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The Mercurial Life and Mysterious Death of Sammy Wanjiru

Posted by Administrator on April 12, 2012

For millions of years the region around Kenya’s Rift Valley has been the site of mass migrations, but they usually involve zebras, gazelles, wildebeests and the predators that track them. So 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.

Carving a life out of the semi-arid savanna of central Kenya has never been simple—not even for boys who, unlike Sammy Wanjiru, grew up in a household with a father.

In the 1950s, Nyahururu, which sits almost exactly on the equator, nearly 8,000 feet above the Rift Valley floor, was a center of rebellion against British colonial authorities. The region was so dangerous that a LIFE magazine writer described it as a place where “you put the pistol in the soap tray when you take a bath.” After Kenya achieved independence in 1963, though, this area of farmland crossed by a tangle of disintegrating roads became relatively peaceful. Since 1990, Nyahururu has doubled in size as farmers flocked there to take over cheap land for crop and flower production with access to burgeoning industries in town such as the Kenya Cooperative Creameries. Yet the city of 30,000 is not so tame that the occasional resident isn’t still killed by a hippo or a lion.

Wanjiru grew up outside Nyahururu and did not put on a shoe until he was 14. He ran or walked barefoot over dirt and rocks to get to school or to the grocery store. When water was needed for cooking, he had to trek to the Kwandugiri River.

For a few years after Sammy was born, his mother, Hannah, gardened and sold porridge for money. But she couldn’t earn enough, so she left Sammy and his younger brother, Simon, with their grandparents and disappeared for months at a time to earn more.

Most years Sammy’s relatives scraped together enough money for his school fees. He was a quiet boy—he could spend hours playing with a toy car fashioned from metal wire—but he made friends in school through running. By fourth grade he was entering cross-country races. He would ask his relatives to pray for him, and he believed it worked because he kept winning. He won the 3,000 meters at the district championships on the gravel track in the Nyahururu stadium. But the last of the money dried up, and Sammy never finished middle school.

Thanks to a connection between a local coach and a Japanese scout, though, the Nyahururu area had become a pipeline for runners of the Kikuyu ethnicity, which Sammy was, to get scholarships to Japanese high schools and help the schools compete in hugely popular Japanese road relay races called ekiden. When a coach asked Sammy if he was interested in attending school in Japan, he answered that he had no idea where Japan was but that he was ready to go. And so, in 2002, he skipped straight to Sendai Ikuei Gakuen High School, in northeastern Japan. He helped the school set an ekiden record, and he would repeat, over and over, the Japanese word gaman, which roughly translates as patient perseverance.

After Wanjiru graduated in March ’05, he stayed in Japan to race ekiden for Toyota Kyushu’s corporate team, and immediately began a pattern that would last the rest of his life: parting with money as quickly as he earned it. He wanted his mother home when he went to visit, so he sent part of his first paycheck to Hannah, who says through a translator that she used it to buy a plot of land for her mother.

By all accounts Wanjiru was beloved among his teammates for his humility, and he led a stable life in team housing. But Kenyans who have run for corporate teams in Japan say that they never felt entirely integrated into Japanese society, and most return home. “Because of the different culture,” says Johnson Muiruri, a runner who trained with Wanjiru in Japan and became his close friend, “[a Kenyan man] cannot get a girlfriend there unless maybe you stay 20 years.”

It was on a trip home in the summer of ’05 that Wanjiru met Terezah Njeri. In Kenya a woman who lives with a man or bears his child may be considered his wife. By that standard Njeri became Wanjiru’s wife in September ’05, when she moved into a house he had paid for. It was the same month that he first broke the world half-marathon record, for which he reportedly earned $100,000.

Hannah Wanjiru and Njeri disliked each other from the start. Over the next two years Sammy built the two women spacious houses inside fortress-like compounds within 150 yards of each other on a dirt road in Nyahururu. But each woman looked askance at anything Sammy bought the other. Each felt that the other wanted to control his money. According to Sammy’s friends, relatives and business associates, they were both right.

None of Sammy’s expenditures went unscrutinized by his wife or his mother. Not the $25,000 he donated to a children’s home in Nyahururu after he broke the world half-marathon record for the third time, in March ’07. Not the beauty parlor he financed for Njeri, which went bust. According to Wanjiru’s coaches, his mother would even complain when he was home and they used his cars to get him and his training partners to and from workouts. When Wanjiru was in Japan, he often called his uncle John Kamau and asked him to mediate disputes between his mother and wife. “The differences were all about money,” Kamau says. “It was not about anything else.”

