William Oloonkishu Yiampoy (yahmPOY), Kenya (800m)
Born 17 May 1974, Emarti, near Kilgoris, Trans-Mara District, Rift Valley Province, Kenya.
Married former Miriam Santien of Emarti 1994. Two children: Elena (1996), Emmanuel (1997).
Police Inspector, Presidential Guard. Lives in Ngong, nr. Nairobi. Based in Verona, Italy, during track season.
Manager: Gianni Demadonna. Coach: Gianni Ghidini.
Maasai. Third of six children of father's first of five wives. Father a rancher with 200 acres, 400 cattle.
Finished secondary school at Sosio High School, Kilgoris, 1989. Joined Kenya Police 1991; promoted to corporal, Signals Branch, 1996; appointed to elite Presidential Guard unit 1997; promoted to Inspector 2003.
Began running 1996 while doing Signals course at Police Training College. Training interrupted by Presidential Guard duties and injuries. Resumed seriously 1999. Reached semi-final of national trials for 1999 World Championships. Spotted by manager Demadonna.
Began international career in summer of 1999 with nine European races, mainly in small meets. Ran twice as many international races the next year. Fell during final of 2000 Kenyan Olympic trials but called to Sydney to replace ailing trials winner Patrick Konchellah. Finished 5th in Olympic semi-final while suffering after-effects of malaria.
Won Kenya's 2001 World Championships trials in 1:44.24 but was edged for bronze in Edmonton final (1:44.96). Gained some solace winning gold in Brisbane Goodwill Games a month later. Injured during spring of 2002 and did not reach full fitness until August, when he finished 2nd in three major races, the African Championships and the Brussels and Berlin GPs. Scored his PB 1:42.91 the next month in Rieti.
Promising 2003 season cut short in early June when badly spiked in Milan GP. Resumed training gradually in autumn and began competing indoors in late January with six races in quick succession, finishing lower than 2nd only once and recording an indoor PB (1:45.80) in Stuttgart. A disappointing 5th in the World Indoor, followed by devastating 4th in the Kenya Olympic Trials, seem only to have served as motivation. Since then he has finished lower than 2nd only once (4th last week in Berlin) in ten major races, winning the African Championship in Brazzaville and the Paris Golden League, among others, and being beaten only by Olympic champ Yuriy Borzakovskiy and Kenyan training partners Wilfred Bungei, Joseph Mutua and Youssef Saad Kamel (Gregory Konchellah, now of Bahrain). His 1:43.29 from the Zurich Golden League puts him at #3 (behind Bungei and Kamel) on the 2004 world list.
Yearly progression: 1998 - 1:47.1; 1999 -1:44.38; 2000 -1:44.23; 2001 -1:43.00; 2002 -1:42.91 (Rieti); 2003 - 1:45.01(A); 2004 - 1:45.80i (Stuttgart), 1:43.29 (Zurich GL)
Yiampoy is the latest in a line of brilliant Maasai 800 meter runners that dates back 20 years and includes not only the two-time World Champion Billy Konchellah but also his brother Patrick, the 1994 Commonwealth Champion, Stephen ole Marai, the 1987 World Championship finalist, and now Billy's son Gregory Konchellah (Youssef Saad Kamel of Bahrain), who won last week in Berlin. All come from Yiampoy's home area, Kilgoris.
But apart from his event, his home town and his ethnic identity, Yiampoy has little in common with the other four. They are sons of comparatively "progressive," Westernized families—the Konchellas' uncle was a prominent member of Parliament—while Yiampoy's family adhered strictly to Maasai tradition. His father, ole Yiampoy, a celebrated warrior and cattle raider in his youth, could see no point in Western education or sport, and only when pressed by local government authorities did he agree to send any of his children to school. Even then, he refused to part with any of his favored children lest they be lost or corrupted. Instead he chose scrawny little William. But when reports reached him that his son was repeatedly ranked at the top of his class, his attitude began to change. "He could see that I was acquiring knowledge that was going to be useful," says William, "and he was proud."
By the time William finished high school, his standing in the family was such that his father wanted to send him to university in India. But William disappointed the old man by instead joining the police, an institution despised by many traditional Maasai, not least ole Yiampoy, who had been jailed years earlier for stock theft. Once again, however, the young man's achievement's won the old man over. As he earned promotions for distinguished service on Kenya's hazardous northern frontier and at the Police Training College, and as he began to achieve national stature as an athlete, William found his way back into ole Yiampoy's good graces. When the old man lay dying in 1999 of the lingering effects of an old arrow wound, it was William he called to his side for a traditional Maasai last rite. "He told me, 'I have done my part,'" says William, "which meant that he had acted bravely, spoken wisely, and it was now up to me to carry on and do the same. It is a big honour to be given those words."
William takes that honour seriously. "I try hard to be a good example in my village," he says. "I want everything I say and do to be very, very correct, so that people can emulate. You know, we are a very proud people. We hardly want to change. But we are now like an endangered species. We have to change to survive. We have to stop overgrazing our land. We have to send our children to school." These may sound like the words of a budding politician, but Yiampoy denies any such ambition. "I don't like politics," he says, "especially African politics." Still, if he changes his mind, he clearly has the aptitude.
Prepared by John Manners for the IAAF "Focus on Africans" project. Copyright IAAF 2001/2004.