NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenyan Olympic marathon champion Sammy Wanjiru died in a fall from a balcony after a domestic dispute involving his wife and another woman, police said Monday.
One police official said Wanjiru committed suicide, while another said he jumped to stop his wife from leaving the house after she discovered him with another woman.
The 24-year-old runner died late Sunday after jumping from a balcony at his home in the town of Nyahururu, in the Rift Valley, said John Mbijiwe, the police chief in Kenya’s Central Province.
“The fact of the matter is that Wanjiru committed suicide,” said national police spokesman Eric Kiraithe.
Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere also said initial reports indicated Wanjiru killed himself, though a local official offered a different account.
“Wanjiru came home with another woman friend at around 11:30 p.m. and then when his wife came home and found them she inquired who the lady was,” area police chief Jasper Ombati said. “They got into an argument. His wife locked them in the bedroom and ran off.
“He then jumped from the bedroom balcony. He is not here to tell us what he thinking when he jumped. We do not suspect foul play. In our estimation we think he wanted to stop his wife from leaving the compound.”
Ethiopian distance running great Haile Gebrselassie, a two-time Olympic 10,000-meter champion and world record-holder in the marathon, said on his Twitter feed that he was “totally shocked” by the news.
“My thoughts are with his family and all his friends and colleagues,” Gebrselassie said.
“Of course one wonders if we as an athletics family could have avoided this tragedy,” he said.
American marathon runner Ryan Hall posted on Twitter: “Incredibly sad news about Sammy. I am shocked and saddened.”
At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Wanjiru became the first Kenyan to win a gold medal in the marathon, finishing in an Olympic-record 2 hours, 6 minutes, 32 seconds.
“Sammy Wanjiru was an accomplished runner who will be remembered for winning the first Olympic gold medal for Kenya in marathon and setting a new Olympic record in the process,” the International Olympic Committee said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”
Wanjiru had a history of domestic problems. Last December, he was charged with wounding his security guard with a rifle and threatening to kill his wife and maid. The runner denied all charges and was released on bail.
Wanjiru made an early start to his career, moving at age 15 to Japan, where he attended school in Sendai — a city hard hit by this year’s tsunami — and won several major cross-country events while also competing in track competitions.
Moving to Europe to advance his promising career, Wanjiru won the Rotterdam Half Marathon in 2005 in a world-record time. He twice improved on that record before stepping up to the full marathon in 2007, winning the Fukuoka Marathon in Japan.
The following year he finished second in the prestigious London marathon, and then claimed the biggest prize of his career by taking Olympic gold in Beijing.
Wanjiru became the youngest runner to win four major marathons. Along with the Olympics, he won in London in 2009 and in Chicago in 2009 and 2010, running the fastest ever time recorded in a marathon in the United States.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.