Athletics Athletics

Majors cement Wanjiru legacy

NAIROBI, Kenya, June 13- With the World Marathon Majors promising to rename the elite circuit trophy after the late Samuel Wanjiru, his venerated place in classic distance running will be cemented for generations to come.

The fallen Olympics champion was finally interred on Saturday in a ceremony steeped in the contrasting side of a young life snuffed at the tender age of 24 on that May 15 dark Sunday.

“He is simply the greatest marathoner of all time. His victory at the Olympics was the signature and the best race ever run. London Marathon will be honoured since he gave us memorable races in 2008 and when won a year later,” David Bedford, the London Marathon director said at the funeral.

“I came here to represent the World Marathon Majors and we have sat down and decided to name the trophy after him and it is only fitting since he won it twice in a row,” the director of one of the Big Five races that in addition to Boston, Berlin, Chicago and New York complete the WMM circuit.

Wanjiru won the $500,000 (Sh43m) jackpot for the first time in the 2008/2009 season and held on to the trophy when he won last year’s Chicago Marathon against Ethiopian rival, Tsegay Kebede.

“We have lost a hero and this should teach our athletes to take care of themselves. It is very sad that this young life has gone but we shall always remember what he did for this country,” National Olympics Committee- Kenya (Nock) chair, Kipchoge Keino, stated.

The retired double Olympics champion who his also an International Olympics Committee (IOC) Council Member urged the Nyahururu Municipal Stadium to be named after him.

Wanjiru’s sombre funeral service was held at the same ground where he shaped his blessed legs and where residents of the town came to toast his achievements at Beijing Olympics and lately, when he won Chicago.

“We shall also sit at Nock to see what the fitting memorial is for him. Nyahururu has produced many good athletes, John Ngugi, Wanjiru, Charles Kamathi and others and we should make sure the area produces more,” Keino, who read IOC president, Jack Rogge’s message at the service said.

A distraught double women’s world marathon champion and former record holder, Catherine Ndereba expressed she was still yet to come to terms with the loss.

“The last time I saw Sammy was when we visited his home. He was so happy…I only believed he was gone when we went to collect his body at Lee Funeral Home,” she tearfully narrated.

“I cannot imagine how London 2012 Olympics is going to be without him. He had this unique running style where you would know he was about to accelerate by raising his arms. I had never seen anything like him.

“I first met him in Japan in 2004, with so much promise. He happened to know me and since then, he grew to be a very good friend. I cannot say much about him since this is so sad but we pray to God this country will have another like him.” Ndereba eulogised.

Distance runner, Daniel Gatheru, who happened to be a bosom buddy of Wanjiru said his departed friend, “Helped so many upcoming athletes by paying for their tickets to Japan and America, assisted so many orphans and would give so much to those whom he did not even know.”

He recalled the painful last moments of the Olympics champion stating, “I left his house in his wife’s car and I was called by his watchman about half an hour later to be told he had fallen from his balcony.”

“I returned there to find him lying down at the man hole bleeding from the back of the head, his nose and mouth. The police had already arrived and we rushed him to Nyahururu District Hospital where they put him on oxygen…ten minutes later, just before our eyes…he was gone,” he added fighting tears.

“I do not believe he was murdered. The padlock at the man hole is what caused the damage. We should let this matter rest and remember him for the great things he did. It is the challenge Nyahururu athletes have been left with,” Gatheru implored.

Last year’s Rotterdam Marathon champion, Duncan Kibet, who was a stable mate to the fallen hero said, “He had just started. Now we will never know how far he would have gone. We will miss him so much.”

Three-time London Marathon champion, Martin Lel, who staged one of the most enthralling races at the event in 2008 when he out-sprinted Wanjiru at the last few metres was disconsolate.

“There’s nothing I can say about him….the loss is too painful,” Lel who finished second in London this April after a two-year absence.

With the controversy following his death and delayed burial locking may of his colleagues and international friends from the burial, the athletics fraternity nevertheless came out in force to give one of their foremost icons the send-off he warranted.

Retired 3000m world record holder, Daniel Komen, former world champions, Charles Kamathi (who read the eulogy), Benjamin Limo, Joseph Riri, Leonard Mucheru and Pauline Njeri were among the collection of distance running exponents present.

As Nyahururu came to a stand-still, it was perhaps a testament of his greatness that the heavens opened up at his funeral service and subsequent burial at a farm some ten kilometres from the town. Being Wanjiru, controversy is never far away, even in his journey to the grave. The ceremonies were conducted under chocking security, with anti-riot police, police dogs, crack units and uniformed officers formed a cordon around the town, the route the cottage passed and at the farm he was laid to rest.

His mother, Hannah Wanjiru who had called for a boycott to the funeral was nowhere to be seen after the courts declined a last-ditch effort to halt the burial and his grandfather, Samuel Kamau, was among those forced to foot to the burial after the vehicle carrying him got stuck in the mud.

This delayed the final rites but by the time the old man made his way through the throng of humanity leaning to catch a glimpse of the final moments, Kenya Police had already finished the send-off repetoire reserved for fallen officers.

Given full honours including a 21-gun salute after his brown gold plated casket was lowered to its final resting place, Wanjiru’s journey on earth that existed in a fast forward mode came to its grand stop.

He shall solery be missed.

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