LONDON – It is not particularly unusual for an Olympic champion to be unable to defend his title. Some gold medalists retire, some get injured. Some just fail to qualify after seeing their performance decline.
The absence of 2008 men’s marathon gold medalist Samuel Wanjiru is a different story.
The brilliant Kenyan, who scorched the streets of Beijing with an incredible run of 2:06:32, is not in London because he died last year after falling from a balcony at his home in Nyahururu.
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Fifteen months later, Wanjiru's death is still shrouded in mystery, a saga that is full of controversy and intrigue.
For Wanjiru’s fellow athletes, the smiling champion will be missed at the starting line for what should have been an opportunity to defend his title.
"I know we have two things to do here in London," Kenya's Emmanuel Mutai said. "Firstly, we have to retain the title of the late Samuel Wanjiru. Also, for the glory of yourself."
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Lauded in his homeland, Wanjiru became swept up in his fame after his Olympic triumph. He still remained the best in the world and dreamed of winning back-to-back gold medals in London. Those dreams ended on the night of May 15, 2011.
Wanjiru's tumultuous marriage made regular fodder for the Kenyan newspapers, and he had a history of domestic incidents. At the time of Wanjiru's death, one police official said Wanjiru's wife returned home, found him in bed with another woman and locked the couple in the room. Wanjiru then leaped to his death from a balcony. Some police officials initially called the death a suicide, but others disputed it, saying Wanjiru died trying to keep his wife from leaving the house.
Dutch author Frits Conijn has written a book called "Death Runner" and insists that suicide, homicide and accident can't be ruled out as possible causes of death.
"The evidence concerning his death is not conclusive," Conijn said. "But I can smell a rat."
Kenyan police have not made any arrests, but are still said to be investigating the case. Conijn’s book claims that Terezah Njeri, Wanjiru’s wife, changed her story several times during interviews with police. Conijn admits that the longer the saga goes on, the less likely the mystery will ever be fully solved.
"He had a different kind of life and there were some problems but we wish he was here," Kenyan marathoner Wilson Kiprotich said. "He was a wonderful runner and he should be defending his gold medal."
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