In early 2008, Wanjiru returned home from Japan to stay. Later that year, after his dramatic Olympic victory, he began commanding high appearance fees whenever he ran. The money deepened the rift between his mother and his wife. All the while, Wanjiru was busily spending it or giving it away. He enjoyed the trappings of wealth. He commissioned a local artist to paint a giant, gaudy wildlife mural on one of the walls surrounding his house. And the boy who could lose hours playing with a toy car made from scrap was now a man who paid cash for a fleet of Toyota’s best—Land Cruiser, Mark X, RAV4—that depreciated rapidly on the crater-pocked Kenyan roads.

He also never refused people who needed money. After a workout Wanjiru would buy 25 runners lunch, and he paid for a Nissan for use by athletes who had no other way to travel to races. One runner named Ken Kasmili says Wanjiru began paying his son’s school fees so that Kasmili could work fewer hours and focus on training.

Wanjiru was an economy unto himself. And almost everything he bought—cars, land, houses—was wildly overpriced. When he was in Nyahururu he frequented the pubs. His friends point out almost every large bar in town as “one of his favorite places,” and locals would text one another when they spotted him out drinking, sending the alert that it was a good time to sell. Suddenly Wanjiru, at the bar, would be buying $900 plots of land for $3,000.

He did, though, make some fruitful purchases. With the help of James Mwangi, a local veterinarian who became a close friend, Wanjiru purchased a plot of land and built a dairy farm that in its prime sustained 15 cows and produced 55 gallons of milk a day. But the runner never liked to haggle with people over money, and he did not bargain at all when he was drunk. For the Bird Nest Flats apartment complex he was building in the more prosperous city of Nakuru, “he probably spent 10 times the cost,” says Ndegwa Wahome, the lawyer who handled the paperwork for Wanjiru’s transactions. “Some of the people working there took so much of the materials that they built their own houses.”

In front of the compound where Wanjiru was found fatally injured there is still a patch of dead grass. It’s where people pitched tents or put down blankets so they could bombard him with business opportunities whenever he came or went.

The tale of the inner-city basketball player climbing from public housing to public figure is familiar to those who follow U.S. sports. Along the altitudinous ledges of the Rift Valley, a similar narrative increasingly plays out among marathon runners, but on a scale even more dizzying and dangerous. “You [Americans] run for glory,” says Harun Ngatia, a physiotherapist who works with top runners and treated Wanjiru. “Here the financial interest comes first.”

As the monetary rewards of running have increasingly migrated from track events to marathons on streets in Europe and the U.S., Kenyans have followed in astonishing numbers. A single podium finish at a major marathon can earn life-altering money for a rural Kenyan. In Nyahururu, the major shopping mall is the Olympia Centre, which borrows the name of a skyscraper in Chicago and is owned by Daniel Njenga, whose money comes from second- and third-place finishes in that city’s marathon.

The result of this concentration of prize money in the marathon has been a dominance unparalleled in modern international sports. Though a power in distance running since the 1960s, Kenyan men have made the marathon their own since Wanjiru’s bold example in Beijing. It’s the kind of supremacy that usually exists when just one country truly values a sport: Japan in sumo, Canada in curling. Between April and November 2011, Kenyan men broke course records in the five most prominent marathons—Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London and New York City—by a collective sum of six minutes and 22 seconds. It’s hard to come up with any measure sufficient to characterize the strength of the Kenyan marathon army, but try this: Sixteen American men in history have run faster than 2:10 (a 4:58 per mile pace); 38 Kenyan men did it in October.

As many superstar marathoners as Kenya produces, relatively few of them are members of the Kikuyu tribe. Outside of Kenya people debate whether Kenyan distance runners have a biological advantage over runners from other countries. Inside Kenya the debate is whether the Kalenjin people have an advantage over the Kikuyu.

The Kalenjin, whose ancestors are from Sudan and who are known for their long limbs and extremely slender build, make up only 12% of Kenya’s population but the vast majority of its top runners. Meanwhile the Kikuyu, who tend to be smaller and a bit stockier, compose 22% of the population but contribute far fewer elite athletes. (Several Kalenjin men have claimed to be Wanjiru’s father, arguing that with his speed he could only be Kalenjin. Wanjiru’s relatives say they are not sure who his father is.) Nyahururu is the major training base for Kikuyu runners.

