Kenyan javelin thrower Julius Yego
The playing of the Kenyan national anthem is no novelty at the IAAF World Championships. Athletes from Kenya have topped the podium on 43 occasions since the first championships in Helsinki in 1983 and there is every possibility Ee Mungu Nguvu Yetu will again boom across the Beijing National Stadium at the 15th edition this August.
But one rendition could be quite unique.
No Kenyan has ever won a field title – or even a medal – at the IAAF World Championships, but in javelin thrower Julius Yego, the East African nation has a real contender to end that streak.
The 26-year-old is a pioneer of the spear in a country with an athletics tradition steeped in distance running.
But he is now carving his own niche and with a monstrous throw of 91.39m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Birmingham on Sunday, he sits on top of the world lists.
The final-round throw was not without controversy.
It was originally ruled as a foul for being outside the sector, despite the javelin sailing well beyond the white markings. But Yego’s protest was upheld and the African record was broken.
It was the third successive competition in which Yego has improved his personal best, having won in Ostrava and finished second in Rome.
Yet, even after the greatest throw of his career, he felt he still had something in reserve.
“I skipped most of the throws because I had a tight hamstring, so I was keeping it back. I only did three throws, but it will come better than that,” he said immediately after the competition.
An ominous statement after beating a stellar field that included Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott, world champion Vitezslav Veseley and European champion Antti Ruuskanen.
He puts his good form down to training alongside rivals Ruuskanan and 2007 world champion Tero Pitkamaki under the guidance of Finland’s expert javelin coach Petteri Piironen since the start of the year.
The Finnish connection has help hone Yego’s raw power.
“My coach was with me in South Africa for two weeks. He has been coming to help give me a little bit better technique. I was with the Finnish throwers, and lots of other throwers, that is why my performances is really improving. I had a really good build up prior to these competitions. I put it down to continuous hard training I have been doing since the start of the year.”
Yego’s story is a remarkable mix of the old and new.
Old, because he was largely self-taught in his early years and trained in isolation in primitive facilities at home in Kenya.
New, because he has gradually developed his abilities by studying the likes of two-time Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen on YouTube.
But it hasn’t always been a smooth ride.
He was disappointed to finish seventh at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi with 69.60m but, after a stint at the IAAF-accredited training centre in the Finnish town of Kuortane, where he developed a relationship with coach Piironen, he was transformed.
He threw beyond 80 metres to qualify for the Olympic final in London, where he finished 12th. He then narrowly missed a medal at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow, placing fourth with 85.40m.
Last year, he broke through with a golden double at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the African Championships in Marrakech. Now he is setting his sights on global domination.
“The major thing I am looking forward to now is the World Championships. Keep going, keep going, I say. Focus on my training. The season is still new. I think there will be even more (to come). My season has started well. I am hoping, God willing, come the World Championships, I will do even better. It is a process.”
The process is set to continue at the IAAF World Challenge meeting in Rabat, Morocco where Yego is scheduled to compete on Sunday (14).
He is also looking to return to IAAF Diamond League action in Lausanne on 9 July, followed by the World Championships trials in Kenya before setting his focus on China.
Although most of his Kenyan team-mates in Beijing will be competing on the track, they share a close bond and a winning philosophy with the team’s star field athlete.
“They really love me. I enjoy working with them. They really give me support,” he commented before adding: “You train hard, you win easy,” echoing the sentiments heard from many a Kenyan world champion runner.
Chris Broadbent for the IAAF