Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series elite athlete coordinator Matthew Turnbull reports from Sammy Wanjiru’s home in Nyharuru, Kenya.
Written by: Matthew Turnbull
I had hoped to be returning to Kenya in much happier circumstances than the one I find myself in now. I’m not a regular visitor, but here I am in Nyharuru, a week after we lost our Olympic Marathon champion at just 24 years old.
In February 2010 I had the good fortune to meet Sammy Wanjiru on his turf rather that in a race or competition setting. Sitting on the patio of the Sirikwa Hotel in Eldoret high in the Rift Valley, myself and his agent Federico Rosa persuaded him that he needed to come to New Orleans and take part in the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Half Marathon before his spring race in London. He promised he would be there and was good to his word, finishing second in what proved to be the penultimate race of what turned out to be a life cut tragically short.
Today, the 24th of May, nine days after one of the most naturally gifted athletes ever to take to roads fell to his death, I am sitting in his family home. After I offered my condolences I found myself in a room surrounded by as many unanswered questions as I was family, local dignitaries, police officers, athletes, coaches, managers and government officials. There is no doubt that those in the room all agree on one common factor: that this was a tragedy and a life taken from this world prematurely. However, there is a disturbing undercurrent of blame, and more upsetting a tone of “what’s in this for me?”, which cannot be ignored.
I was certainly conscious that my being there was somewhat out of place–and perhaps unnecessary–but I was quickly introduced to the group as a representative from Europe and U.S. road races and was obliged to stay and listen to what unfolded. For thirty or forty minutes various people spoke about the death of a hero and how matters need to be resolved and disagreements must be put to one side.
A few hours later, as I write this just a few short miles from his home, it is clear that nothing has yet been resolved. Sammy’s interests seem to have been disregarded while opinions are divided amongst those who were close to him. His mother believes Sammy’s life was taken from him and a murder investigation should be opened, while people who didn’t know him are throwing accusations and claim to have evidence to support the claim and others to contradict it. Sadly what is obvious is that many people are looking to gain from the situation, whether that person be a lawyer or a tenuous acquaintance.
His real friends, his fellow athletes who trained with him day in and day out, along with his coach and his manager, are the only ones who are here at his family home because they want what is best for Sammy: resolution and respect. It is clear that there are people intent on concentrating on what percentage of the pie they can stake a claim. Sammy was a rich man by any standards. He has beautiful cars, beautiful houses, and, to his detriment, beautiful women. His appearance and prize money is now in bricks and mortar and the well has now dried up. Those looking for their share will be at odds for some time to come.
As Samuel Kamau Wanjiru’s body lays in a morgue some 150 kilometers and a 3-hour journey away, there is still no resolution in sight between quarrelling parties. The big question that remains is: when will Sammy Wanjiru finally be allowed to rest in peace?
Matthew Turnbull is the elite athlete coordinator for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series.