06 MAR 2008 General News Valencia, Spain

On comeback trail, Kamel ready to emulate father

Youssef Saad Kamel storming to victory in Madrid (Juan Aguado Vitores)Youssef Saad Kamel storming to victory in Madrid (Juan Aguado Vitores) © Copyright

It can sometimes be such a tall order for one to be paternally associated with a true legend of his sport like former two-time World 800m champion Billy Konchellah, but Bahrain’s Kenyan-born runner Yousef Saad Kamel never shies away from expressing how proud he is of his father.

“I am trying to follow his footsteps,” says the tall and slender 24-year old. “I feel I am old enough now. I feel like a real man.”

No wonder that Kamel is starting to feel a part of the running legacy left by his all-conquering father. After an inconsistent 2007 season, the former Kenyan oozed class when winning his first Asian indoor 800m title in Doha in February to set himself up for a fantastic competition at the 12th IAAF World Indoor Championships in Valencia, Spain (7-9 March 2008).

Nerves overwhelm talent

Born Gregory Konchellah in Narok, Kenya, Kamel wowed many observers when he emerged on the international scene running in Bahraini colours in 2003. His first major performance came in the beginning of the 2004 season where he finished third over the 800m at the inaugural Asian Indoor Championships in Tehran, Iran.

Later that year, he ran a stunning personal best time of 1:43.11 for his specialist event and has done well in the international circuit, but has fallen short in major championships.

“When these top competitions come, the tension in my body also increases,” says Kamel. “I really get nervous and that is why I have not been able to do well.”

He failed to get past the semi-finals in the two editions of the World championships, but has performed well against more or less the same opposition in other meets like the World Athletics Final which he won twice and the IAAF World Cup where he comfortably took victory in Athens in 2006.

“I was feeling lots of tension in my body before Osaka,” says Kamel. “I did not run my own race. I was watching the other guys, Yuriy [Borzakovsky] and Wilfried [Bungei].”

Personal problems plague 2007 campaign

By his own admissions, Kamel’s 2007 season was his worst. “I struggled with leg problems the whole year and had personal problems with my girlfriend,” he said. “I was not in the right frame of mind to train and compete because it was disturbing me mentally.”

His once-legendary father’s personal problems have not helped either. In 2004, he was acquitted of rape charges in the UK from where he was extradited to Finland to face charges that he narcotized and raped two Finnish girls in two years earlier. In 2005, he was convicted of two rapes, sexual exploitation of child and a drug crime nd given a sentence of two and a half years in prison.

“I try to remember my father’s running legacy,” says Kamel. “That is what I am trying to emulate.”

Change of coach, scenery

After his off season last year, Kamel changed much of his approach to training and preparation. He changed coaches in December to Tareq Yacoob Sabt and became training partners with Bahrain’s world 1500m champion Maryam Yusuf Jamal. He also moved training venues from Kenya to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where Sabt and his wife Jamal are based in the winter (Ethiopian summer) season.

“I like Tareq,” he says. “He believes in me and tells me that I am a talented runner and I can always get better. Under him, I am getting my confidence back. I feel that if I can work hard, I will get better.”

Now that he has returned back to winning ways by lifting his first continental title in Doha, Kamel is now expected to be among the front runners for a medal in Valencia. But has he learned to handle the pressure and hold his nerve?

“I am sure there will be lots of challengers,” he says. “I will do my best. Winning in Doha certainly gives me confidence. But we shall see.”

Elshadai Negash for the IAAF