NAIROBI, October 18 – She emerged to dominate the women’s 800m world in a manner never witnessed before but for all her conquests, Pamela Jelimo wore the look of utter bewilderment-as if surprised by her own achievements.,
With local and international companies lining up to secure her signature to endorse their products, Jelimo’s handlers, Golazo Sports, have taken the initiative to train the teenage two-lap phenomenon on handling the huge publicity her exploits have generated.
“We realised that there is need to make her more appealing to the media and those companies endorsing her,” Golazo’s Kenyan representative, Barnaba Korir said.
“She has been very apprehensive about media reporting on her and has not been encouraged by stories touching on her private life. However, for her to become a global star, she needs to treat the media as a friend,” he added.
The AF Golden League jackpot winner and World junior record holder is currently in Brussels, Belgium undertaking a one month course in media handling.
“We decided to take her there so that she could have the space to relax and study on how to improve her communication skills and polish her image,” Korir, a former distance athlete explained.
In most photos including those taken when she won Olympic gold and clinched the AF Golden League jackpot in Brussels, Jelimo’s wears a stunned look on her face with little effort of a smile.
Korir says that her trainers are dwelling on encouraging her to express her feelings and emotions without fear in order to create lasting impression on her audiences.
“She is an entertainer and as such must give those watching her something to remember. Usain Bolt (Jamaican Olympic sprint triple gold medallist) is more famous for his sideshows that make those watching him enjoy.”
So far, American sports gear manufacturers Nike and Toyota Kenya have entered endorsement deals with the teenage Olympic champion with more blue chip firms lining up with their cheque books.
Korir also revealed that Jelimo was also working with stylists to work on her fashion wear as they bid to match her appearance to the status of a global star.
“But we must understand that Jelimo is still a young girl from a humble background. Her success has shocked us all but most of all, shocked her,” Korir observed.
“She needs time to adjust to her new found status but we want her to eventually express herself better than people like Paul Tergat or Wilfred Bungei when it comes to relating with the media.”
Tergat, the former World marathon record holder and Bungei, the men’s 800m Olympics champion are among the most media savvy Kenyan athletes.
In Belgium, Jelimo is also training under the watchful eye of her agent, Bob Verbeeck, a former Olympian as her handlers plot on her programme for next season.
“Maybe she will take part in one indoor race before beginning her track season in May but that has not been settled on yet.”
“We want Pamela to last as long as Maria Mutola since it would be unfortunate for the sport, her country and her family if she crashes soon after she emerged,” Korir noted.
Mozambican 800m queen Mutola, the 2000 Olympic gold medallist, three time World Champion, seven time World Indoor winner and twice Commonwealth title holder completed what is widely thought to be her last campaign this season after almost two decades of domination.
Korir admitted that Jelimo’s rise to prominence took even Golazo by surprise.
“We saw she had potential but we did not expect her to achieve what she achieved and generate such interest in such a short time. But as we struggled to cope, she remained surprisingly composed.”
“We chose to get her out of the country for a while to relieve the pressure on her, afford her rest and enable us plan for her future.”
In the aftermath of the roaring reception accorded to her, Korir said that Jelimo found it impossible even to go for a casual morning runs in her Kaptamok Village, Koyo in Kapsabet.
“It was like the whole village wanted to say something to her and they would stop her at every turn. Members of her family flocked to her home and we had to take her to Eldoret (some 50km away). It was stressing but phenomenal.”
“Some wanted to wish her well while others sought a share of the money she won thinking she had carried it.”
Korir says that investment experts had been brought in to assist the young millionaire spend her newfound wealth prudently.
“She is in no rush to splash the cash around. Pamela is a brilliant girl who likes to do her things in a calculated manner,” he extolled.
In a country aching for poster heroes, the emergence of Jelimo set the whole nation’s pulse rate on overdrive. The prodigious athlete drew chaotic scenes upon her arrival from her conquests last month and was even feted by the country’s top leadership.
President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, hosted Jelimo at the Head of State’s Harambee House office.
“The President told her to ensure that she has studied for a degree and invest wisely as he delivered the delight of the whole nation at her achievement,” Korir said.
Nicknamed the ‘Kapsabet Express’ Jelimo burst into prominence after winning the African 800m title in Addis Ababa in a stadium record of 1:58.70 in early May.
She went on to break the World junior record set by China’s Yuan Wang (1:57.18) at the Hengelo Grand Prix with a 1:55.76 run that also obliterated World champion, Janeth Jepkosgei’s 1:56.04 national best.
Since then, Jelimo has adjusted the World junior mark four times to the current 1:54.01 set at the Zurich Golden League meeting in August. That is the third quickest time ever run.
Before that, Jelimo became the first Kenyan woman to win Olympic gold when she topped the two-lap final in 1:54.87 and after Zurich; she became only the third person to win the $1m (Sh74m) AF Golden League jackpot with victory in Brussels.
She capped her season with victory at the World Athletics Final on her debut in Stuttgart last month.