The first of JRN's four-part series interviews in the weeks following Samuel Wanjiru's death with the people in Japan who knew him best and made him what he was. For an explanation of the origin of these interviews please click here. In this interview, Stephen Mayaka, the first Kenyan to run in Japan all the way from high school through university and on to a pro career and a mentor to Wanjiru and other Japan-resident Kenyans, talks about his experiences with Wanjiru. Tomorrow's interview will be Wanjiru's coach at the Toyota Kyushu corporate team, Barcelona Olympics marathon silver medalist Koichi Morishita.
Stephen Mayaka interviewed by Brett Larner in Takasaki, Gunma, 6/23/11
Stephen Mayaka interviewed by Brett Larner in Takasaki, Gunma, 6/23/11
© 2011 Brett Larner
All rights reserved
No part of this interview may be reproduced or quoted without express written permission.
photo © 2011 Daniel Seite
photo © 2011 Daniel Seite
All rights reserved
To start with, could you talk about the early stages? Wanjiru’s discovery, his life in Kenya before he came to Japan, how he was found, how he was brought to Sendai Ikuei.
I think straight from Kenya, not many people knew him as strong. But once he was going to Japan, he improved his time and training, and that’s when people started knowing him. Most Kenyans who are coming here, normally they are not famous. Maybe when they come and train here, that’s when they come up and people just start to know them. I think Samuel was brought by [Shunichi] Kobayashi, who had a connection with [Robert] Kioni, who just acted as coach. That’s all that he told me. But when he was in high school I knew him more, when he was here, because we used to train together in Bodaira. That’s in Yamagata, just near from Sendai Ikuei. If you go by train, 40 minutes or one hour. That’s where we used to talk. That’s where I came to know him more, and sometimes when we were racing together, somewhere, the Japan Championships or some time trials. All I knew at first was that he was at Sendai, that a new face has come to Sendai. My rival here was normally there. In Kenya, you know, we come from different areas, I didn’t know much, but when he became my friend, that’s when I come to know him more than what I expected.
The first year in high school, they were introduced to me by the coach. “You know, here is another famous Kenyan, he is running Hakone, this is Mayaka.” He connected my phone, and then we talked, and I was the advisor, maybe, teaching about not to feel homesick, because you are here in Japan, you have been here for a while and you are alone. So, something like that kind of advice, that’s what I did at first.
Was it Takao Watanabe who contacted you?
Yes. There before, even when [Daniel] Njenga was there, the head coach used to contact me. You know, at the time there were not many Kenyans, so some people who feel that they want to talk with another Kenyan, it was really easy, just give me a call. Not to feel homesick, you know, you have to talk with somebody in Swahili. So, you feel happy.
I think from there, that’s when the relationship started to grow more and more. Because it was only Sendai Ikuei and Yamanashi Gakuin, they were the only two high schools which were having Kenyans, yes. I think that’s what I can say about it. In Kenya, you know, most of the athletes, they don’t know any others. But when they are here, they hear somebody say, “There’s another Kenyan there.” Somebody who has represented Kenya, maybe in the World Cross Country, and they make a team, that’s when they know each other, then, “Oh yes, we were together.” But Kenyans, you know, they are very many. There are even some Kenyans here who I don’t know. They came, they are here, but I don’t know them. They are very many. But when somebody has just appeared in the international races, everyone knows. Everyone knows him.
Like for example, if we say like two years ago when [Paul] Tanui won the Kenya Cross Country, nobody knew him. He was based here. I heard people saying, “Who’s managing that boy? Who is he? Where’s he from?” So once you have won a major event, many people would like to know where you come from and where you are staying. But if you’re not that level, of winning, nobody knows you. There are many, many athletes in Kenya. It’s very difficult. If you have been given a chance to come over to Japan, or to go to Europe or to go to America, maybe to run a road race and you win, that’s when some people try to follow you. In Kenya, it’s not easy, to my mind. It’s not easy.
What was your early impression of Samuel, your impression of his adjustment to Japan? What kind of personality did he have when you first met him? Did he have trouble adjusting here? Was he very adaptable?
I remember when he was a second year in high school, we met in the Bodaira training camp. The only problem was, you know, many of them think that when you are a student you get some money. You know, normally what he told me was life was difficult. “Life is difficult, but I have to be soft, I have to remain quiet. Maybe it can be better after.” I remember like, pocket money was not enough, something like that, and the rules were very strict. You know, we used to enjoy the house, the condition in the dormitories. You have time limit or maybe you’ll be punished. It’s very strict. And even pocket money, you have to take care, you have to know how to save it. That’s the only problem that was just happening there, maybe some difficulties. And sometimes the training was very hard. You know some, they want to train in the morning and rest. But here, you know, they have to train, like in high school, you know, they train so much. Because there’s the ekiden, there’s the Inter-High [School Championships], there’s other things, they end up being exhausted.
At first, everyone is having these problems, those students in university or high school, pocket money, and the training the rules, and the language. Three things that are very common, yes. In high school at first, those are the problems he faced. But, he struggled and got above it. Yes, he got beyond it. Everybody who has been in Japan, who went to school, high school, college, he has passed the same situation. There’s nobody who is spared, that’s what they say. Even in high school, Njenga, he used to ask, “You have to eat natto [foul-smelling fermented soy beans]?” Yes, of course. You have to eat this octopus. Those are those things that everybody is suffering at first. It is very strict. They can’t even give us time. After class you go to another class. What they were not used to. Now here they come, you have to do your job. You have to go to class, after class, training, after that your dormitory, doing cleaning, not like in Kenya. Kenyans, we just relax all day. The first problem was stress of moving, food, pocket money, these sort of things.
In high school how much of the time was he actually in Sendai? Was it 100% in Sendai or was he going back to Kenya for part of the year?
It depends. When there’s some examinations, it depends with the school. Some schools says, “You must to go class, you must go to practice, you must do the exam.” Sendai Ikuei is very strict for that. After training they fall asleep, but you have to go to classes. So they were not spared. It depends how much money does the school have. Even if they want to go back they take some examination in February and March. Sometimes once a year they are going back like for vacation. I think that’s what the system was.
Would you say that during the Sendai Ikuei period Watanabe was Wanjiru’s main coach?
Yeah, he was the main coach. I’m sure because I had known him when he was coaching in the other school. I had known him and we were very good friends. He was the main coach, even when we were meeting in the Bodaira training camp he was there. He was the one taking them there. After training, 200 m up the hill he was just standing there. He was the main coach, for sure that’s true.
One of the articles I read on a Kenyan newspaper’s website after Wanjiru’s death had an interview with a Kenyan coach who said he had been Wanjiru’s coach until 2009.
