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Olympic marathon champion Sammy Wanjiru dies; police say he jumped from balcony [Updated]

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The first Kenyan to win an Olympic gold medal in the marathon has died at age 24 after jumping from a balcony during a domestic dispute, police said Monday.

Sammy Wanjiru died late Sunday at his home in the town of Nyahururu, Kenya. Although national police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said Wanjiru committed suicide, area police chief Jasper Ombati offered another theory.

“Wanjiru came home with another woman friend at around 11:30 p.m. and then when his wife came home and found them she inquired who the lady was,” Ombati said. “They got into an argument. His wife locked them in the bedroom and ran off.

“He then jumped from the bedroom balcony. He is not here to tell us what he was thinking when he jumped. We do not suspect foul play. In our estimation we think he wanted to stop his wife from leaving the compound.”

[Updated at 9:39 a.m.: Wanjiru's agent, Federico Rosa, confirmed there had been a domestic dispute over another woman but said the runner would not have killed himself.

“I talked to him yesterday and the day before,” Rosa said. His training "was going well and smoothly, and he had no problem at all.

“This I can guarantee, it was not a suicide at all.”]

According to Ombati, Wanjiru landed on a hard surface after falling 13 to 19 feet. Ombati said Wanjiru did not suffer any apparent head injuries but may have had internal injuries.

In December, Wanjiru was charged with wounding his security guard with a rifle and threatening to kill his wife and maid. He denied the charges and was released on bail.

[Updated at 9:43 a.m.: Rosa said that Wanjiru, who had been attacked more than once at his home and threatened with kidnapping, had the weapon for protection only. Wanjiru's wife, Triza Njeri, later dropped the charges against her husband.

On Monday, two other women claimed they were also married to Wanjiru. Polygamy is a common practice in many Kenyan tribes.]

Wanjiru set an Olympic record with his marathon time of 2 hours, 6 minutes, 32 seconds at the 2008 Beijing Games. He went on to become the youngest runner to win four major marathons after winning in London and twice in Chicago, where he also ran the fastest marathon ever recorded in the U.S.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said Wanjiru had been “steadily developing into our country's running phenomenon” and his death is “a big blow to our dreams.”

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-- Chuck Schilken

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photo: Kenya's Sammy Wanjiru celebrates winning the gold in the men's marathon at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Credit: David J. Phillip / Associated Press

 
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