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Kenyan athletes who died in their prime

Although the life of a professional athlete is certainly exciting, there’s also a lot at stake. An injury, can make it all come crashing down but many people would not expect that such sportsmen and women would lose their lives at a young age as happened to former 400m hurdles world champion Nicholas Bett and rugby star Andrew Wekesa.

1. Nicholas Bett (Athletics)

The former world champion was killed in a car crash aged just 28 in Kesses, Nandi County last Wednesday as he returned home after competing at the Africa Athletics Championships in Asaba, Nigeria. Police said the vehicle had struck a bump and veered off the road before landing in a ditch robbing the country one of its best athletics talents. Bett became famous in Kenya when he claimed gold in the 400m hurdles during the 2015 World Championships, writing history as the first Kenyan to win a world title in sprints. He was also a two-time Africa bronze medallist and competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics over the distance, failing to reach the finals.

2. Samuel Wanjiru (Athletics)

Wanjiru died in May 2011 after reportedly falling off a balcony at his home in Nyahururu following a domestic dispute. Aged 24 at the time, Wanjiru’s death rocked the world as he had broken the world record in the half marathon when he was just 18. He moved to the full marathon and won the event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in a record time of 2:06:32. He won the London (2009) and Chicago Marathons (2009 and 2010).

3. Steve Okumu (Football)

The name Oliech is synonymous with Dennis “the menace” Oliech, the best striker Kenya has produced in the last 15 years, but before him, the family had produced even better. Steve Okumu was one of the most gifted Kenyan strikers before he met his untimely death in 2002 aged 26. The former Harambee Stars captain, who had done duty for Mumias, AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia, died four days after a car accident in Rhode Island, USA, cutting short a promising football career.

4. Robert Wangila (Boxing)

The only Kenyan Olympic gold medal winner outside athletics, Robert Napunyi Wangila had no equal. He won a gold medal at the 1988 Olympic Games. Wangila turned to professional boxing in 1989 and compiled a career record of 22-5-0. However, in July 1994, he died from injuries received in a fight with David Gonzales in Las Vegas that year. After the match, Wangila lapsed into a coma in his dressing room and was pronounced dead 36 hours later.

5. Aberdeen Shikoyi (Rugby)

Captain of the national women’s rugby team, Aberdeen Shikoyi died in May 2012 after suffering an injury during the first leg of the Women’s Elgon Cup in Uganda a week earlier. Shikoyi collided with the burly Christine Kizito before being further injured in a scramble for the ball involving several players. She was immediately airlifted to Nairobi for treatment, reportedly for a spinal injury and her death was announced shortly after her team won that year’s Elgon Cup.

6. Mike Okombe (Rugby)

Kenyans were shocked in November 2017 when they woke up to news that the Top Fry Nakuru RFC’s player had died. Okombe was allegedly stabbed by his girlfriend under unclear circumstances during a birthday party in Nakuru. The 27-year-old flanker debuted for Kenya 15s in June 2013 and went on to play 17 times for the Simbas. He was in the team that beat Namibia in 2014, and in wins against Tunisia, Portugal and Spain in 2015.

7. Ogeto Gecheo (Rugby)

The promising Nondies player died as he played for his club in a Kenya Cup tournament against Strathmore Leos in December 2016. He is said to have damaged his spinal cord when a disc in his neck slipped as he tackled during the match. Ogeto, fondly known as OG by his team-mates, later died at the Agha Khan Hospital while undergoing treatment.

8. Victor Wayodi (Rugby)

Barely a week after the demise of Nondies’ Gecheo, Mwamba RFC scrum-half Victor Wayodi died from cardiac arrest after collapsing during a Kenya Cup tie against Top Fry Nakuru. The 24-year-old passed on while receiving treatment at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital. Wayodi came through the ranks at Maseno School and just like Gecheo, he captained the team to the national secondary school games in 2011.

9. James Kilonzo (Rugby)

The Kenya rugby fraternity was once again in mourning after 22-year-old KCB RFC centre James Kilonzo (pictured) was gunned down in Nairobi’s Kasarani by suspected thugs in July 2017. The thugs, however, did not steal anything from the player. This was six months after Homeboyz RFC forward Andrew Wekesa was brutally murdered in Mlolongo in January that year. Reports indicated that Wekesa had an altercation with an unknown group before he was stabbed in the chest.

10. Stephen Musundi (Basketball)

Mount Kenya University player Stephen Musundi collapsed and died during a National Division One League match between the students and Nebulas Club at the Kakamega Police Canteen court in May 2018. Musundi received an in bound pass from a team-mate, passed it on and fell onto the ground without having made any contact with any other player. The 27-year-old student, nicknamed “Kibet”, was rushed to hospital but died on arrival.

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