Once somebody has done this gold medal, everybody wants to say, “I’m the one who managed that boy.” Absolutely there are those people who are just wanting to get their name from somebody. I don’t agree with that. I don’t like that. 100%. Because if he says he trained Wanjiru until he went to Olympics…..I remember when I went there with three Japanese, one is [Katsushi] Fuchiwaki, we stayed in Nairobi in the Continental Hotel, we discussed and we talked with Wanjiru, “What are you going to do tomorrow?” He said, “38k.” 38 kilometers, that’s as long as he went in the last training he was doing before Beijing. I was there. We went in Ngong. We followed in this car. We had two cars, and he was having about four boys who were pacing for him. I have the photos. But I did not see that coach. He was not there. And the boy was training alone. I was there. I am sure 100%. And it was just us.
You know, if somebody is a coach in Kenya, he is just in Kenya. He can’t be all over, up to Japan. No. For example, I have [Joseph] Onsarigo. If his teacher is in Kenya, he is in Kenya and I am in charge in Japan. Some people don’t understand what it means, “I coached him at high school.” That’s finished. When he joined, now he can’t say he was the head coach when Wanjiru was in Kyushu because [Koichi] Morishita was the head coach. Everybody knows that Morishita was the head coach for Wanjiru when he was in Kyushu. In Sendai, it was Watanabe. But the Kenyan coach was not there, at all those sites. Even the boy used to tell me, “Some people want to use me and can sometimes forget when they say and do their own things.” That one, I would call it so.
But now, after he’s dead, or maybe before, after that, about five or coaches saying, “I am Wanjiru’s coach.” Another one says, another one says, and they are those ones who have never been runners, they don’t know how to coach. So there have been some people here and there saying, “I was the coach,” after that, “I was the coach.” And some, they don’t know how he came to Japan.
You know, everybody will be happy to say, “I am a friend to Wanjiru,” after winning the Olympics. If he did not win, nobody wants to come. Next to no people would come up. Now for example, why have these people not said anything, like, we had Erick Wainaina, he was a silver medalist. I never heard any Kenyan quoted saying, “I coached Erick Wainaina to his silver medal in Kenya.” Because he has been staying here all the time. I’ve never heard such a kind of thing like that.
Yes, but being famous, somebody might say, “I’m a friend,” and somebody, and somebody. But all I know, Wanjiru was very close. He stayed in my house in Takasaki. I have the photos here. In training he knew what to do. He had experience from Sendai and from Morishita. So the kind of things coaches are saying, I don’t believe. I was in Beijing with Wanjiru. Before the race, “What are you going to do tomorrow?” We talked. After the race, we did a toast together in Beijing. These coaches were not there, for sure. But after that they say, “Oh, Mayaka is becoming close to Wanjiru,” but we were travelling together here. In Beijing we were there. But no medal and they would have forgot about him.
He left me a very good memory. I also have, he has also the same. You know, life changes, but he usually used to call when he was in Europe. Like when he won Chicago, they were dining that night, and then he called me and asked, “Why did you not come?” We were very close. In summer time which is different, when I am in Kenya he is training somewhere, but I remember in February or March when I was in Kenya he called me several times, “I’m going to meet you one day. I want to talk with you about Japan and afterwards, you come.” And then we met, it was around in the afternoon. We talked, and I left, then he called me. That was the last time we just talked like that with one another.
But I think there are some now, for example like I picked Tanui from Kenya, then if he then goes to World Championship, he win a gold medal, then some other people will come and say, “I coached Tanui in a national team. I was his coach from there until Japan.” And this person has never seen him.
So tying that in with Watanabe, you think there is no question during the Sendai Ikuei High School era that Watanabe was the one shaping Wanjiru?
Yeah, because when he broke the course record for ekiden, in 2004, he broke the record of John Muitai. He was there at the same high school in Sendai. At that time, Watanabe was the head coach. They won, and he just said OK to Wanjiru to go to Toyota Kyushu. Like when sometimes when he was in a corporate team others say, “I coached him in high school,” but Watanabe was the one, not these people. Maybe things are changing now, but what I know is when Wanjiru was there he was with Watanabe. Njenga was with another coach who is now at Aomori Yamada [H.S.]. I think even at the Beijing Olympics, his final interview said Watanabe used to tell him, “Gaman, gaman, gaman!” [calm endurance] So he himself said that Watanabe was his coach. That he is.
Do you know anything about his decision to go to Toyota Kyushu? Was it specifically to train with Morishita?
It was the recruitment of Morishita and Fuchiwaki who was the manager at the time. It becomes a negotiation, you know. Once you are talking in Japan, you know, first many coaches come, these others, these companies want you, but it depends which conditions you prefer. This company says, “I’ll give you this, I’ll offer you this,” or, “I’ll give you a certain such a training,” or, “I don’t train you in a hardcore training.” So you just follow which is the good conditions on the contract. The main thing is how much they are going to give in the contract. How Watanabe negotiated with Toyota Kyushu, how much he negotiated, that one I don’t have any idea. But I know that he’s the one who made him to go to Toyota Kyushu, from the little I know from Fuchiwaki who was my schoolmate.
Fuchiwaki was the same age at Yamanashi Gakuin. He was the one who gave me the information. Actually he was the one who said, “Mayaka, you speak Japanese and you speak Swahili, and Wanjiru is here. Sometimes we don’t understand the culture of Kenya. Sometimes we will ask you, recruit you to come and advise him what to do with us and then to tell us the conditions in Kenya and how to make this boy strong.” He used to ask me such a thing, to make suggestions. And then he used to call me before even when Toyota Kyushu was hoping to make its own stadium, they called me, I went there. What the inside of the contract was, that I have no idea, but I know the connection was Morishita and Fuchiwaki and Watanabe.
Was wanting to work with Morishita, Morishita being an Olympic medalist, part of the decision? Was Wanjiru specifically interested in Morishita?
All I can say is that the conditions and the team, how it was, that’s what he considered. More than that, it’s very difficult. We never discussed, “I wanted to join here because of Morishita.” I think how Wanjiru was, he wanted to be strong. After that sometimes he was, like when he won this London Marathon and then he won after that Chicago, after he left Japan, after one or two years, he started to tell me to call Morishita, you know? “Call Morishita, I want to come back,” something like that. Which means he liked his training, for sure. In Beijing he told me to call Morishita, and then I called, we talked, I gave him the phone. They talked and he say, “Congratulations, you’re doing great.” He liked Morishita, that’s for sure, I know. Because sometimes he talked to Morishita about, “I’m coming,” and some other things like that.
A very short time after he graduated from Sendai Ikuei and joined Toyota Kyushu he set the 10000 m junior world record and the half marathon world record. Before that point he was still only really known in Japan. Did you see any changes after those two particular world records? Was he getting more international attention? Was that point where you would say his career changed?
