NYAHURURU, Kenya, May 15- The distance running fraternity worldwide will join family, relatives and friends in marking one year has elapsed since the untimely death of Olympic marathon champion and record holder, Samuel Wanjiru on Tuesday.
His demise following a reported fall from the balcony of his Muthaiga Estate home in Nyahururu has since elicited all manner of conspiracies with Kenya Police, the unit he served still uncertain whether his death was a suicide, homicide, or accidental.
A commemoration ceremony is set to take place on Tuesday at his graveside at Gatimu village in Nyandarua West District where he was finally laid to rest amid huge downpour over a fortnight after he passed on.
Friends interviewed on the eve of the first anniversary of Wanjiru’s demise are still to come to terms with the loss 12 months down the line, describing the twice Chicago Marathon champion as a generous person whose void will be hard to fill.
His recognised widow, Trizah Njeri, who has borne the brunt of the bitter tussle over Wanjiru’s estate and suspicion over her role in the sequence of events that culminated in the Beijing gold medallist breathing his last described her departed spouse as the bedrock of their family.
“He always took care of his children and was always there to support them and make them happy. His loss has been a nightmare to me since I have had struggle harder to maintain the family while at the same time trying to fight unending claims that I was involved in his death,” the widow mourned.
“Life must continue despite the challenges despite some of his property and livestock being sold off his relatives who claim he was their son,” she added.
Njeri has since retreated to her rural home to escape the constant scrutiny she has been placed under since her husband passed on but will pay her homage at the graveside. Among those hardest hit by his tragic end were his fellow elite marathoners who to date, find it painful to talk about his death.
“I could not believe that such things could happen. For Wanjiru it was very short and we were not expecting such things to happen. We are hoping that such a thing never happens again.
“Wanjiru was a very social person and to judge his life was very wrong,” World Marathon Majors winner, Emmanuel Mutai, who lowered Wanjiru’s London Marathon course best to 2:04:40 last year said.
“I was downcast about the death of Wanjiru and I believe we are here to represent him. I believe Wanjiru would have been given a wildcard (to London Olympics) or something like that since he was a strong guy and we would have shared attacking the Ethiopians.
“I remember when we shared a private jet, sharing food and laughing together. He was a guy with a good heart when it comes to competition. Before I ran in Daegu, I prayed for Wanjiru,” twice world marathon titleholder, Abel Kirui, who will be among those seeking to succeed Wanjiru at the London Olympics added.
He was alluding to the flight they took together with Wanjiru when London Marathon organisers chartered a private jet to ferry elite Kenyan runners to the event following flight disruptions caused by ash crowds over Europe in 2009.
Coach Ibrahim Kinuthia asserted memories of the 2009 London Marathon champion were still fresh saying fellow Nyahururu athletes still miss him both in and out of the field.
He was a dedicated athlete whose presence was felt anytime he was training adding and many runners would join him during training and this was a great inspiration to them. His presence was influential for upcoming athletes and his loss would take time to fill,” Kinutha stressed.
He called on the Government to help the family resolve the circumstances under which the marathoner met his death alleging there was foul play involved necessitating thorough investigation.
Francis Kamau, a former athlete-cum coach noted that Wanjiru had special talent that that made him stands out from the rest stressing that is the reason those who follow him will find the task of filling his shoes a mountain task.
As part of the legacy from the shocking demise, Kamau, one of the trainers who handled Wanjiru when he was a budding athlete noted that Nyahururu coaches had taken it upon themselves to include investment and counselling management in their programme.
“This is to prepare the young athletes to know what to do when they start earning big money from the sport,” Kamau explained.
Another of his formative coaches Robert Kioni recounted his earliest interaction with the late Beijing champion before he rose to fame at a tender age of 12 years.
“You could see that he was a dedicated sportsman and it was not a surprise when he excelled in the sport from the very start,” he recalled.
Kioni noted that it all is not lost as more young and upcoming athletes were emerging and this could be a good sign that the gap left by Wanjiru would be filled.
With accusations and counter-accusations flying around the circumstances of his death and the administration of his estate one year on, Wanjiru’s family lawyer, Wahome Ndegwa announced that he had instructions to petition Chief Justice, Dr. Willy Mutunga to open a public inquest over his demise.
“Implicating his widow in his death does not hold any water and it is only making the situation worse for his children,” Ndegwa added.
Born on November 10, 1986 Wanjiru rose to prominence when he broke the world half marathon record when he was only 18 years old in 2006 and a year later, he reclaimed his all time best from Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrsellasie.
He moved to the full marathon later in 2007 by winning the Fukuoka Marathon and in 2008, he became the first ever Kenyan to win the Olympic marathon crown in a record time of 2:06:32 to boot after finishing second at that year’s London Marathon on his debut.
In 2009, he ran the then 2:05:10 course record in London and won his first Chicago title in a route best of 2:05:39 and the next campaign, he won his second Chicago crown in a bruising battle with Ethiopian Tsegay Kebede.
The following year, he won both the London Marathon and Chicago Marathon, running the fastest marathons ever recorded in the United Kingdom and United States, respectively.