RIP Sammy Wanjiru: The World's Greatest Marathoner Has Died

May 15, 2011

Sammy Wanjiru, the 24 year-old Kenyan Olympic marathon champ, and in's opinion the greatest marathoner to ever live, has died tragically in Kenya after a fall from a balcony at his home.

Wanjiru's record in the marathon was simply astounding.

He finished six marathons in his life and he won five of them, with four of the wins coming at the Olympics, the London Marathon, and the Chicago Marathon (twice). His slowest marathon ever was his first one, a 2:06:39 win in Fukuoka in 2007.

Within a year of his initial win in Fukuoka, he was the Olympic champ, running 2:06:32 in the heat of Beijing, in a race that changed many people's perceptions of what was possible in the marathon.

While Wanjiru will always be known for his Olympic win, his last win on 10/10/10 at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon was simply amazing. Wanjiru faced Ethiopian Tsegaye Kebede who in the spring of 2010 had won the London Marathon, the world's most competitive outside of the Olympics. Wanjiru had dropped out of the London 2010, in the only marathon he would not finish. The battle in Chicago was not only for the Chicago crown and the $500,000 World Marathon Major first prize, but unofficially it was for the title of best marathoner on the planet.

Kebede and Wanjiru's battle in Chicago was one for the ages. On at least three occasions, Kebede had Wanjiru dropped. Each time Wanjiru somehow managed to dig deep and catch back up. The final time Sammy managed to go by Kebede for the win. It was a battle like we've never seen. Sadly, it will be the last marathon Sammy Wanjiru ever runs.

List of Sammy Wanjiru's lifetime marathons:






Fukuoka Marathon




London Marathon




Beijing Olympic Marathon




London Marathon




Chicago Marathon




London Marathon




Chicago Marathon



While history will most remember Wanjiru's Olympic gold in the marathon, he was quite successful at shorter distances, running a world junior record of 26:41.75 for 10,000m and setting three world records in the half-marathon before ever running his first marathon (his first a 59:16 in September 2005 while only an 18 year old in Rotterdam, his second a 58:53 in February 2007 at the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon in the UAE, and his last a 58:33 a month later at the City-Pier-City Loop in the Netherlands).

Wanjiru is survived by his wife Teresa Njeri and children Anne Wanjiru (4) and Simon Njoroge (2).

As of 3:30 am eastern, the latest news out of Kenya is that Wanjiru came home from a bar with another woman and his wife confronted him. An argument ensued and Wanjiru fell or jumped from a balcony. The investigation is ongoing as to the nature of the fall, whether Wanjiru jumped and died accidentally, fell accidentally, or committed suicide. Area police chief Jasper Ombati said, "We cannot conclusively say he committed suicide, or that he jumped down and died accidentally." (Article here) An earlier Associated Press report that quoted national policeman spokesman Eric Kiraithe saying Wanjiru "committed suicide" got a lot of world wide headlines, but the latest reports indicate the investigation has not reached any conclusions.

Wanjiru had missed this spring's London Marathon after being arrested on charges of attempted murder against his wife, assault of a body-guard, and illegal fire arm charges. The attempted murder and assault charges had been withdrawn but Wanjiru was supposed to have a hearing on his illegal firearm charges next Monday.

Samuel Kamau Wanjiru November 10, 1986 – May 16, 2011

On the boards: RIP Sammy Wanjiru Pay your respects to Sammy.
*Latest AFP Article on Sammy from Kenya

Editor's Note: This article has been edited to reflect the latest information regarding the circumstances of Wanjiru's death, and to update information on Wanjiru's running career.


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