The world of track and field is mourning one of its own whose cause of jumping to his death from a balcony remains a mystery. Samuel Wanjiru, 24-year old Kenyan who stunned the world in Beijing three years ago by winning the gold medal in the Marathon, his first, died today after falling from a balcony in what is believed to be the result of a domestic dispute according to the AP.
Whatever cause might have led to the young man’s death, it is a very sad day for Wanjiru’s family, Kenya track the whole of Kenya and the IAAF of which Wanjiru was another new star.
It has been heartening that young men and women have been able to make very comfortable living from athletics in the last several years. While this is a very welcome development as opposed to the days when track runners would end their careers in, say, American football if they were Americans – remember the great80’s hurdler, Ronald Nehemiah’s – greater attention needs to be paid to these young people who come into much money early.
Those who are writing about the young man’s death as suicide are being uncharitable. Jumping from a 13 ft balcony does not seem to me to be anything suicidal for a 24-year old thoroughbred athlete in excellent health, and it was in the night. I had a girl friend who jumped from her (Nigerian) 1st floor balcony (American 2nd floor) because her sons did so during a fire incident. She was no athlete and was no spring chicken; worse, she was not that physically fit like most of us in our 50s. Was she contemplating suicide when she jumped and fractured her legs and had to be admitted to the UCH? Of course, not.
Wanjiru had gotten used to the life of entitlements that great athletes and sports people enjoy and thought he was also entitled to take a woman home as reported, but the wife’s arrival at 11.30 p.m. must have caught him unprepared. I tend to believe the version that had him jump to run after his wife who had stormed out of the house to plead with her to return home. At 24, he was a bit young to be married but then, again, marriage for such a young man could have brought some stability to what generally is a peripatetic life that already gave him four Marathon wins.
We will never know the truth but it’s a real tragedy that calls for counseling to be put in place urgently for all the young people who start picking checks in the hundreds of thousands of dollars at very young ages. They need attention by professionals and this must start in that veritable long-distance running factory, Kenya, which keeps churning out these phenoms to the track world yearly.
May Wanjiru’s soul rest in peace, and may that young widow not find the fury of in-laws who might want to blame her for his death as such things go in Africa.