NAIROBI, Kenya, February 28- For the first time in three years, Olympics 800m champion, Pamela Jelimo, radiates a picture of composure, with some of the old steel that turned her into a force in her breakthrough year of 2008 evident in her eyes.
As she prepares for the forthcoming March 9 to 12 World Indoor Championships in Turkey, Jelimo is no longer afraid of facing the media as she prepares to make her big comeback to the limelight in Istanbul.
“I do not want to comment on my chances but what I can assure everyone is that I want to bring my confidence back. From there, it will determine my position,” the world women 800m junior record holder (1:54.01) said.
For her, it has been a painful journey from the highs of being acclaimed as the crown princess of women 800m running with 13 straight victories in 2008 to the lows of being referred to in some circles in harsh mockery as ‘DNF’ (Did Not Finish).
“If I will be second or I win (in Istanbul), it does not matter. There are still the Kenyan Trials for Olympics and I that is where I should cross the line. The London Olympics are coming and they will be tough so I want to be ready.
“What remains for me now is to build my confidence progressively so that I can be competitive,” she adds as the pain of three seasons of hurt begins to spread across her face.
So what happened to the runner who quickly earned the ‘Kapsabet Express’ moniker after commanding women 800m with such force on her debut season that saw her bag the Olympics, African and the defunct IAAF Golden League $1m (Sh85m) jackpot?
“I ran so many races at such a high pace. After 2008, I had to recover and my body did not respond as I expected. I trained so hard and all over a sudden I got an injury.
“I participated in the Kenyan Trials for the 2009 World Championships and ran in Berlin where I forced myself to run with the injury. After that, I decided to take a break to build my confidence back,” she explained.
She revealed the nightmare she endured as she quickly became an object of international ridicule following abject scenes that followed her being carried off the blue tartan track of Berlin in the Worlds women 800m semi finals that sealed her steep decline.
“In everyday life, there are problems. Even in athletics there are injuries. Many people were speculating I would quit the sport but now, I quit Kapsabet for Ngong because there are better facilities here this year.
“It was painful as an athlete to see your friends running. You want to do more for your country but with an injury, it is so bad, you cannot do that. People close to me, my family and my company (Golazo Sports) offered me so much support.”
The Beijing champion told of the mental drain she bore as doctors and physiotherapists as tried to return to shape after she suffered a recurrent knee cap injury.
“Every now and then, I would want to train but the doctor would tell me to wait for another two weeks. After the two weeks, you would come and get the same injury again and be told wait for another two three weeks.
“It ruined my motivation as I visited several doctors and physiotherapists. I endured so many massage sessions and this year, I had to change everything,” she sighed.
On whether it is too early for her to return to international competition in Istanbul after racing her first sub 2:00 performance since July 2009 when she raced 1:59.10 at the Lievin Indoor Meeting early February in France, Jelimo asserted;
“When you are in good shape, there is no point in not running at a major event like the World Indoors, Grand Prix or Diamond League. I have discussed with the coach, my managers and they say it is okay.
“As an athlete, the biggest motivation is to run in a race and win that is what makes everybody happy. Running 1:55 or 1:56 is what I’m looking forward to do but it has to be progressively.”
Jelimo is keen to disprove her detractors who were quick to write her off as she braces for a title defence in London later this summer.
“Some, I can say my enemies were saying no, maybe Pamela will not run any more. Some even told my mother that your daughter will not run anymore because she got a lot of money.
“That was a way of motivation since life has to continue. I learned it is easy to get to the top but hard to stay there and I’m happy my family stood by me.”
American athlete and coach, Benjamin Engelhart, has been seconded by Jelimo’s management, Golazo Sports to shape the rehabilitation of the runner who captured world imagination in her breakout season.
“Pamela is very determined and ready to return to the top where she feels she belongs. What we are seeing are signs of things to come and even if it does not work out in Istanbul, I believe the important thing is that she has recovered her mental strength.
“Physically, she is still very strong and there are a few things from her race in France we are working on to ensure she retains the intensity she started with,” Engelhart said.
Having sat out the 2010 Africa Championships and Commonwealth Games as well as last year’s Worlds, Jelimo who was included in her country’s nine-strong team for the World Indoors is raring to crank back to life.