Africa

Kenya Olympic marathon star Sammy Wanjiru dies in fall

  • 16 May 2011
  • From the section Africa
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Samuel Wanjiru after winning gold in Beijing (August 2008)
Samuel Wanjiru broke the Olympic record when he won gold in 2008

The Kenyan Olympic marathon champion, Samuel "Sammy" Wanjiru, has died after falling from a first-floor balcony at his home in the town of Nyahururu.

Police say they are investigating whether it was suicide or an accident.

The 24-year-old won in Beijing in 2008 in an Olympic record time, becoming Kenya's first marathon champion.

Last December, he was charged with threatening to kill his wife, Triza Njeri, assault and the illegal possession of an AK-47 assault rifle.

Mrs Njeri subsequently withdrew her accusations, saying they had reconciled.

However, Wanjiru was due to appear before a court on 23 May on the charge of illegal possession of a firearm.

Suicide doubted

The BBC's Will Ross in Nairobi says the Olympic champion had a stormy relationship with his wife.

National police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said Wanjiru killed himself but Nyahururu police chief Jasper Ombati said it may have been an accident during a confrontation with his wife.

Mr Ombati said the dispute began when Mrs Njeri found Wanjiru with a female friend in their home in the town 150km (93 miles) north-west of Nairobi.

Police are currently questioning both women about the incident.

Wanjiru suffered internal injuries as a result of the fall and was pronounced dead in hospital after attempts to revive him failed.

Our correspondent says some Kenyans believe his domestic problems were linked to his recently acquired wealth from prize money.

His agent, Federico Rosa, told the BBC he was "100% sure" it was not suicide.

Wanjiru spoke to Mr Rosa over the weekend and was "very focused", he said.

"He asked to borrow my car and he was supposed to be back early this morning with my car, so for sure there was nothing to do with suicide. It was just a terrible accident that happened."

Wanjiru's fellow Kenyan marathon star Paul Tergat said the death was "shocking" and "very sad".

"We have lost a very young and talented athlete," he told the BBC.

As well as becoming the youngest Olympic champion since 1932, Wanjiru also set marathon course records in London and Chicago.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga said Wanjiru's death was a big blow to Kenya's dreams of Olympic gold in London 2012.

Athletes including Ethiopian great Haile Gebrselassie have expressed their shock and condolences.

"One wonders if we as an athletics family could have avoided this tragedy," he said on his Twitter feed.

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