At 10 a.m. on a typical Tuesday, the gray gravel track in the center of town is thronged. Nearly 100 runners are doing interval sessions. Some of them are unknowns with little experience who show up and try to run stride for stride with athletes such as Charles Kamathi, the 2001 world champion in the 10,000 meters. Even now, some of the runners wear Nikes that Wanjiru acquired through his sponsorship deal and gave to them brand new. Others are dressed in the national gear of athlete-poor but cash-rich countries such as Bahrain, which gives Kenyan runners quick citizenship and a salary in return for results.

According to Kenyan coaches, the Kalenjin communities have had more role models than the less experienced Kikuyu in terms of managing sudden and staggering wealth. Not that it comes easily to anyone. Since sports agents were allowed into Kenya in the ’90s, athletes have often learned their business lessons painfully.

Tom Ratcliffe, a Boston-based longtime agent for Kenyan athletes, can rattle off the runners who have made a little money and quickly fallen prey to bad business deals. One of his former clients, Timothy Cherigat, won the Boston Marathon in 2004 and the next year stopped training rigorously and invested in developing a gas station. “It turned out the person he bought the land from didn’t own it,” says Ratcliffe, who would advise athletes to keep money in treasury bonds until they were done competing. “He lost it, and it got caught up in the courts. He gave his career for that gas station.”

Many of the top Kalenjin athletes now move to Nairobi, where their wealth stands out less. John Ngugi, the greatest Kikuyu runner of all—gold medalist in the 1988 Olympic 5,000 meters and a five-time world cross-country champion—thinks the Kikuyu should follow suit. “If somebody comes with a new car in Nyahururu,” Ngugi says, “the whole town knows.” Ngugi estimates that he earned $300,000 in his running career. He used it to build a house and a grocery store near Nyahururu that were robbed four times in two years.

Consider that a typical Nyahururu household, one that owns a few head of cattle and grows maize or potatoes, might make $1,000 in a year. And consider that Wanjiru earned up to $10 million, according to his lawyer, not only in prize money but also from endorsements with Nike and a Japanese dietary supplement line. In relative terms there might never have been a more dramatic rags-to-riches ascent in sports than Sammy Wanjiru’s.

There were multiple robbery attempts on Wanjiru’s house in Nyahururu. Francis Kamau says that armed thieves once stopped Wanjiru’s car and held him until the police came and killed one of the assailants. Ibrahim Kinuthia, a former international runner and coach who worked with Wanjiru, says that some people thought Wanjiru’s Olympic medal was made of solid gold. “Nyahururu is good for training,” Ngugi says, “but not good for staying.”

In 2009, Wanjiru set course records in both the London (2:05:10) and Chicago (2:05:41) marathons. He also started dating Mary Wacera, a runner he met at the Nyahururu track.

They could talk to each other about Beijing, where Wacera won bronze in the 5,000 meters at the ’06 world junior championships. She and Wanjiru started going to and from training together, and he didn’t mind occasionally slowing the pace of a recovery run so they could run together and talk.

As a promising athlete, Wacera never felt the need to ask Wanjiru for money, which endeared her to Wanjiru’s mother. Wacera also did not complain about Wanjiru’s late nights out, which his friends say often included other women.

In December 2009, Wacera and Wanjiru were married. There was an actual ceremony, which Wanjiru had not had with Terezah Njeri, who by that time had borne Wanjiru two children. (Having more than one wife is traditional in Kenya, albeit increasingly rare.) “I had no problem with [Njeri],” Wacera says, “but she hated me so much.” (Njeri has talked to media outlets but did not answer repeated calls from SI.) Wanjiru rented a house for Wacera right between the homes of his mother and Njeri, on that same dirt road.

But his money supply soon began to dwindle. Mwangi, the veterinarian, was with Wanjiru once when Njeri showed up and dressed down her husband in front of his friends for not giving her more money for the children. “How can I live like this?” Mwangi recalls Wanjiru saying.

To allay Njeri’s complaints, Wanjiru had Mwangi help her open a pharmacy in the center of Nyahururu. The royal blue metal doors of Njewan Chemist opened for business in March 2010. But, Mwangi says, Njeri failed to replenish the drugs, and the doors closed by December.

Even when he escaped the bickering women, Wanjiru could not find solitude. Ngatia, his physiotherapist, recalls that by 2010 the runner was never alone, even during treatment sessions. “There were always cousins or friends around,” Ngatia says, people who lived off Wanjiru. His benders expanded to include the daytime. He would push tables together at the Jimrock club in town and lose himself in the Kikuyu pop music. He was once so swarmed at a bar that Kinuthia tried to swat people away by telling them that Sammy was no longer buying. But Sammy was always buying. In one stupor he bought a Range Rover from a fair-weather friend for $145,000, nearly a 100% markup.

