NAIROBI, Kenya, June 14 – The ‘Kapsabet Express’ that dominated women’s 800m running last year with superlative performances is struggling to steamroll the opposition this season.
In her opening two appearance of the season, Pamela Jelimo, the teenage two-lap prodigy who remained unbeaten over 13 races last season, has sparked concerns by finishing sixth (2:02.46) and last (2:05.57) in Rabat and more recently at the Pre Fontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon.
How times change.
Last year, she showed up as an unheralded 18 year-old and sprinted away with all conceivable honours on her debut season in 800m running as the world stood still in awe.
When she was through, the world junior record had fallen, Kenya had celebrated her first ever female Olympic gold medallist, Africa had a new 800m women’s champion and above all, Jelimo became the only third ever solo winner of the Sh1m (Sh78m) IAAF Golden League jackpot after winning six out six meetings.
After her indifferent start to the season that an expectant world awaited for Jelimo, The 2009 Sequel, with victory in Berlin and a possible shot at lowering the 26 year-old world record held by Jarmila Kratochvílová of 1:53.28, the now reflective champion is keen to rediscover her touch.
“I am assuring the Kenyan people that I am fine. I will be ready for Berlin,” she said on Wednesday.
"So far, I have not achieved my goal and not competed at my best with the two results. I have gauged myself and I know what to do.
"I will avoid competing and work on getting my shape back for the trials but I’m happy with myself and my abilities," she explained.
On Kratochvílová’s world best, Jelimo revealed; “I’m training hard for it. I met her at the World Athletics Gala in Monaco last year and she advised me to put more effort and determination if I want to achieve that goal.”
One of the coaches working with Jelimo, Amos Korir, a former distance athletes added; “She needs to be conditioned to run a faster second 400m to break the record. At the moment, her first 400m split is quicker since she is principally a 400m sprinter who only started running 800m last year.”
“Equally,” explained Korir, “Pamela could be coached to have equal 400m splits and with good pacemakers, perfect weather and no winds, she can break the record.
“At the moment, we are not pushing her too hard towards that target. Our aim is to make her remain competitive and win as much as she can.”
Jelimo’s dominance last year came at the cost of compatriot and silver medallist, Janeth Jepkosgei, who was until the former came along, the undisputed queen of female two-lap running.
Inevitably, the two top athletes are expected to continue competing fiercely for top honours this year after the teenager scorched the 2007 World champion on five different occasions last term.
“Janeth is my friend and sister and although we are competitors, when we enter the same field we support and give encouragement to each other.
“I expect her to work hard on improving this year. She is the defending world champion and I know she will do her best to hold on to her title,” Jelimo expressed.
Jepkosgei, who hails some 15km from Jelimo’s roots, admitted that the emergence of the teenage phenomenon, nicknamed ‘Kapsabet Express’ took her by surprise last season.
“She was so strong last year, stronger than me and all the rest and this year, I’m training hard to cut the gap between her and I then maybe, anything can happen.
“Having qualified for the World Championships as the defending champion, I’m leaving for Italy to train until the national trials where I will compete in the 1,500m to test my endurance. My aim is to try and hang on to my world title,” Jepkosgei disclosed when the IAAF press team paid her a visit two days later.
Having dispensed of the services of her previous coach, Said Aziz, husband and budding 800m runner, Peter Kiprotich Murrey, took temporary charge of coaching Jelimo with Korir.
“We have to assist each other to achieve our goals by training together. Nothing has changed much in her programme since it is not good to replace something that worked so well for her last year,” Murrey said.
“He is very supportive of me. When I feel that I do not want to wake up to go for training in the morning, he is there to urge me on. I feel good about myself when he is around,” Jelimo added.
However, being coached by a spouse has raised fears that Jelimo was not being pushed hard enough to achieve her goals as the Rabat and Pre Fontaine performances indicated.
“My problem is not with coaching since I have struck to the same programme as last year. Many have forgotten that I had minor surgery Belgium in March after injuring my tendon in training.
“That meant that my programme started later than I would have wished,” she asserted.
Jelimo reiterated, “I want to be in the best possible form to compete well at the national trials and in Berlin, where the competition will be tough.”
The Kapsabet Express is seeking to become the second runner after Mozambique’s legend, Maria ‘Maputo Express’ Mutola to hold both Olympic and World Champion.
After winning the women’s 800m race in Sydney 2000, Mutola captured the world title the following year in Edmonton, Canada.
“If that happens, I will be very pleased. I motivate myself by setting targets for every season and achieving what Mutola did and surpass remains my biggest mission.”