Yeah, the changes came when, I think, when he set the world junior record he was in Kyushu. And at that time he had signed with an agent. What inspired him to change his mind was the agent, you know, used to say, “You can’t be famous if you only run in Japan.” Even now, that’s what they advise the other athletes and even they tell me like that. So, due to influence of being told that, “You can make more than in Japan,” that brought many changes. Like, if you win London you get $100,000, it’s bigger money than in Japan, but I think it depends on somebody’s heart, how you train, how you feel. Of course, like now, some of them say that, “If you want to make lots of money, let’s leave Japan like Wanjiru did.” But you don’t have the same body like Wanjiru. That’s what is different, because your running is not the same as Wanjiru. That’s what you should know. Maybe you can run better in Japan than run in Europe. You don’t know the conditions, so Wanjiru changed maybe because of whatever, because he was impressed by what the other said. And also he wanted to be famous.
He wanted to be famous?
He wanted to be famous, and that’s why he changed his mind. You know, he ran this track race, he ran this 5000 m in Milan, Italy I think. After that he was having some calls. I was in Kenya but he called me. After he ran 10000, then he went to 5000, and then the half marathon. So from there thing started changing, a little bit, in Europe.
I’m curious about the timing of that because the world junior 10000 and the first half marathon world record were not long after he joined Toyota Kyushu. If that kind of influence was there, people telling him, “You can make more money if you leave,” that must have been right after he joined Toyota Kyushu.
That’s why I’m telling you, because of the system in Japan of 180 days, just come in, then you can stay here, not go outside, that was another one influence that made him maybe change his mind. And sometimes there was a misunderstanding between the team staff and the management around him. That’s what I know. There was one side pulling this way and another pulling this way. And then when I came to be in between that’s what I saw.
The first public sign of problems with different people pulling him different ways was the debut marathon, the New York-Fukuoka situation where the New York City Marathon first announced that he was going to debut there and then very quickly Toyota Kyushu said he couldn’t run New York because of the 180 day rule. Shortly after that he ran Fukuoka as his debut marathon. I’m curious what you can say about that conflict between his Italian management and Toyota Kyushu.
This was because of a misunderstanding. This agent [Federico Rosa], they should respect the Japanese company’s agreement and contract. Some of them, they think once they have signed with this athlete…..It’s wrong. I don’t believe such people, because the company, Toyota Kyushu, was the one who signed the contract with him first. They are giving this boy the salary, a monthly salary. He is being paid. The terms to all these things are in the contract. So the company wants these guys to run in Japan, one of the big marathons. It’s a marketing thing, because they are paying him. He is their employee. And the agent is just there to earn his own business.
I think Toyota Kyushu wanted the boy to run in Japan first because of the [Fukuoka International Marathon]. They signed the contract, they are paying him. There’s a difference, and some managers should understand that. The contract with the athletes in Japan is there for the company. They are supporting him in every way. Now, for example, Rosa said, “I want him to go to New York.” We are the one paying room rent, here in Japan, food, everything, massage, we are spending our money, and somebody just says, “You go there.” He has not donated anything. This, it can’t work. And Sam was with Morishita, and his company was paying everything, and somebody says, “You just go there.” It’s not a just way. You are taking this boy. If I train him 30 km, the coach is timing him, we are take him to the track and are timing this person, and somebody comes, “You are supposed to go to run this race.” No support. You can’t do things like that. Maybe at that time Rosa should have talked with the company. And if he want to ask, “I request this and that,” and if they say, “No, we have to say he has to run this race,” that’s okay. But if you go, that becomes out of contract.
The main thing is [the corporate teams] are spending a lot of money. They paid for a ticket, he came, they pay for his house, shoes, he is taken to massage, then you come and you take him. I don’t agree with that. But for sure what I know is that any Japanese company wants the person that they have the signed the contract with, if he wants to run a marathon, to run in Japan sometimes so that the fans of the company, even the C.E.O., will feel happy. Fukuoka is their home town, and [Toyota Kyushu] is all through Kyushu, so he should run for the many fans who are there in Kyushu, because it is their home town. They wanted to cheer that boy. I mean about New York, nobody there sees him in their life. There’s a big difference.
Once Samuel went to Toyota Kyushu he was under the 180 day rule but was spending a lot of time back in Kenya. Beyond just management, were the Italians actually coaching him in Kenya in those days?
Most athletes who are in Japan, we just give them a leave, just say one month, two months, to go back and train in Kenya. I have not heard that they say this coach is going to train somebody in Kenya. No, these people when they are go there they have only one month. They don’t have anybody are going to train them because they are doing their things that they have to do, their homes, somebody’s constructing his house, want to see their relatives, he has to spend this sort of time. How does the coach come and see? Most of them who I’ve seen here, sometimes they want to join other clubs with friends. They don’t stay there for long. Like when they go and train in February and March, that’s the cross-country season and they just want to go back to cross-country train and then when they come back to Japan they start the track season. So, some of them, they are bringing their training program from here and they go and train there, or they are told, “You just go and train in Kenya and then come back.”
What can you say about his departure from Toyota Kyushu?
When he was leaving [Toyota Kyushu], that’s when I came to know that the things were going bad because the manager [Fuchiwaki] was pulling to this side and another one was pulling to this side. So they used to come and talk to me, “Advise this boy this! Be here by mid-week,” and this and that, and then I told him, “This one says, ‘Let me manage this boy.’” This happened, a little bit. It becomes very hard, when it becomes a high standard. I was told, you know, “You are working with this guy? This is another staff who want to manage.” So, there was a difference then, a misunderstanding, but he had already made the money. Everybody was chasing him by that time.
I think that time Morishita had called my wife [a Japanese former World Championships-level marathoner] and talked, because he knew we were talking with Wanjiru at the time, and said, “I just received something from the High Court in Tokyo, and a lawyer’s office saying he has just left the company. Does Mayaka know these things?” Then Morishita also called me and said, “Are you aware if Wanjiru knows how to work the courts in Japan? Are you sure Wanjiru, he just went to the lawyer alone? Does he know those procedures?” I told him, “I don’t know. You know, even for me, it is very difficult. Even me, myself, I don’t know how. So there might be somebody supporting him.” Yes, that he knew the person who was supporting [Wanjiru]. It felt like it can’t be easy to do this stuff, there had to be the assistance of this manager. And the court is in Tokyo, it’s inside [Japan].
That was before the Olympics. I think a few weeks, or one week before the Olympics. And then, I remember before the Olympics, he invited us to his home. “Come and see my house I’ve just built.” We went to the house. We ate lunch there. And then because they were supposed to report to Kasaran where they had a training camp. Some days he came, he told me, “I’m going for doping, for tests, and then I come back immediately afterward.” At that time things were normal. It was very good. And then he went back and left us behind, and then we came to meet again in the Intercontinental there in Nairobi. And we talked, “Oh, let us meet one another in Beijing.”
And then we talked, I told Morishita, “I’m going to Beijing. From there, I’ll connect Wanjiru to talk with you to talk what his feeling is.” And then I went to Kenya two weeks before the Olympics. That’s when we met, and then we planned together that I would go back to Japan, and then we would come to Beijing. After seeing the training and taking some of the photos of [Wanjiru’s] training. I think by that time, that’s when he was transferring, changing the management from Toyota Kyushu to another management.
