NAIROBI, Kenya, August 3- The sight of Janeth Jepkosgei and Eunice Sum at the Kenyan camp for the forthcoming World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, echoes that of a mother Kangaroo carrying her offspring in the pouch.
Rarely are the two apart, from the training track of Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, to the hostels where they are sharing a room as well as the dining and rest lounges.
Jepkosgei, with a World and Commonwealth women 800m titles to top the silver medals she won at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 2009 Berlin Worlds and 2010 Africa Championships, qualifies to be the ‘athletics mother’ to Sum, who will make her Team Kenya Worlds bow in Daegu.
“She came for me at home when I was lost and took me under her care and since then, I have rediscovered my focus and I’m happy to make the World Championships for the first time with the qualifying time,” Sum narrates.
Born 23-years-ago at Keses village, in Uasin Gishu District at the heart of Rift Valley, Sum prodigious talent was evident at an early age, dangling athletics with handball in her formative school, Turwopng’etuny Primary.
“I was not interested in training and used to compete and beat other pupils at 200m and 400m and I would qualify for the Districts without much effort. Handball was the game I took a liking to and played for my team to the nationals,” she narrated.
Curiously, she is a first cousin of the 2007 World men 800m champion, Alfred Kirwa Yego, who was only two classes ahead of her and as he made his impact at junior level, competing at the 2004 World Juniors where he won silver.
“Alfred was urging me to take up running as he excelled in school but I did not take that seriously. Today, I’m living with him since I want to excel,”
“I was admitted to Itigo Girls for my secondary educations but my parents could not afford it so I was enrolled at the nearby Moi University Secondary which was a day school,” she added.
Itigo, in Western Kenya, is famed for its sporting prowess with a number of national and regional titles under their belts in football, handball, hockey and volleyball.
At Moi, she juggled Heptathlon and handball in her first two years, reaching the nationals in the former and in her latter two years, dallied with 400m where she also sailed to the schools finals.
It was at the finals where renowned coach, David Letting told her to try 800m running where she raced to 2:12 on her first attempt and returning a year later, lowered the time to 2:09.
Upon completion of studies in 2006, Sum veered off her career progression and daughter Diana Jeruto was welcomed to the world in 2008.
“I was just at home raising my daughter and looking after our cows when in 2009, Janeth came looking around for me. She told me I was young enough to develop my career and I decided to follow her.
“She has been more than a mentor to me. She helped me financially to take care of my child so that I could focus on my training.”
Jepkosgei said of her protégé, “I noticed her when I went to watch school games and for one year, she disappeared completely. When I finally found her, I was very happy since here was someone who could compete and do well since she is very talented.”
The Osaka world champion introduced the raw Sum to her coach, Claudio Berardelli and manager Federico Rosa who took her under their wing and at the 2009 Trials for Berlin World Championships, the upstart finished fifth.
A year later as Kenya hosted the African Athletics Championships, Sum made the team but could not reach the final and this year, the rapidly improving runner dipped under 2:00 for the first time when she ran 1:59.66 at altitude to finish second at the Daegu Trials just behind her guide, Jepkosgei (1:59.34).
“It is our wish to ensure her career grows gradually. I see her winning a medal at next year’s Olympics and the World Championships after that. For Daegu, our aim is to ensure she qualifies for the finals,” ‘mother Janeth’ stressed.
“Should I qualify for the final, anything can happen but it will be more than a dream for me and all what I can ask for now. Training with Janeth has shown me what it takes, the discipline required to be at the top as well as the patience,” Sum added.
As for the ‘Eldoret Express’ she is out to maintain her podium run in her third Worlds and on this occasion, only the top medal will do.
“I have had problems with slight muscle injury and I have not run much this season and I received treatment in Monaco. I’m feeling in great shape and although the competition will be fit with the likes of Semenya, Sinclair and Benhassi, I hope to reclaim what I lost in Osaka,” she stated.
Then looking pointedly at Sum, she expressed, “I want when I move up to 1500m, I will have left someone to hold on to 800m for this country since we cannot let the gains we have made.”
Having raced in a number of Metric Mile races on the elite European circuit, the question was when she would formally step up.
“Maybe next season, or after the Olympics,” she replied with a twinkle.
But witnessing the two retreat to rest in two, there was no doubt the mantle has already been passed.