Alfred Kirwa Yego celebrates winning gold in the men's 800m (© Getty Images)
Osaka, JapanTalent can only get you so far, as innumerable youngsters have learned the hard way. Some recognise the fact that they are not making the grade as seniors, act on it, seek help and come through to the upper echelon. All too many disappear, wasted and disgruntled. Alfed Yego recognised the warning signs, accepted advice from his manager, and after a season without a single victory – apart from the semi-final two days earlier - raced out of the pack in the 800 metres on the final day of competition, and nipped Gary Reed of Canada for the gold medal. We’re so used to stories of Kenyan athletics success that there is a tendency to think it comes automatically. The story of Alfred Yego is a salutary reminder otherwise.
World junior silver medallist in Grosseto, Italy 2004, Yego had his first trip on the circuit to Doha, Qatar in early 2005, and finished second. He didn’t get through the heats in Helsinki 2005, but won the Golden Gala in Italy, while still a junior. He won bronze in the African Championships in 2006, and ran a personal best of 1:43.89 in Rieti the same year.
But his record this season defies belief. In a half dozen races, he did no better than fifth, even finishing tenth in a meeting in Sweden, before grabbing third in the Kenyan championships and world championships trials, to ensure coming to Osaka. His manager, Federico Rosa explained prior to the post-race press conference. “He is a great talent, but he was very inconsistent. Two months ago, we persuaded him to train with Janeth (Jepkosgei, women’s 800m winner), and her coach Claudio (Berardelli). The change was immediate”.
And we all saw the results. After a superb semi-final victory, in 1:44.54, with Reed winning the second semi a half second slower, and Olympic champion, Yuriy Borzakowski winning the third slower still, the final went exactly that way, Yego, Reed, Borzakowski. If life could always be so simple!
Yego comes from near Eldoret, in the Western Highlands of Kenya, home to the Godfather of Kenyan athletics, the legendary Kipchoge Keino, and centre for the greatest concentration of Olympic and world championships gold medallists outside southern California – someone must do the tally one day! Yego is still only 20 years old, and one of ten children, “We are six brothers and four sisters,” he informed us at the press conference.
“I still can’t believe I’m the one who won,” he said, “I was expecting the race to be tough, but as we went through the first lap, it was very easy for me, and I knew I would definitely be in contention. At 600 metres, I felt so relaxd that I thought I could win. I unleashed my last kick with 100 metres to go, but I was not sure that I actually won the gold by the time I crossed the line.”
He goes back to Rieti, and Brussels (as Rosa said, “he is not confirmed for Brussels, but I don’t think there will be a problem”), with a view to consolidating himself as a 1:43 man.
“I think I can run 1:42 eventually,” Yego added guardedly, “but I want to prepare for Beijing now.” He has also run a 3:37 1500m back in 2004, and says he will eventually turn to the longer distance. With a bit more organisation, Alfred Yego is going to be with us for quite a while.
Pat Butcher for the IAAF