A Tale of Two Runners

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    NEWSLETTERS

    In October 2010, two elite athletes were set to race in the Chicago Marathon.

    One was to be the hope of America, a domestic runner with a real chance to win. The other was an African who wasn't favored.

    Ryan Hall, the American, backed out of the race at the last minute because he was "overtrained and exhausted."

    Sammy Wanjiru, the Kenyan who didn't look up to snuff, ended up winning the race and setting a world record.

    In 2011, Wanjiru died during what is still classified as accident at his home in Nyahururu. Hall dumped his coach and is poised to make waves in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

    Both men were top of mind as Marathon Weekend arrived.

    ESPN's Grantland Blog, which features long-form entries from acclaimed writers, took a look at the untimely death of Wajinru and raised questions about his passing.

    Here is what we know about the death of Sammy Wanjiru: It happened late in the early hours of May 15 at his posh home in Nyahururu, a Rift Valley town about 100 miles from Nairobi. Sammy fell from a second-story balcony — a drop of about 16 feet — and landed on the pavement outside. He lost consciousness. Hospital doctors could not revive him.

    Here is the mystery: whether Sammy fell, jumped, or was pushed.

    Sammy had been drinking that night after a day of training. He brought a woman named Jane Nduta home with him. Triza Njeri, Sammy's wife, returned to find Sammy in bed with her. The couple quarreled before she locked Sammy and Jane upstairs, leaving them with no way out, and then Triza left the house. Minutes later, Sammy dropped from the balcony. But why did he fall?

    "The fact of the matter is that Wanjiru committed suicide," Eric Kiraithe, a national police spokesman, told the Associated Press. Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere seconded this account in initial reports. The last six months had been personally tumultuous for Sammy, and he'd been known to send text messages threatening suicide. Jasper Ombati, the local police chief, suggested to Reuters that it was unclear whether "it was a suicide or if he jumped out of rage, or what caused him to fall to the ground."

    But then, in an AP account, Ombati said that it was probably an accident.

    "They got into an argument," he said. "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, he wanted to stop his wife from leaving the compound."

    The New York Times took a look at Hall's year since he pulled out of the Chicago Marathon, and spun a story about the need for coaching in the world of elite marathoners.

    Ryan Hall, one of the few Americans who can compete against the best international distance runners, is going to try to win the Chicago Marathon on Sunday. And he is doing it without a coach, a stance almost unheard of in elite distance running, or elite sports for that matter.

    Hall makes his own training schedule, assesses his own progress, and runs alone almost all of the time. He has been doing it for a year now, and when he ran the Boston Marathon in April he came in fourth in 2 hours 4 minutes 58 seconds, the only American in the top 15. He cut nearly four minutes from his 2010 time.

    It raises the question: At the elite level, are coaches really necessary? What does an athlete miss when he decides to go it alone?

    The contrast between these two athletes couldn't be more stark. And it serves as a reminder of just how much can change in one year.

    Check out all of NBCChicago's Great Marathon Coverage and be sure to tune into the Bank of America Chicago Marathon online and on TV on Sunday morning.