2008 Olympic Champion Samuel Wanjiru, speaking after winning the Granollers Half Marathon in February 2008,said, “in five years’ time I feel capable of clocking a sub 2 hours time for the marathon.”
Sadly, he never got to fulfill this prophecy following his tragic death aged 24 on 15 May 2011 but Eliud Kipchoge broke the 2 hour barrier with that 1 hour 59 minutes and 40 second run at the INEOS Challenge in Vienna, Austria on Saturday 12 October 2019.
Who was Samuel Wanjiru?
He was Kenya’s first Olympic marathon champion; he took the gold medal at the Beijing Games in 2008, and his time of two hours, six minutes and 32 seconds, shaved nearly three minutes off the previous Olympic record set in 1984 by Carlos Lopes of Portugal. In attaining this feat, he became the youngest gold medalist in the marathon since 1932.
Born Samuel Kamau Wanjiru on 10 November 1986 to Hannah Wanjiru, Sammy had a difficult childhood, dropping out of school aged 12. He had already caught the attention of Francis Kamau, a coach with the Mutual Fair Exchanges athletics club; and under the club’s auspices, Sammy finished third in the Kenya National Primary Athletics Championships 10,000m race when he was 14. Lack of money, however, prevented further progress, and Sammy returned to his home.
He was soon offered a place at the Mt Kenya High Altitude Training Camp in Nyeri, where he was spotted by Sunnichi Kobayashi, a Japanese athletics promoter based in Kenya.
In March 2002 Kobayashi arranged for the boy to move to Japan, where he was enrolled in Ikuei Gakuen High School in the northern city of Sendai.
In August 2005 he set the junior world record over 10000m when he finished third in 26:41.75 behind eventual winner Kenenisa Bekele who set a world record of 26:17.32.
Sammy then broke the world half-marathon record a month later when he shaved a second off Paul Tergat’s record, clocking 59 minutes 16 seconds in the Rotterdam Half Marathon.
In March the following year he took the Fortis City-Pier-City Half Marathon at The Hague, in the Netherlands, with a time of 58:33, another world record.
In 2007, back in Japan, Wanjiru progressed to the full marathon, winning the Fukuoka marathon with a course record of 2:06:39. The following year he finished second in the London marathon before going on to win the gold medal in Beijing.
He attempted to defend his London marathon title in the 2010 London marathon, but retired in the middle of the race so as not to aggravate a knee injury. It was the first time in six marathons that he had failed to finish. He would overcome a stomach bug three weeks prior to retaining his Chicago Marathon title in October of that year in a time of 2 hours 6 minutes 24 seconds in what would turn out to be his last ever race.
Sammy did not take part in the 2011 race in London, perhaps owing to personal problems that suggested that his life might be beginning to unravel.
In December 2010, Sammy was charged in Kenya with threatening to kill his wife, Tereza Njeri, and with illegal possession of an AK-47 assault rifle. In February 2011, Tereza withdrew her accusation of attempted murder, saying that they had been reconciled. “I have come to tell the court that we have solved our differences. Our matters will be settled out of the courtrooms,” she said.
But Wanjiru was still due to appear in court — on 23 May 2011 — on the firearm charge. He had also suffered minor injuries in a car crash in January 2011 after he swerved to avoid an oncoming truck.
On 15 May 2011 Sammy Wanjiru was reported dead after a fall from a balcony at his home in Nyahururu,Kenya.