Sunday, May 15, 2011

So Long, Sammy: The Sammy Wanjiru Shocker

Wow. I'm almost wishing I hadn't just scanned my newsfeed. Because then I wouldn't have read a news report that needed a dislike button next to it. The worst part is that it's already the second time this year that I've had to be the bearer of bad news among the running community.

It was a Universal Sports report that a friend shared that caught my attention and now it's spreading like wildfire online. Sammy Wanjiru, one of the fastest distance runners in the world, has died. If that's not a shock to runners, especially marathon runners, then I'm speechless. Actually, I'm speechless anyway--Wanjiru was only 24 and his death follows on the heels of the untimely accident that killed Sally Meyerhoff in March. The cause? It's not exactly known at this time, but Universal Sports is reporting that Wanjiru died after falling from a balcony at his home.

Need more of a biographical refresher? He's the 24-year-old Kenyan runner who burst onto the running scene big time by winning gold at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and saw fleet feet twice in Chicago, winning the 2009 and 2010 Bank of America Chicago Marathons.

The unfortunate part about this accident is that it comes on the heels of some other troubles Wanjiru has found himself in since his sprint to the finish line to beat Tesgaye Kebede at the 2010 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. In December, he was arrested in his home and charged with three counts. In January, he was in a car accident that luckily wasn't too serious but may have been the cause behind his withdrawal from April's London Marathon.

Here are a few things we'll remember--and miss--about Sammy Wanjiru:
  • His fastest marathon time was 2:05:10.
  • He once held the half marathon world record with his personal best 58:33.
  • He won the gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing with a time of 2:06:32.
  • His other victories include the 2009 and 2010 Chicago Marathons, the 2009 London Marathon, and the 2007 Fukuoka Marathon.
  • He led the point totals among the men for the World Marathon Majors competition for the 2008/2009 and 2009/2010 competitive cycle.
  • He had a vivacious personality when speaking to a crowd. Or at least he made me laugh when he was among the elite runners interviewed during the press conferences leading up the Chicago Marathon. Wanjiru spoke at press conferences for both the 2009 and 2010 Chicago Marathons and knew how to captivate an audience with his words and race strategy explanation. If only I could remember where I stowed those notes, I jotted down during his interview.
In the meantime, I'll have to remember how relaxed he looked in front of the Chicago media crowd, almost like running 26.2 miles--and running it consistently under 2 hours and 10 minutes (and I'm low-balling)--at the front of the pack wasn't that hard. What are you going to best remember Wanjiru for?

Photo grabbed from Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

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