So even Morishita was very surprised. It was something unfortunate. He was surprised. He told me, “Talk with that boy. Is it true or not?” So I talked, and then I told him, and then Morishita said “I give him the chance to be free,” and then, “If that’s what he wants, good luck,” then he just went home. He did not call. In Beijing after the race I called Morishita and told him that, “I’m with Wanjiru, talk with him please.” Then they talked for almost ten, fifteen minutes, and said after [Wanjiru said], “I’ll come. I’ll come to see you when I come to Tokyo. I’ll come to Toyota Kyushu to say hello to my teammates.”
After the Olympics I went to Kenya with Wanjiru, we came back for one month, then we finally we moved to some events. So from that you see that’s quite a change, a difference, and that’s when we joined this Team Sam, and that’s where things fell apart. He went on his own, it was exciting, and then he went to Meiji Seika [parent company of sponsor Savas]. He was there for discussion, meetings, one month he was here. We went, for one, to Kawaguchiko [Marathon], and then we went to, near my house, the elementary school. and another week we went to Sendai to say hello, to say thanks. After then we came to Tokyo, from there we came to my house. He talked to both Morishita and Watanabe, and some friends, and we even went to the embassy. We had tea with the ambassador and talked much. And then we went to Fukuoka for a little bit, and, after joining the Meiji Seika, doing everything for this Team Sam, and then he went. He left, and he never came again.
He was supposed to come in around one month for a television program and a commercial for Meiji Seika. At that time I went to Kenya to see that things went by the schedule. But we couldn’t manage, because he had already set his mind. From there, he told me to call Meiji Seika. I called, and we talked briefly, and they said that he had another program. It is very busy, he must come for another commercial they were shooting. And then he had to come back, and the Team Sam manager [Fuchiwaki] had come also, he wanted him to come. And things became very difficult, to handle him. It was a very complicated thing from that time, of just controlling him, to convince him to come. It was difficult. We could talk about this, but then he did the other. “[The date] when I come,” he says, “now it’s a problem.” But he has just agreed to come to Japan! So the communication was very difficult because of the telephone, the mobiles, sometimes no network. Then I surrendered, from that, trying to support him abroad.
So the television commercials for Meiji Seika and Savas didn’t happen?
No, it did not happen. I had gone to talk with him, and we talked for long. He came to Ngong and picked me up, we went to his house in Ngong where he was staying. I changed my car, I left my driver, I went with his car to near the National Stadium and we talked briefly inside the car. And then it was meetings, some donors from Australia, some people who were AMREF, like UNICEF, they were some such organization who wanted to talk with him, who were eating at the National Stadium, one of the restaurants. Then he told me, “I’m very busy because I must be in Australia. I’ll not make it to Japan for the commercial.” So I told the Japanese, “No, he has already set the mind of not coming for the commercial.” That was just it. So from then, we used to talk about [Toyota Kyushu], coming back to Morishita, and the taxes.
You said that Wanjiru liked being at Toyota Kyushu, that he liked being part of the team. That was your impression? Did he have a good relationship with the other athletes?
Yes. The feeling of Wanjiru was he wanted to work with Toyota Kyushu. He liked it. Even after the Olympics, he came and told me, “I have to come back.” He used to call Morishita. He used to ask me to talk to Morishita. “I want to come back.” It means he liked Toyota Kyushu, the management of Mr. Morishita, yes. He told me, “How’s Toyota Kyushu?” He used to ask me, “Are they okay? How’s Morishita?” I think he has that thing in mind firmly. Sometimes he would call, sometimes SMS me some from when he was in Italy, he used to SMS me some messages asking, “Where are you? I want to talk with you.” I still have them if I have not deleted some. Some are very interesting. Like in 2010, he was running London Marathon, he got in touch. This is the one he sent me from there, [showing me the message on his phone], he said, “I am here with Gideon Ngatuny,” when he was pacemaking. [Reads Swahili original]. It means, “We are here with him.” There are some messages that are very good. Like this, June 6, 2010. You see this? “Hi man, how’s Japan?” This is in Swahili. “I want to come there. You just look for me about my taxes.” Which he had not paid.
Yes. “Can you please look for me how much it has been?” Many like this telling me, “I want to come back.” There are so many. This is June 10, I think now he was in Berlin, it said, “Have you not waked up? You have not waked up!” This was in Japan’s morning. This is another one, he was in London, then he went to another place, because he was having injury, he was staying in Italy. This is, “Hi sir! Are you coming to Kenya? How about my things?” Talking about his taxes and some important things. Here it is again, [reads Swahili], “I think, sir, I think that you have talked with the company about what you talked to Morishita.” This is about Toyota Kyushu because he wanted to come and then arrange to pay the tax things from the next year’s salary. “Talk with Morishita and see how he is talking about if we can come to the company.”
To come back to Toyota Kyushu?
That was July 22, 2010?
Yes, this is July 22. And then after we met, last year, there are some others, which means that he wanted to, seriously wanted to come. And then, “When are you coming to Kenya?” This is some of the questions, and, “I’m coming next month.” “When you come, would you just bring me some powder you put in drinks, sports drinks?” Because here they don’t cost so much. So it really means he wanted to come, he liked Toyota Kyushu. “Talk to Morishita, with him. If he will say yes, then I will come.” But the problem thing was the taxes. The government tax, the one which was due to the prize when he won Fukuoka. There were some taxes, even Watanabe knows, which was not paid, so they demanded it back.
The government wanted it?
Yes. That’s what he was telling me, to talk with Morishita about taxes. He would come and sign, and then the taxes would be cut from the salary to pay back. It was not bad. Even we went there, me and him, at that time, we paid one million [yen, ~$13,000 USD] once, and then went back. But he really, really wanted Morishita to coach him, because all the time he used to talk to Morishita about this, “If you can agree I’ll come back again to the company.” The mind had not changed.
That’s how things went, but after that the Meiji Seika issue, there was some misunderstanding between the management of Team Sam and [Meiji Seika]. There were some conditions we were not strict with the management, and that made Sam get annoyed. Things just a little bit changed when we were in Kawaguchiko. We went for Kawaguchiko Marathon, I think that time [double Olympic marathon medalist Yuko] Arimori and others were the guests, me and Wanjiru were the guests, and we talked with the people there. When we were coming, there was some misunderstanding of communication between Sam’s management and the manager of the race about the train. Because the set period he was supposed to be there was over, and I think he wanted to go back on that day. I remember we came back and they said, “Is this all right with you?”
Around September he wanted to postpone some events, but it was difficult because we had to meet the press and Meiji Seika. And then we handled it together, and then he left. I think, the daughter, the child, there was a birthday. He wanted to attend the birthday of his daughter, in Kenya. So the schedule here, he wanted to go away just to attend the party of the kid. But it was a little bit difficult to make it. He did not understand. We came back to Takasaki, we just went into the Internet, we ordered the photos of us together, and then just, “The party is there. I want to attend the party, but if this is what it is then I won’t come back to Japan if this is complicated like this. I want to go and then come back, but I must attend something. I can’t come again, sorry.” Like a difference, again, between us, not good. We solved when we were on the train to Tokyo, but it persisted a bit.
