NYAHURURU, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyan Olympic marathon champion Samuel Wanjiru plunged to his death from the first-floor balcony of his home after the athlete’s wife found him in bed with another woman, police told Reuters.
Regional police chief Jaspher Ombati said that Wanjiru’s wife, Triza Njeri, surprised the couple when she came home late on Sunday, locked them in the bedroom and ran outside.
“In a rage, Samuel Kamau Wanjiru jumped from the first floor of the house and he was badly injured. When he was rushed to the hospital the doctors tried to resuscitate him but unfortunately he passed on,” said Ombati.
Wanjiru, 24, won Kenya’s first men’s marathon gold in Beijing in 2008 and had been regarded as one of the greatest current talents in an east African country long renowned for its distance runners.
He also won the prestigious London and Chicago marathons, but his private life was troubled.
Ombati said Wanjiru returned home with the woman after a drinking spree. Nyahururu residents said Wanjiru had taken to heavy drinking of late and was stressed by personal problems.
Last December, Wanjiru was charged with threatening to kill Njeri with an AK-47 assault rife — the accusation was later withdrawn as his wife said they were reconciled — and he rolled his car in January after swerving to avoid an oncoming truck.
Wanjiru was still due to appear in court later this month for the illegal possession of the weapon.
Athletics Kenya Secretary General David Okeyo said Wanjiru’s manager had been planning to take him away from Kenya this month for therapy because the gun charge was taking a heavy toll.
Video footage on Monday showed police looking at blood stains on the ground below the balcony of Wanjiru’s house in Nyahururu, a town in the Rift Valley some 150 km (94 miles) northwest of the capital Nairobi.
Njeri and Wanjiru’s female companion recorded statements at the police station in Nyahururu and were later released.
“Wanjiru’s death is not only a loss to his family and friends but to Kenya as a whole and the entire world athletics fraternity,” Prime Minister Raila Odinga said in a statement.
“As an athletics nation, we looked forward to a sterling performance in the Olympic Games in London next year. Mr Wanjiru was one of our sure bets for gold in the upcoming contest. His death is therefore a big blow to our dreams,” Odinga said.
Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie, the world marathon record holder, said he was “totally shocked” by the news.
“Of course, one wonders if we, as an athletics family, could have avoided this tragedy. My thoughts are with his family and all his friends and colleagues,” Gebrselassie said on his Twitter account.
Kenya’s Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka urged the country’s sports management institutions to embark on a programme to prepare sports stars to handle fame and fortune gracefully.
Wanjiru’s talent was spotted when he won a cross country selection trial in Kenya and he moved to Japan in 2002 as a young man to attend high school.
The runner defied the heat of Beijing in 2008 to triumph in an Olympic record time of two hours, six minutes and 32 seconds at the games held in China.
Another Ethiopian, the Olympic and world 5,000 and 10,000 meters champion Kenenisa Bekele, said he had hoped to race against Wanjiru when he stepped up to the marathon.
“I am so sorry for his family and friends to lose this great athlete and person. I looked up to him and saw him as a great marathon athlete,” Bekele said in a statement.
Additional reporting by James Macharia and Jack Oyoo in Nairobi; John Mehaffey in London; Writing by David Clarke; Editing by Justin Palmer