Tragic end

Tragic end

For a nation blessed with super rich talent in long distance races, Kenya had one big blot in their book — lack of an Olympic gold medal in marathon. Year after Olympic year, their best men had tried and failed to bring home that coveted piece of yellow metal.

Then came Samuel Wanjiru, erasing that black mark with an all-conquering run in Beijing three years ago to become the toast of his nation. Kenyans and the athletics world will remember him forever for that historic feat. After Monday, he will also be remembered for the manner in which he chose to die — leaping from the balcony of his home in Nyahururu.

A talent marked out for greatness, Wanjiru proved his class early. He was only 21 when he won the Olympic gold. His brilliance also lit up the streets of London and Chicago in subsequent years but ultimately, he chose a life with little light, going the way of several champions who have failed to strike a balance between their career and the riches that came along with it. Often, the route that takes one out of misery and poverty to a life of comfort and riches can also send one spiralling to doom. Wanjiru certainly is not alone, though others might not have taken the extreme step the Kenyan runner did.

In our times, Mike Tyson is perhaps the parallel closest to Wanjiru. A young kid who would have perished in the crime-infested ghettos of New York, Tyson found a lifeline in boxing before going on to rock the heavyweight world with his fists of fury.

Iron Mike then revealed feet of clay in the tough ring called life and after blowing up millions and fighting charges of rape, joined the league of several champions who have only old memories and grainy video discs for company. The travails of Tiger Woods, who knocked down several barriers en route to the number one status in golf, are too recent to recount, the American using his triumphs as a licence to indulge in excesses off the course.

It isn’t often that someone like Sachin Tendulkar graces the sporting field — growing up to take the rough and the smooth of the celebrity life with equal felicity. As he leaves the stage, Wanjiru leaves us not just images of his successful conquests but a grim reminder of the perils in the life of a celebrity sportsperson.