The last time I interviewed you we also talked about the problem with the Sapporo International Half Marathon. Was that also connected with the communication problems?
Yeah, that one became a great headache. In Sapporo, for sure what I know, he used to call me and talk about the Sapporo Half, but, what is correct is correct. The truth was he was not coming, but the manager [Fuchiwaki] just kept on saying, “He is coming,” just cheating this side, but I know it from Sammy because I was the one who was contacting him, and he told me, “No, I’ll not make it.” But I don’t know when he signed the contract [with Fuchiwaki], because they were in London, the London Marathon. I did not go there. The manager came and said, “He signed and he promised that he’s coming to Sapporo.” Me, I was not there, but what [Wanjiru] told me was, “I’m not coming, because he told me but he did not inform me of everything and there are some other issues, and I’m not going to sign.” And I knew that and I told them. The organizers of Sapporo, they called me and I told them, “What you say is that this person says this, ‘No, he will come.’ But he’s not the person to say that. [Wanjiru] is totally not coming.” So that’s when they came to know. I think a misunderstanding was there, with the management, between them and him.
I remember right after Beijing seeing a picture of Fuchiwaki with Wanjiru and you in Beijing. What exactly can you say about his role? He was at Toyota Kyushu.
They were at the same company. These things happen. As I told you, they were together. He was the manager for scouting and Morishita was the head coach. Once it happened, when they separated, they moved together, Fuchiwaki and Wanjiru. They made Team Sam. That was the progress from the team to the management. That’s when he became that.
Actually it was in Kenya, he get together with some other gentlemen, who wanted to be management of that, and then’s when he decided to leave Toyota Kyushu. That’s when he was in Kenya, he went to take Sam from the coach [Morishita]. From there, that’s when they have already separated, and then he said, “This is the management, this is only managing of the coach,” and other things.
What was the connection between Fuchiwaki and the Italian side, Rosa and company, as far as management?
Even me, I couldn’t understand because there’s one schedule here and another schedule here and these people could not communicate together, you know? I tried to put these people together and then communicate and understand, but you know, Fuchiwaki cannot understand English at all, and just like, this time I sent email, “Rosa is bringing Wanjiru here,” and Rosa has own schedule, Fuchiwaki has his own schedule, and these things do not move together. It normally happened like that. He is supposed to be here to run in London, so he is supposed to come here, but he must go to another half marathon. Things did not go well. If they were coming together and they make one full year calendar, “This month is in Japan, and this one will be here, so any function here, yes. Here, we can cover this.” There was not any good communication. Not at all.
Up to about Chicago 2009 things seemed pretty good, and then after the first Chicago win we started hearing about some of his personal troubles and then injury troubles. He wasn’t able to finish London 2010 and then was injured going in to Chicago 2010, when it seemed to take a lot out of him. What can you say about some of his troubles that whole year, the second-hand reports of his drinking, of different women.
We went out a few times, I think I met him two times and we went out for dinner together in one of the restaurants in Nairobi, or in Ngong. You know, many people talk this, and other people make it out that he was drinking too much, that maybe he was there with his friends and enjoying. But there were some other things that were personal, private things. Somebody should not interfere with those. You can’t say that, you can’t stop me from drinking. I know how to control myself. So, for Wanjiru I don’t know how much, how long he was drinking, all those things, but I did not drink with him for such a long time period because I stay here and I only heard some news. But I think it would be a private matter. People should not interfere with these private things. Everybody enjoys it. Yes, he would drink, but he was not fighting anybody. For sure what I know is that he never, he did not fight with anybody because he was drunk or something like that. It’s just some rumor that he was not meeting some people, something like that, some of the people who wanted to go out with him, they were maybe feeling jealous of him or something.
With the injuries, he told me he was having an injury, a knee injury. That’s what I heard. And even last year, we met in Nairobi National Trials. He told me such a kind of leg injury. So we met and we went out of the stadium and we talked. That was July last year. We talked about injury. But this kind of drinking was maybe the things that happened with his friends. There’s some I did not like, and there’s some I liked, but for me when we were out with them I did not see any difference. He just had to whisper to me because these things are important and they are there. So he did not show me such a kind of behavior whenever I met him.
We both live in Japan, and drinking is a big part of the culture here. Did he drink at all at year-end parties or in his normal life in Japan?
Normally, you know, most athletes who I see here, year-end parties, that’s once or something. I don’t know whether they were drinking in Kyushu, but when he was here we only went out two times because even myself, when I’m here I don’t go to bars. I drink in my house. When I’m with my old friend I don’t go out, so…
In Japan, this kind of dormitory, they are all staying in a company’s dormitories. Going out at nights, it’s another different thing. And I know Toyota Kyushu where they were staying is far from Tenjin [nightlife area of Fukuoka]. It’s very far, going there by train. I’ve been there, very far. That may be once a month, because you can’t be going there using taxis often. I think there’s no train or bus in that dormitory area. There’s nothing, and you should take a taxi, or a highway bus. But it was in a rural area, it was in the countryside, Toyota Kyushu.
And normally, they drink. Some of the athletes coming from Kenya don’t drink, but once they come here, you know they just go with the Japanese system of too much drinking, and somebody gets used to it. Yes. So somebody gets used to it, but in Kenya, you know, it’s very expensive. You can’t buy beer all the time. But in Japan this is freely everywhere. And they are earning, and there’s no way they are worrying.
Do you know if he had any Japanese girlfriends, during high school or his pro years?
[laughs] I think he must have. He may have had one, maybe in Kyushu. But the high school, I don’t know. He was still young, actually, I could meet him and see how old was my friend, you know. But he used to use “Sir,” “Sir” to me every time, like you see the message to me, “Sir,” it was there. He was shy, he wouldn’t talk too much. He started talking when he was in the company, when he could talk about sports through these Japanese, these runners who are now out of school, who are free. But in high school it was very strict, no going outside. Yeah, he had many friends, and he could relax with them. He had friends, yes. But you know, there are some other things which are private. It’s difficult to mention some other things.
The last few months there was the incident with the machine gun, there was the car accident, and then the lead-up to his death. What do you make of those last few months? Before we started recording you said he called you three days after the earthquake to ask about Sendai.
