui, while Gatheru waited.

They arrived in Nyahururu after 7 p.m., and Wanjiru had drinks with dinner at the Waterfalls Resort. He made plans with Gatheru for training the following day, and then Gatheru left to go to sleep.

But Wanjiru kept drinking with a cousin and an employee. He was so drunk by the time he left Waterfalls that he got into a dispute over the bill and ran his car into a gate in the parking lot. Around 10 p.m. he went from Waterfalls to another bar, Kawa Falls.

A man who was working the counter there says that Wanjiru was visibly drunk and that he left with Jane Nduta, a waitress at Kawa Falls who later said, "I knew my life will never be the same again if I got married to him. I would never have to work for anybody."

Wanjiru and Nduta stopped for another drink at Jimrock before heading back to Wanjiru's house around 11 p.m.

Three people who saw security footage from Wanjiru's compound that night say that about 15 minutes after Wanjiru arrived, Njeri showed up.

According to statements given to the police by Njeri, Nduta and Wanjiru's watchman, the women argued, and Njeri stormed out of the house—but not before putting a padlock on a metal security gate, locking Wanjiru and Nduta in the bedroom.

The current police theory, supported by Nduta's statements to the police and the media, is that Wanjiru became enraged upon finding himself locked inside and ran out to the balcony to yell for the key.

He may then have tried to jump down from the balcony to chase his wife, who left the compound, but in his drunken state he misjudged the descent and fell to the ground. Nobody saw him go down, but the watchman saw him lying there and called people to come get him. When Gatheru arrived, he found his friend unconscious, with blood coming from the back of his head and his mouth and nose. He was taking deep, gurgling breaths.

To read the full story click  here  http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1197114/1/index.htm




  • Picture of The WeekGor Mahia Rama Salim celebrates his second goal with fans.