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Jelimo the golden girl

NAIROBI, August 23 – History is made.

In less than two minutes, 18 year old Pamela Jelimo etched her name in the annals of history by becoming the first Kenyan woman to win an Olympic Gold medal on Monday evening.

Despite its dominance of athletics, no Kenyan woman had ever won an Olympic gold but the phenomenal teenager corrected that most unwanted anomaly in almost superhuman fashion in front of 91,000 delirious fans at the Bird’s nest in Beijing.

In the same breathtaking manner in which she has gripped the athletics world this season, Jelimo powered forward in her trademark fashion with her head held high, shoulders straight, arms pumping, as her long strides put daylight between her and her would be challengers.

Second to compatriot Janeth Jepkosgei at the bell, she took the lead on the back straight and in the final 200 metres, Jelimo pushed even harder clocking the fastest time in 11 years that elevated her to the sixth fastest woman in history.

Add a new World junior record as well as a new African and national record and what would have been a tough challenge had turned into a procession.

“Unbelievable! This is a fantastic run from the Kenyan!” the commentators said but for those privileged enough to have watched her this season, it was another typical demonstration of exceptional and outstanding running from a precocious talent.

She was modest in victory. "I’m happy I managed it," the 18-year-old said afterwards. "I did my best but I didn’t expect it to be so fast." 

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Behind her, Jepkosgei- until last year Kenya’s pin up girl, furiously fought to catch up but in the end, had to settle for silver like she had done all of this year.

Rarely has an athlete announced her arrival on the World stage in such fashion as Jelimo.

In just five months, the Kapsabet born athlete has taken the world by storm with a series of superlative displays (she has six of the top seven times in the world this year).

Despite running less than fifteen 800 metres races in her career, she has already posted faster times than Mozambique legend Maria Mutola-the global dominant force for the better part of more than decade.

The African champion is also one of the two remaining contestants in the IAAF Golden League jackpot series after notching four straight wins in Berlin, Oslo, Rome and Paris.

What makes her achievements even more remarkable is the fact that her first official race of the two lap event was in only April this year.

A budding 400 metre athlete who won the Africa Junior title in Ouagadougou last year, Jelimo was encouraged to switch to the longer distance by her coach Azziz Abdul. When Jepkosgei offered similar advice, she took it and the rest as we say, is history.

Her first official 800 metres was at the national trials to select a team for the African athletics championships in mid April where she timed 2:01.02 to book a place in the Addis team.

In the final in Addis, Jelimo shot to the lead shot to the lead from the start and steadily increased her lead to win in 1:58.70-a stadium record as Mutola huffed and puffed for second.

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“I was running in an event which I did not even think was mine and to win the heat gave me morale. When I beat Mutola in the final, I was overjoyed. It was a morale booster and meant a lot to me. It was the start of a new journey in my life and helped me meet my new manager,” Jelimo said.
Two weeks later, she was in Hengelo for her debut in Europe. Unfazed, she set the then world’s fastest time of 1:55.76 which was also a new World junior record –smashing the previous record set 14 years ago and a new national record.

“It was easy because I was coming from high altitude I went in there to get experience but found myself already winning,” she recalled of her win Hengelo.

On June 1, Jelimo made her debut in the lucrative IAAF Golden League series in Berlin. It also marked the first time she came face to face with World champion Jepksogei.

She responded by clocking the fastest time in the world recorded over the distance in 11 years and sixth fastest of all time. Her 1:54.99 was also a new World Junior record, African record and national record.

Jelimo’s emergence has dealt a major blow to Jepkosgei. Seen as the new 800 metres queen after her fantastic performances in Osaka last year, Jepkosgei has had to play second fiddle to Jelimo losing five times to her newfound archrival.

They both hail from Kapsabet (their homes are 5km apart) and despite their intense rivalry on the track; the teenager maintains the utmost respect for the World champion.

 “She is my senior, she motivated me and advised me to pick up the 800m race and though there looks like there is a revolution, I still look upto her because she showed me the way,” Jelimo returns the compliment.

Hailing from Kapsabet in Nandi district, it is perhaps no surprise that Jelimo is starring in 800 metres. After all this is an area that produced Wilfred Bungei, Wilson Kipketer and Jepkosgei all reputable two lap racers.

She was born in Koyo village in late 1989, the fourth born in a family of nine, her mother Rodah Jeptoo Keter used to run though she did not get to compete competitively. "During her time there was no motivation in sports," she says adding, “But she encouraged me to run and I am happy to be doing well.”

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So what next for the new queen of the two lap race?

Veteran Maria Mutola, who finished sixth at her sixth Olympic Games said she could break the world record set by Jarmila Kratochvilova way back in 1983 which is the oldest record in an Olympic track and field event.

"Look at her time, 1:54 is very, very fast, especially from someone who is 18 and I’m sure she will break the world record," Mutola, who will retire at the end of the season, said. 

Going by the way she has taken the world, no one would bet against her.

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