Top athletes who died at their prime
Women 10km road race world record holder Agnes Tirop was laid to rest at the weekend, about a week after she was found murdered by her lover in her own house in Iten just when she was at the peak of her career. People Sport takes a look at some of Kenya’s leading runners who perished while at the best in their career, writes Amos Abuga
Samuel Wanjiru - May 2011
Top of the list is Samuel Wanjiru, the 2008 Olympic champion in the men marathon.
He died in 2011 from injuries sustained after what police claimed was a fall from a balcony at his home in Nyahururu.
Wanjiru, commonly known as Sammy, was 24.
He remains one of the most talented long distance runners of his generation and will mostly be remembered for his remarkable victory at the 2008 Olympic Games where he became Kenya’s first Olympic champion in men marathon.
Despite Beijing’s hot conditions, Wanjiru crossed the finish line at the Bird’s Nest stadium in 2:06:32, breaking the Olympic record that was set three years before he was born by nearly three minutes.
Agnes Tirop - October 2021
At 21 years at the time, she became the youngest Olympic Marathon champion.
The third Kenyan athlete to die this year and in the most bizarre way so far, middle and long distance runner Tirop, a two-time world championships bronze medallist was found dead on October 13 this year at her home in Iten, Elgeyo Marakwet county.
Tirop 25, won bronze medals in the women’s 10,000 meters at the 2017 and 2019 world championships and finished fourth in the 5,000 metres at the Tokyo Olympics in August.
Last month, Tirop broke the world record in the women-only 10-kilometre road race.
Nicholas Bett - August 2018
In 2018, Kenya lost former 400m world hurdles champion Nicholas Bett who died aged 28 following a car crash in Nandi County.
The athlete died on the spot after the car he was driving veered off the road and landed in a ditch.
The athlete hit a bump before losing control of his car near Lessos.
Bett made history at the 2015 Beijing World Championships when he became the first Kenyan to win a world championship gold medal at a distance shorter than 800m.
He was on his way home from Nairobi after the African Championships in Athletics in Nigeria.
Hosea Macharinyang’ -October 2021
Macharinyang who represented the country in five world cross-country championships also died in this month.
The 35-year old athlete, was found dead at his home in Murkwijit, West Pokot County on the evening of October 9.
He won three consecutive team titles with the country at the World Cross Country Championships from 2006 to 2008.
The 10,000m specialist Macharinyang was found hanging by a rope at his family’s home in Murkwijit, West Pokot County.
He allegedly committed suicide.
Gilbert Kwemoi - August 2021
This is another athlete who died in 2021. Kwemoi passed on in August after a short illness. He was 29.
According to his family, the athlete complained of a headache and was immediately rushed to a hospital where he unfortunately succumbed while undergoing treatment.
He won a gold medal in the 1,500m race at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games held in Nanjing, China.
Earlier in the same year, Kwemoi had won a gold medal at the African Youth Championships held in Gaborone, Botswana.
David Lelei - Feb 2010
The former middle-distance runner died on the spot after his vehicle collided with a trailer along the Nairobi-Nakuru highway 11 years ago.
Lelei was travelling to Nakuru with former world 10,000 metres champion Moses Tanui, who survived the crash.
Lelei had won a 1,500m silver medal at the 1999 All African Games in Johannesburg, the same year as he finished seventh over the same distance at the world championships in Seville.
He was fourth in the 800m at the 2001 World Indoor Championships in Lisbon.
Jefferson Siekei-February 2009
Siekei was killed in a morning road accident in Nyamira county 12 years ago. The athlete died after the motorcycle he was riding on, alongside his training partner, collided head-on with a truck.
“Siekei was among our most promising athletes and we had hoped to see him among the contenders for places in the Kenyan team to the IAAF World Cross Country Championships,” former Athletics Kenya Secretary General David Okeyo told People Sport.
The 25-year-old won the 2007 Kisii round of the Athletics Kenya Cross Country Series and was 12th at last year’s national cross country championships in Nairobi.
Francis Kiplagat - February 2018
Long distance athlete Kiplagat died in a car accident in Kikopey along the Nairobi-Nakuru highway.
He was travelling with 2010 African men’s 5,000m silver medallist Vincent Yator before the incident on a Monday night.
Kiplagat has nine career victories to his name with personal bests of 14:58 in the 5km, 29:45 (10km), 62:49 half marathon and a 2:15:57 marathon.
Richard Chelimo - August 2001
He is a former 10,000m world record holder who died of a brain tumour at the age 29. He broke the 10,000m world record in Stockholm in 1992.
It was, however, short-lived as it was broken within a week by fellow Kenyan Yobes Ondieki, the first man to run the 10,000m in under 27 minutes.
Chelimo won a silver medal for the 10,000m at the Tokyo World Athletics Championship in 1991, finishing behind countryman Moses Tanui.
At the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Chelimo won silver in the event after losing to Moroccan Khalid Skah, who later became a bitter rival.
Ian Mutuku - October 2016
Then at the age of 19, Kenya national youth champion Ian Mutuku’s death was mysterious.
The 2014 Africa Youth Games silver medalist died after collapsing at a hospital in Machakos. It was reported that he had swells all over his body before and his condition worsened.
He is the 2013 400m national youth champion and also a silver medalist in the 2014 youth games.
Mutuku also finished fourth in the 2013 IAAF World Youth Championships in Donetsk, Ukraine and 2014 Olympics Youth Games.