Marathon Running: In Wanjiru's Death, Have We Lost the Greatest?
Marathon running really lost something last week with the passing of 24 year-old Kenyan Sammy Wanjiru. His astonishing rise to the top, now cut-short at such a young age. While the details of his death continue to be unraveled, we can only reflect on what could have been.
Samuel "Sammy" Wanjiru was simply an unbelievable runner. He set crowds afire when they saw him, he was so smooth and fast. At a race in Spain a few years ago (Visit YouTube to watch a crazy video shot on a bike by a fan.), Sammy streaked back into town opposite runners going the other direction, their cheers and chants of "Sammy" were thunderous.
Sammy Wanjiru was not only fast, he was naturally so. In his FIRST marathon appearance -- his first attempt at the distance — he ran 2:06:39, which would turn out to be the slowest of his marathons, but already within two minutes of the then world record. He won the Olympic Marathon in Beijing on a hot day in 2:06:32, which would be a slow and strategic win.. His fastest marathons came in London and Chicago, where he ran 2:05:10 and 2:05:41, both in 2009.
While these were not world leading marks, he was still relatively inexperienced at the marathon distance. He had shredded the half-marathon world record, breaking it first by running 59:16 in 2005 at the age of just 18, and then crushing it again, running a 58:33 in 2007. This was a guy with the speed to go under 2:00:00 in the marathon and he knew it. He said so at the Granoller's race in Spain in 2008, when he predicted that he'd break 2:00:00 within five years.
Let's set this against the backdrop of the greatest runner of our age and perhaps history. At the same time that Sammy was killing course and world records in just his late teens and early twenties, Haile Gebrselassie was continuing his dominance of running and was engaged in the full-on pursuit of the marathon world record. While Wanjiru was in London and Chicago, Gebs was running after the world mark in Berlin and he set it twice, lowering the World Record to 2:03:59 at the Berlin Marathon in 2008.Continued on the next page