Yes, he called me. He called me and asked, “Is there any Kenyans being affected? Is Sendai okay?” At that time they had just left the Japanese embassy in Nairobi when they went to say honorances for Japanese people. There was one article in Kenya which said there was a Kenyan missing in Japan, something like that. It was a mistake, and they mentioned that I am the one who informed them about it. When he saw that news, that’s when he called me and asked me, “Who’s this athlete missing?” And I don’t know about it, but it was kind of no communication. Because of the earthquake, mobile phones were not going through. So I tried to call, but there was no communication with the lady, and one of the writers called me. “Is there any problem?” And, “No, everybody’s okay, but there’s one athlete, I’m looking for her contact and not getting it.” And so he turns over and says something different, that somebody’s missing. Because the mobiles were not going through does not mean they are missing. So that situation made some people feel that she is dead or something, which is, they are printing in a different way, that I’ve said somebody’s missing. There is no communication, most of the Japanese families, even them, they did not communicate. So that one inspired him to call me, and I told him, “Everything’s okay, I’ve already talked with the lady. She’s okay, but the tsunami, they were affected and they’re staying in town.” That was very big news, actually. Everybody was seriously asking me many things, and the ambassador called me and asked me, “Is anything wrong?” So there was a miscommunication about this and some other things, yes.
You know, there are some other stories, maybe he was driving drunk, maybe he was having a gun. With the gun, I just saw the newspapers, and some of the incidents I just saw the news. When we met in February, there was nothing, nothing had changed, because we talked normally. Nothing about he was sorry for what happened, he said that it was normal for anybody to make an accident. Some people might say he was drunk. Well, he was not drunk. It was an accident. An accident can happen anywhere, in fact. But with the family affairs, that one, I’m innocent about it, yes. My life is only here. When I met him, I met his friends. When he was with his friends, there’s nothing we can talk much, but when we are the two of us sometimes he could call me. He called me around 10 o’clock at night, because he was with some friends, he was in Nakuru. But he could call me and talk with me in Japanese so that those people don’t understand.
Most of the time when he called me in Kenya when he was with some friends, he didn’t want them to hear what we are talking about. He used to talk with me in Japanese. Some guys were listening and they didn’t like it. He could speak his mind and talk with me in Japanese, for even five minutes. And they ask him, “Who are you talking with?” And he tell them, “It’s Mayaka.” “Why do you talk in Japanese?” It was kind of funny. But it was too late for me to go there. I had promised to go but I was having some Japanese visitors so I could not leave them behind, but I promised him to call in the morning.
I think there were good friends and bad friends, trying to use his name in a bad way, and maybe those who cannot get in touch with him quite closely. There are some people want to talk with you, but you are not in a position of that, you are busy somewhere. So they can stop and bother him. That person is now this and this, and it’s like that and that. But they don’t know your schedule. Even when I go to Kenya, many people want to talk with me. But I have another schedule, so they think maybe, “That person don’t want to talk with us.” No, but there’s a time limit. I have a schedule. I can’t stop my schedule and then go with the schedule that was not there at first.
So I think if he was planning to go to London [Olympics], if he was aiming to run to set some fast time, to get the next time of the world record, he should stop talking with people by phone, because they disturb him. Maybe switch off the phone, or make it to leave a message, or maybe send a message to him and then he can ring back or call you. Sometimes he could just text me, “Where are you?” Then I text, and then maybe he call me with a different telephone, a friend’s telephone, because if once he opens [his], many phones are coming for the disturbance. That was the case, but if we see it now, that was not good to phone. You have something you are focusing on. And there are some people who want you, maybe to meet them and to buy them some drinks, which you don’t have the business. That’s the most of the system, the Kenyans are like that. So the better way is that you set up the phone, and then if it’s worth it you go with someone to have a talk.
Now that he’s passed away, what do you know about goals he had that he didn’t achieve, the world record, other goals? Do you know what he hoped to achieve, or what you personally think he might have achieved?
Most of the things, he achieved. But some of them, the world record, he did not achieve that. I think he won three years consecutive of the road race marathons, the big marathons, he did that, he achieved that. He won the Olympics, then the thing he missed is only the world record for marathon. That’s what he did not achieve. I think last time in the last interview you asked me about the possibility of breaking the world record, and I told you it depends, the season and the time, and of which I think it came to be very true that to break the world record you must be very, very strict. You must be very strict in your training, your program should not change. You have to commit yourself.
I think that what happened, I knew that sometimes it becomes very difficult, not at this situation, but the time goals. You’ve trained very hard, but once some friends interfere with your training, your mind changes completely. The movement around you. Of which I told you last time that it is not easy to prepare if you have not researched, if you don’t plan properly. You have to plan very, very well.
And concentration, you know, many runners need concentration, of which some are not educated about that. They are not consulted, “If you want to do this, you have to do this, and don’t do this.” Mostly, you know, they come and they say, “Training! One hour! Training is finished, and now I have trained,” you know. Yes, all of one hour you have trained, yes, but there’s some tactics you need to be taught and consulted that, this period you must be here. The whole of this month you must be training here, and then this is what you should be doing, this, this and then this, and you concentrate on this. Some don’t have such a concentration, of which I think I saw one I had. Kipchoge Keino, he also says that, many athletes need to be consulted, need consultations to be advised what to do, of what you have achieved, of what you have earned, the best way to run the pace, and what is to be and what you are supposed to do.
You know some, they get some money and they are happy, they have all the money, and they just go around with their money and drinking, many things. Education matters. Very important. Many athletes, when you tell them that education is very important, they don’t know about it. But I saw it is very important, once you know, “This is what I am supposed to do. I must behave like this. I must do this.” Most of the people, it is not there in their minds. But this thing, it is very important. OK, you can win. You have been given some agreement to sign. You can even sign something you don’t understand. As I told you last time, somebody who has come to school in Japan, they have better knowledge of management than somebody who has just come straight to the company. Because it is a few all the time who has just got money, just straight, and they come on, using the drink or whatever. But somebody who has passed a school, like myself and Wanjiru passed through high school, we knew how to enjoy this money. We can enjoy and sometimes we help you because we have education. We have been taught that this is what education is.
And the company you are dealing with, those people you are training with, all your friends who are runners and who are not runners, yes? Those who are not runners, sometimes they can mislead you from what you want to achieve. You know, “Today let us go somewhere.” You know once a day has passed you can’t get it again. Even those Kenyans, there’s no another day that we can get right now. Because if the schedule is cancelled all the time, things change. We can’t get June 23, 2011 again. No way. When a date has passed it is finished. Now once you rest that day out of training, you were supposed to do 20 k, you have missed it, it will not come again. You know, now you have changed it to another schedule. It is, and you are supposed to finish it.
In my opinion I think that’s the kind of thing [world record holder Haile] Gebrselassie knows. He plans very well with his day- to-day routines. He is aiming for world record, there is a world record, and he has made for the win. So I should believe this, I first finish this thing, then switch to another thing. Yes. Some are very important, but many, many, many appointments can make you feel tired. Maybe I want to go and build the house somewhere, some friends have come to see me, maybe I’m not staying in the camp. In Japan you can concentrate very well because you don’t have many people disturbing you.
Do you think that was part of him wanting to come back to Japan?