Wanjiru’s Italy-based manager, Federico Rosa, heard that the runner was self-destructing in Nyahururu. At the London Marathon in April 2010 Wanjiru was barely past the halfway mark when he dropped out. On the way back to Kenya, Rosa and Claudio Berardelli, a 31-year-old Italian coach who lives in Kenya and trains some of Rosa’s athletes, took Wanjiru to Italy to give him a liver toxicity test. It showed that Wanjiru had not yet done permanent damage with his drinking. “But I told Federico to scare him,” Berardelli says. “Tell him that there were some signs, but that if he stops [drinking] now things will be O.K. Otherwise he’s on the way to losing his career.”

In July, Berardelli invited Wanjiru to a training camp in Italy. “He was probably [10 pounds] overweight,” the coach says, “and he could not stay with the guys for a 50-minute run.” After the camp Berardelli, who lives in Eldoret, 80 miles northwest of Nyahururu, found a place for Wanjiru to stay near him.

In August, with two months to go before he was to defend his Chicago Marathon title, and still in awful shape, Wanjiru switched his training base to Eldoret. He stopped drinking cold turkey, but he was getting dusted by other runners in training. Two weeks before Chicago, Berardelli called Rosa to say that Wanjiru probably would not be able to finish the marathon and that they should withdraw him. But Wanjiru pleaded, ” ‘Let me try, let me try, let me try,'” Berardelli says.

If there ever has been a marathon performance more stunning than Wanjiru’s in Beijing, it was Wanjiru’s in Chicago in October 2010. Not in top shape and two months removed from daily binge drinking, he was repeatedly dropped by Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Kebede whenever he challenged for the lead. But Wanjiru kept coming. He and Kebede traded the lead five times in the final mile. Wanjiru appeared to settle for second when he started looking behind him to see who was coming. But with a quarter mile to go he sprinted past Kebede, prompting the TV race announcer to blurt, “What balls this guy’s got!” He won by 19 seconds.

“Sammy was still going to make money, so why die to win this race?” Berardelli asks. “He had the mentality that you think only of being the first in crossing the line, because you want to say, ‘I am the one.’ You want to raise up your hands.”

Following the Chicago Marathon, Wanjiru returned to Nyahururu. He never raced again.

Back home Wanjiru drank constantly and was always tired—he would doze in the middle of conversations. “He said, ‘I want to forget my problems,'” Wacera recalls. “I said, ‘They’ll still be there when you wake up.'”

On Dec. 29, 2010, Wanjiru was arrested at his house and charged with threatening to kill Njeri during an argument and hitting his security guard with the butt of an AK-47 that he had obtained illegally. Six weeks later, on Valentine’s Day 2011, Wanjiru and Njeri had a bizarre romantic reconciliation in front of television cameras, and she asked prosecutors to drop the assault charges. Wanjiru’s friends and relatives say Njeri’s conditions for dropping the charges were that he sign an affidavit saying she was his official wife and that he leave Wacera. Wanjiru told Wacera that he’d rather go to jail than leave her, but he signed the affidavit, and a copy of Njeri’s national identity card issued shortly thereafter shows that his name was added to hers. Wanjiru also moved Njeri to Ngong, a suburb of Nairobi, far from his mother and his other wife. But the charge of illegal gun possession remained, and Wanjiru continued to drink.

Daniel Gatheru, Wanjiru’s close friend and training partner, pleaded with Berardelli and Rosa to save Wanjiru from Nyahururu. So Rosa flew in from Italy, and on May 5 he, Berardelli, Francis Kamau, Gatheru and a few others staged an intervention with Wanjiru. They decided he would move in with Berardelli in Eldoret until the gun case was resolved and then leave to train in Oregon with the hope of running the New York City Marathon.

Wanjiru was relieved. He said he would change. He and the others went out to eat together at a resort beside Nyahururu’s majestic 243-foot Thomson’s Falls. Kamau calls it “the Last Supper.”

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 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. (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.

Within 15 minutes of arriving at Nyahururu District Hospital, which has no intensive care unit, Wanjiru took one more deep breath, stretched his arms stiffly to his side and never breathed again.

When the tape recorder is off, most of the people who were close to Wanjiru say they believe he was murdered. The investigation was a disaster. After hastily calling the death a suicide, the police failed to secure the crime scene, and any hope for pristine forensic evidence was lost when the house was cleaned.

