Moments after Kenyan runners had swept the World Championship medals in the men’s 3000m Steeplechase sending their supporters into a state of ecstasy it was the turn of young Janeth Jepkosgei to ensure the national flag was paraded once more.
Leading from the gun she easily devoured the competition in the women’s 800m final beating her own personal record and national record in a time of 1:56.04 - beating he own world season leading time set in the semi-finals. Three members of the Kenyan contingent sneaked onto the track to hug her and to provide her with the Kenyan flag. All in all it was quite a night for Kenya.
“I was very happy about it,” she said with a smile. “I wasn’t really expecting it. I had to do my best. I am happy this is the first gold medal in the women’s 800m for Kenya.”
“The Steeplechase is a tradition in Kenya and I am happy because I did something in the middle distance for Kenya. I could watch it on the screen and I was ready to fight.”
But on another hot night there was nobody even close to challenge her.
“I knew this was a championships, and I knew everybody was looking for me because after the semis I knew nobody would think to go in front,” she continues, “I knew the Russian was quick in finishing so I had to save something.”
Four hours earlier she had telephoned her father in their home village of Kapsabet to draw further inspiration for what she was about to do. According to her coach and boyfriend, Claudio Berendelli, she is extremely close to her father. He told her not to be afraid and to go and win the gold medal.
Like many Kenyan runners, who earn money through competition, she has been no end of help to her family, purchasing land for her father to farm as well as various farm implements including a tractor. This means her father can support her siblings and mother by farming maize and cattle.
“We are five - three boys and two girls - but none of them run because they are still young,” she explains, “I am the oldest.”
Berenelli explains the children range in age from an infant to a 14 year old. Their mother is a schoolteacher at the local primary school and Jepkosgei proudly reveals that she grew up within five hundred metres from Wilfred Bungei. Kapsabet is also the birthplace of men’s World 800m record holder Wilson Kipketer.
Represented by Federico Rosa she and Berenelli spend five months of the year in the Rosa Associates place in Brescia, Italy and the remainder of the time in Eldoret, Kenya where she has bought a house. Interviewing Jepkosgei is charming. She speaks English well, probably because any spare time is spent reading romance novels, when she is not shopping for clothes that is.
Her performance at the World championships has been staggering and somewhat unexpected by even the Kenyan media some of whom admit she is a bit of a mystery to them despite the fact she has steadily developed over the past four years. Since she had competed sparingly early on there was some question as to whether she had been injured. Berenelli denies this.
“We started training in December,” he explains, “but our goal was just Osaka we did not focus on the early season because of what she did last year (running the Commonwealth Games in March) so that the gold medal in Osaka was something possible and we ran the season with a hand brake on.
And we came here knowing that she was in great shape. Honestly we weren’t expecting to run 1:56 in the semi-final. It came but it was very easy, so we decided to run the same style in the final.”
Next up for Kenya’s latest star is the 800m at the Zurich Weltklasse - IAAF Golden League - meeting on 7 September. Berenelli will ask Federico Rosa to ensure there is a pacemaker to help her achieve a time of 1:54, all the while lamenting the difficulty in finding someone who can take the pace through 600 metres at the required speed.
According to Berenelli she herself ran a 600m time trial solo in preparation for Osaka. Her time - 1:23 more than fast enough to run another personal best 800m. Judging by her preference for front running no doubt she could achieve her goal without any help. One thing is for certain there is plenty of running left in those long legs.
Paul Gains for the IAAF