Of course. He even once told me such a thing. There are many disturbances there, in Kenya. All the time friends are calling you. Here in Japan, nobody comes. You call, you make an appointment for one month earlier to meet someone. There’s even one media I saw one time his life has become very danger and he want to move back to Japan. I saw that article somewhere. Needless to say I supported it. Training in Kenya is good, but many appointments just affect somebody. Which means you must go far from home, like maybe go to stay in Eldoret. But even if you stay in Eldoret the friends are coming also. “We need you home, we need someone, we need these things.” Then you are troubled. That time you are supposed to rest, you just think about how you are going to pay for some these things. In Nairobi you are called, “Come to Eldoret.” Now you just many hours going. You are tired.
There are some factors that maybe affected him. There are some which were good, but I think here it was better for him. For relatives not to interfere with everything. I even stay here the year, because when I go home, full of appointments. Somebody call me, “I need 1000 shillings.” You say, “I don’t have it.” “No, you have.” Another one calling me, another one saying, “Come, why don’t you come and visit the house today because you have come for two weeks. We want to see you.” So you keep on moving all the time. You cannot train, yes. But there are those who can train well and leave some other distractions aside. You leave it to your management for that and train, run and focus on that.
You know, Sam, when he broke the world junior record, he was in Japan. He broke the world record for half marathon, all those three, he was in Japan. There was not any disturbance. He was only focusing on training. Even the second one, the one when he broke the one in Dubai [Ras al Khaimah Int’l Half Marathon] and the other one in Lisbon. We met in Nairobi and he told me, “I am going for the world record.” At that time there was not any interference.
For myself, looking at Sammy’s career and all the races I saw him run, Chicago last year was by far the most shocking. Despite the injury and the personal troubles, and despite the lack of concentration he managed to have that kind of performance. What do you think made him different from other Kenyan athletes, able to have that kind of Chicago performance in those circumstances?
He was a fighter. He fights. From when he was in high school, I’ve never seen him running from behind. He’s a frontrunner. He always, all the time is in the top. He didn’t know how to come from behind. Once he has set in mind that he is going to win, he was really motivated for that. In Chicago he struggled very hard because I think he did not train well or something of that kind. Because after that night, they called me when they were having a party. They used Samuel’s phone to call me. He won it roughly, because the body was moving, as he told me. “But winning is better than not winning,” is what he commented to me. But he did not prepare as well as some other races like London. There might be some disturbance in between, maybe injury. The injury must be a factor, maybe those private matters might have had an effect.
You called him a fighter. What set him apart from other Kenyans?
I think the knowledge he got from here. All the time he used to say, “Gaman, gaman,” you know, you should keep going. “Gaman, gaman, gaman,” it’s like, what is it? In everything we should say that it profiles what we do. He used to fight like that. You know, what he learned from Watanabe is what he used in those races. That’s what I think. He said, “Gaman, gaman,” I believe it is true that we just keep going. Some Kenyans, they lose hope when they know now they’re not winning, but I’ve never seen him losing such a hope during the race. Maybe he can go at last and he can be defeated by many other things, but not losing hope.
But he used to fight, during the ekiden. I used to see the same thing here in New Year [National Corporate Ekiden Championships], he was really, really rear, maybe at the tenth-worst, but he would keep on fighting, he did not rest. He fights, he fights and he get about ten people. So he was not somebody who was losing hope, no. He was a fighting athlete. He was running very hard.
What impact do you think he had on the country of Kenya as a whole?
I think Kamau gave the impression that all Kenyans, any Kenyan can win a medal, not only the Kalenjins. He gave a good example to other people. Now we see some tribes who did not used to run. Kenyans used to know Kisis and Kalenjins are the only athletes they had there before, but now we have even the Kambas are strong. They are motivated by his [Olympic] win. “Oh, everybody can win!” Like, everybody wants to train. What he did, the legacy left is that it is not only the one tribe that can win. Any Kenyan can win a medal. He set a very good example, because people say it’s not only Kalenjins.
Some others, maybe you can say tribes, they don’t have some people to advise them about the training. They just are, “Here, there’s a training.” Just jogging one hour is what? Training, some people don’t know that. Many years ago we did not have Masais running 10000 or something like that. Like Ngatuny now, he has inspired some Masais that, “Even us, we can run long distance.” But [Wanjiru] gave a very good impression that any Kenyan can win, not only one tribe.
What about outside running, for the country as a whole? For the average person in Kenya what is his legacy?
I do think for Kenya it was historic because being the first Kenyan to win an Olympic [gold] medal was very historical. I don’t think Kenya might get another person like this guy. Someone who did that, and they never surrendered, they went on winning many major marathons. I think it might take them some time.
What you see is, actually, those who have won the highest medals for the Olympics for marathon, most of them, they trained in Japan. That inspires them, to see that [Douglas] Wakiihuri was staying in Japan, you see Erick Wainaina was here, Wanjiru. The experience they got here is that they learn the truth. I think many athletes from Kenya used to say that winning the World Championships is not impressive. “Let me go to New York, that’s where a lot of money is.” They could run better there, but not in the Olympics. But now because this guy did it, now everybody would like to go to marathon and win an Olympics and be respected like Wanjiru was respected, and be a hero like him. That’s a very good example he set and a very good legacy left. You can win some other majors, but the Olympics are more important than these majors. He won in London, but in the Olympics, we can remember forever that we had an Olympic champion. Some of them, they say, “We don’t want to go to the World Championships because we are focused on another race somewhere, or we are chasing a world record.” For the good legacy that he set, they cannot forget. Being not a Kalenjin, you know, they did not expect. Many people did not expect that to happen. But it happened, which is very strange, yes.
I think most people who have been here, they have the knowledge of training marathons, that’s the way I see. Even those who are in Kenya, they are getting it there now. Before they did not know how to train so hard. And these agents who have set some camps in Kenya, they have given the system of training marathons now. So people have changed completely, and then, boom, [making] the Kenyan team becomes very difficult. Everyone must fight within the team, yes. Now they are taking about ten men, ten women, of which they don’t know which one to participate. Some they might cancel. We are in the situation where we are not sure, not like in Japan, where they are selected and it is finished. There they have no finalists, who is going and who is not going, because they are given the option to say are you going or not. And their agent, manager says, “World Championships is not better than going to London. London is better, just cancel and go to the Berlin Marathon,” or something like that. Somebody just comes and says, “You are going to get the appearance [fee]. If you win you’ll get this, and this, and this.” Some get confused. Instead of representing their country they move on for just such a thing. Fair enough if you win that one, but you don’t have a title. Normal Kenyans know you’ve won, but not like you have won a World Championships or Olympics. Everybody, all over the world people are watching you. It is quite different, and I know Wanjiru did say that it does not matter, this money, but he wanted to be famous. He wanted to be Olympic champion. He did not consider about money. At that time he had not settled for that. You see it was around 38 k, when he was the only Kenyan, and the Moroccan [Jaouad Gharib], the hard one, and the other one was just been far away, you know, he looked back once and said, “I’m making it.”