In Nyahururu there is widespread sentiment that the police were unhappy with Wanjiru after he claimed he was framed on the gun charge, and many citizens think the police wanted his money. Three people independently told SI that they were at the police station the morning of May 16 and heard officers threaten to throw Wanjiru’s brother, Simon, in jail if he did not turn over Sammy’s identity and ATM cards. Simon reluctantly confirmed that account.

Njeri told reporters that she had learned of Wanjiru’s fall from the police. But both Ngatia and Gatheru say that she called them around 11:30 p.m. the previous night to tell them that the watchman had called her to say Sammy had fallen and was hurt.

Hannah Wanjiru is adamant that her son was hit in the back of the head and killed, and that Njeri and the police were conspiring to take Sammy’s money. Hannah forced the police to watch security footage from her son’s home in her presence, but the camera that was pointed at the balcony was not functioning. (The footage shows several men entering the compound on foot. The footage is dark, and the men have not been publicly identified. Because the balcony camera was not working, people who saw the video say they could not tell if the men entered before or after Wanjiru fell.)

In June, Hannah brandished a machete at her own relatives, demanding that they not bury her son until an investigation was completed. (She lost a court battle to stop the burial.) For unknown reasons Wanjiru’s body was partly embalmed before it was thoroughly examined, and, bewilderingly, 11 months after the national hero’s death, no final autopsy report has been issued. But a preliminary postmortem report released last June says that Wanjiru had injuries on his hands and knees “consistent with conscious landing on fours” but that he died from blunt trauma to the back of the head.

That report made headlines and fueled widespread suspicion in Kenya that Wanjiru was murdered. SI gave a copy of the report and pictures of Wanjiru’s balcony to Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist and former chief medical examiner of New York City. Baden says that Wanjiru suffered a “typical contrecoup injury to his head.” A contrecoup injury generally occurs when a person falls backward, and the signature is a fracture at the back of the head and bruising on the front of the brain that occurs when it slams forward against the inside of the skull. “That’s what helps distinguish a fall versus an injury [in which] a person is hit in the head while stationary,” Baden says. “Falling from 10 feet is more than enough to cause this fatal injury.” The injury is most often seen in drunk people who slip while walking and fall backward without twisting to protect themselves. Baden says Wanjiru may have tried to step over the railing and fallen forward on all fours onto the sloped roof below the balcony and then tumbled backward to the ground. Most of Wanjiru’s friends doubt that he would have tried to get down from the balcony intentionally; however, one of Wanjiru’s closest friends, Norman Mathathi, told SI that he and Wanjiru had jumped down from the balcony before.

But perhaps the reason that makes it hardest to believe a conspiracy theory about Wanjiru’s death is that if anyone wanted Sammy’s money, it seems all he had to do was ask for it.

There is a Kikuyu saying: Ido cia mwene cimumaga thutha. (When the owner dies, they follow him.) It refers primarily to living things, such as livestock. As Wanjiru’s family has fought over his estate, the investment closest to his heart—the dairy farm five miles outside of Nyahururu—has wasted away.

Nobody tended to the cows after Wanjiru died, and most perished from neglect or were sold. When James Mwangi, the veterinarian, visited in early February, he had to tear down branches from Graveria trees to feed the two remaining animals, a skinny black heifer and an auburn dairy cow, to keep them from starving. The auburn cow had once been the pride of the farm, producing 10 gallons of milk a day. Wanjiru loved her. He named her Beijing, after his great triumph.

In the Chinese capital, Wanjiru changed the marathon forever. Runners could once coast the first 20 miles of major marathons, but since Wanjiru’s bold example, the race has started when the race actually starts. Thirteen of the 17 sub-2:05 finishes in history have come since Wanjiru’s epic performance at the Olympics. Expect Kenyans at the London Games to try to break the rest of the world from the gun. That will be Wanjiru’s legacy.

Now he rests, buried at the dairy farm. Mwangi, who is helping raise money for an ICU in the town’s hospital, returned there in mid-February to check on the two cows. The little black heifer had died.

Now all that remains is Beijing.

Source: SPORTS ILLUSTRATED

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3 Responses to “The Mercurial Life and Mysterious Death of Sammy Wanjiru”

  1. Herb said

    Rest in peace great champion,the marathon world will miss you forever.Thanks for entertaining us while you were alive.

  2. Paul bii said

    R.I.P hero wanjiru. We miss you so much

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