Julius Yego after winning the javelin at the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015 (© Getty Images)
There was promise for a high-quality javelin competition after some great throws earlier this season and tonight’s final didn’t disappoint.
The question was in the air: could Julius Yego become the first Kenyan field event athlete to win a medal at the World Championships? In Moscow two years ago, Yego held the bronze medal spot with an 85.40m national record until the last round, but was overtaken by Russia’s Dmitri Tarabin in the final round on that occasion and was relegated to fourth.
This time the 26-year-old came to the championships from a different angle, being the world leader with his 91.39m African record in Birmingham in June. With Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott not making the final, the Kenyan was the only athlete in the field to have thrown beyond 90 metres this season.
It was clear from the first round of the final that exceptionally long throws would be needed to earn a medal; even making it to the last three rounds would require a decent mark.
The early leader was Germany’s Thomas Rohler, who had produced the last big throw before Beijing with his 89.27m personal best in Kuortane, Finland, in August.
The 23-year-old, who competed at his first World Championships in Moscow two years ago and missed out on the final, opened with a good 86.68m throw. Egypt’s Ihab Abdelrahman, who was seventh in Moscow in 2013, raised his hands in the air following his 86.07m first-round effort, a season’s best.
Germany had two athletes in medal positions after the first round with Johannes Vetter throwing 83.79m and Finland’s Tero Pitkamaki, the silver medallist from 2013, in fourth place with 83.45m.
The Egyptian’s big one came in round two. His javelin reached 88.99m, the second-best throw of his career and just 28 centimetres off his national record set in Shanghai in 2014. Yego, meanwhile, was yet to make an impact, his second-round throw landing at 82.42m with the javelin not leaving his hand at a good angle.
In that same round, Rohler came up with another good throw with 86.03m and Pitkamaki moved into third with 85.03m.
Round three finally decided the competition. First to go was defending champion Vitezslav Vesely of the Czech Republic, who needed a good throw to make it through to the last three rounds. It wasn’t as far as he would have liked, but the 32-year-old’s 83.18m was enough to earn him three more attempts.
Germany’s Andreas Hofmann threw 84.85m, which meant that Yego was down to eighth place before his third throw but with several athletes throwing after him.
Under pressure to get a better mark, the Kenyan came up with something special.
With huge power behind the throw, the javelin flew high and at a good trajectory to a world-leading 92.72m, breaking his own African record.
Yego’s mark also moved him to third on the world all-time list, behind world record-holder Jan Zelezny (98.48m) and Finland’s Aki Parviainen (93.09m).
With Abdelrahman in second place, fouling the rest of his four throws and holding his back in pain after some of them, the others were beaten but the medals were still to be decided.
After the Kenyan’s big effort, European champion and Olympic bronze medallist Antti Ruuskanen was the next one in trouble. In ninth place before his third throw, the 31-year-old produced an 87.12m throw to move into the bronze medal position after three rounds.
The fourth round ended the movement in the medal positions, the last significant move coming when Pitkamaki unleashed his best effort of the competition, 87.64m. The last two rounds included several good throws, including a 90-metre-plus foul from the winner Yego in the sixth round, but the medal positions were unchanged.
Yego became the first Kenyan medallist and winner in the field events at the World Championships and only the second African winner in the history of this event, following South Africa’s Marius Corbett in Athens in 1997.
In second place, Abdelrahman also made history for Egypt. His medal is his country’s best achievement ever at the World Championships.
Competing at his sixth consecutive World Championships, Pitkamaki took bronze and so now has one of each colour following gold in 2007 and silver in 2013.
Rohler threw his best mark of 87.41m with his last effort, but was left 23 centimetres short of a medal this time. Ruuskanen repeated his fifth-place finish from Moscow, but this time he had to throw five-and-a-half metres farther for the same achievement. Hofmann also threw his best, 86.01m, in round six with team-mate Johannes Vetter in seventh (83.79m) and defending champion Vesely in eighth (83.13m).
It was one of the best competitions of all time; for the first time in history, five athletes threw beyond 87 metres in the same competition. The winning mark of 92.72m is also only eight centimetres from the championship record, set by Zelezny in 2001.
Mirko Jalava for the IAAF