I think the focus now, what men are just trying to do is, “If I go to a race and there’s no money, I’ll not go there.” That’s the image that has come, and it’s going to spoil the sport because everybody is thinking about money, not training. That one and that one, and so much and so much, every week, every weekend. You know, some people get tired and some don’t run for many years, just you find your footing and get finished. But if you run one race at a time, it’s very important. You can run many years. Thinking you can run a month, four races, next month another one. Your body, you are not a machine. That’s why sometimes I see one article, Gebre[selassie] says in it he runs two races a year. And then next year. He’s keeping on running many years. People have just come for two years and disappeared. He’s there still. It’s because he’s using his head, “I do this and that, then I go to another distance.” Not every weekend, every month.
After two months, whatever, you have run four races, five races, competition for money. In that case you get injured, you can get out of the races, you can retry making many competitions, and you are soon finished. It becomes very difficult, but if you have good advisors who can plan for you, “This is what you should do, and after this we are going for another focus for another race,” like now my athlete says, “I want to go next week for another race.” “No. We’ve prepared this, this, and then after this we train, then you come for this and this. This is not the time, we have not trained. You are just jumping in the competition, and if you get an injury will you race? No. Take care of your body.”
And they don’t know the procedures of training, when to speed and when you are not to speed. All the time people are competing like this in their training. So somebody who has been around them knows he can control those, “This is what we are going to do. Today we are going to do this.” Such a project are now many there. There are many camps have started, and not all people go to those camps to train, because they beat those who are at the top. And those who want to be strong, they don’t get their knowledge, they can’t get some ideas from these people, because they are here at the top with them. “Because this person is strong, he cannot talk with me,” you know? Some, they fear. But these others, they need somebody close to them, “One day you’ll be like that person, so keep on training. And I support you this, you keep on training.”
In one year, two years you’ll see somebody coming, I mean a very new one. That is now what I am dreaming, of just giving someone, “This is the shoes. Next year I’ll give you another t-shirt.” And I think that they have improved. They have improved, so that’s why from last year I did this and that and I got Onsarigo.
Is there anything else you would like to say about Wanjiru?
I think we lost a very good friend. There are some who are based in Japan, some athletes here were shocked, Kenyans, shocked so much. But I think if people keep coming we might get another one, like Wanjiru, from here. I’m sure. But I’m not sure if he can be like Wanjiru, because discipline matters. Wanjiru was having a very good discipline, it was very good. This is training, this is training. He was not even arguing, just, “Okay, let’s go.” Some, they say, “No, I can’t go 35 k, I’m not going 30 k,” some people, when you go morning run, they just go and walk back to their room and sit on the bed, and after 30 minutes they just go to the field and say, “I’ve done 30 minutes,” while he was still in the room. So, discipline, this matters. He was a very, very good guy, very disciplined. He had discipline, everybody knows that.
He was having a very good heart to everybody. He could not say, “This is a Masai, this is a what-have-you,” no. He used to help anybody, always. He used to encourage others. I remember last year at World Cross-Country I wanted to get a runner from Nyahururu and I called him and he told me to ask another friend of his. The lady, she was discouraged by the coach’s talking, then I talked to Wanjiru, “No, this lady, I’ve talked with her, she’s saying somebody must decide for her.” And he just told me how he talked and said, “I’ve advised her but she’s not listening.” You can take somebody who is having very good discipline and not someone who will cause disturbance in Japan. So, he knew the discipline here, you must have good discipline. That one, they cannot survive here. This one can survive. You cannot give them somebody who is going to give you disturbance. You can give somebody who you can say, “This is the right person.”
He was such a good person. He left a very good legacy in Kenya, but he passed away too early. He did not enjoy it as much as he expected. Like me, I expected it. It was a very speedy shortcut. What he was trying to achieve, he did some, but he did not do the main one, target the world record. That’s what I’d say. He did not achieve everything. Halfway, he achieved it. The Olympics, he achieved it very good, but the world record, many people had expectations, the world record would be done, but it did not happen. It’s anyway disappointing. But he left a good example to upcoming athletes, a very good example. Some young people now, they should think how to manage their things, their properties for how to train. To talk about training. Of which he left an example that nothing can come without hard working. He worked hard.
When he graduated from high school I took him to Nakuru. At that time he had not decided to get managers, he was just going to Toyota Kyushu, it was his first year in Kyushu. At that time I think he had a small car. He had not bought his own car. He came to my house for lunch and then he told me, “I want to build the same house as yours.” I told him, now you are starting a new life. In four months you are going to join a company and after four or three months you are going to build the same house? He told me he would just come and see mine. I advised him you cannot get money if you are just near here, and fortunately he did. He was a good boy, a good friend.
He took me to Nakuru and told me, “I came to your house many years, many times, let me show you my projects,” in February. Then he showed me, “This is my house. You have been meeting at my house.” The last year he had not travelled around, now, “I’m in Nakuru. This is mine, and that’s mine, that’s mine.” I think this is very good. This guy was so happy, because he told me, “You have advised me, and I’ve done that.” He made a good friend, for many a good friend. We miss him very much.
Sam had experience before being exposed to the agents. Those ones who don’t have experience, are just being exposed to agents, it is very hard to manage, to improve the time of marathoners and other things. Morishita did a good job. Because what he advised him, it worked. Also he considered, track has become very competitive, and as young as he was, he would try the marathon first. And then he worked, and went to the Olympics. The experience helped him a lot. But even him in Kenya, you know, he can eat and then he can go and wash dishes. He didn’t mind that he’s so big or something like that. He could even wear t-shirts. I met him wearing a t-shirt, he was just natural like that. He started wearing a suit and didn’t like wearing a suit. When we went to Meiji Seika, he told me, “The necktie, how do you do this?” After the function he just removed it.
But actually we think somebody like Wanjiru who is young and determined like him, it might take some time, but what I said was that, consultation first, and education background, that’s what matters, what’s very important. How you schedule yourself. Some young Kenyans don’t have that idea. They only think about, “Next week, a road race,” that’s all.
Strong athletes who have been here, some of them are getting in many accidents nowadays. Those who have been based in Japan, it is very sad. Because of the road quality, the fragility of accidents. We had [Joseph] Otwori, we had [Jefferson] Siekei, now Wanjiru, that’s another. We had [Samuel] Kabiru who was at Honda, that’s the fourth person now. You can have talented people, but then life cut short. It is very sad. Otwori was a car, Siekei was a bike, then Wanjiru, now four things. Kabiru was a kind of disease, this one again passed away when he was young. Most of them are young.
But Wanjiru did not enjoy as much as he maybe expected. It is very sad. But now, the next thing is now to bring up someone. Somebody else. Someone who goes through high school here in Japan, they have some ideas. If they can not get involved with some bad friends who say, “You first don’t go to run in Japan, just go to Europe.” But you know before going to Europe you have to prepare first. The standards are high, so you need experience first and then move to another stage. That’s what I think. You can survive, because you have been in Japan, because of the discipline, yes. If you take your time and not hurry, your days will come.