NAIROBI, Kenya, March 12- When the ‘Kapsabet Express’ rolls into town on Tuesday from Istanbul, once again there will be a scramble of ‘passengers’ eager to board for a share of Pamela Jelimo’s glory.
Scenes at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport may not be the delirium witnessed on September 15, 2008 when the then shiny new ‘Kapsabet Express’ made her first grand entry home after blowing apart all other ‘buses’ on the women 800m circuit.
For those who need a reminder, Jelimo had just won the defunct IAAF Golden League series jackpot of $1m (Sh82m at today’s rate) besides remaining unbeaten over 13 races she started including the African Championships and above all Beijing Olympics.
On Sunday, the athlete who emphatically revved back the ‘Kapsabet Express’ to the international stage on February 18 at the IAAF Permit Meet in Lievin, France where she clocked 1:59.10 for second went one better when she became the first Kenyan female in history to win World Indoors gold- with a 1:58.83 world lead to boot!
“For me, I am happy. These last three years, with my injury, were a disaster for me. Injuries have a great impact on top athletes.
“For my country and my management and me – it was bad for all of us. But I did not give up and my coach motivated me a lot. It feels great to be a world champion; it is great to be at the top again. I did not imagine winning this title. I have been trying to be in shape,” Jelimo told IAAF after her resounding comeback.
Her spiral out of the mainstream to the scrap yard of women 800m running was completed at the blue tartan track of the Berlin Olympiastadion at the 2009 World Championships.
After running almost 600m, Jelimo’s engine coughed, spluttered then pulled to a complete stop as the ‘Kapsabet Express’ was ‘towed’ out of the track on a stretcher.
Back to her Kenyan ‘garage’ the task of panel beating her back to shape begun as her management, Golazo Sports engaged a number of medics, physiotherapists and masseuse to help her recover from a torn knee.
Having become accustomed to the glittering international racing arenas in her barnstorming debut season, the ‘Kapsabet Express’ was taken around various local dirt tracks including those in Mombasa, Mumias and Embu among others in a bid to jump start the engine- to no avail throughout 2010 and 2011.
“Towards the end of the year, we decided to move her to Nairobi from her Kapsabet home so that she could train in Ngong. She was being distracted a lot at home and she needed to focus,” Golazo Sports country representative Barnabas Korir said.
Jelimo was then paired with former Arizona State University runner and graduate Ben Engelhardt as they embarked on the build-up for the 2012 season.
“We decided to bring Ben since he is talented and experienced and can relate easily with her,” Korir, who is the Team Kenya manager for the Istanbul World Indoors said.
“In addition to working on her fitness, we had to work on her mentality since what she has gone through was also psychologically damaging,” Engelhardt said before their departure to Turkey.
With concerns lingering whether the World Indoors, a grand stage as they come, was too soon in the rehabilitation of the ‘Kapsabet Express’ coming at a season where an Olympics title defence looms, Jelimo arrived in Istanbul.
At Friday’s women 800m, the ‘Kapsabet Express’ almost veered off the road and into the ditch of despair when Jelimo miscalculated her burst, leading from the front before she was caught up and out sprinted to the line by Russia’s Yuliya Rusanova (2:00.26).
There was only one automatic ticket to the medal race and Jelimo has to sit pensively for the other two heats to unfold before her 2:00.32 qualified her to the Sunday final as one of the two fastest loser- Phew!
That set the stage for her date with destiny on Sunday and perhaps conscious of what happened at the heats, Jelimo was content to let American Erica Moore play the rabbit and at the bell, the ‘Kapsabet Express’ shifted gears and on the homestretch, zoomed away from Ukraine’s Nataliia Lupu to take the gold.
It was truly one of the most enthralling comeback in sport as the well-oiled ‘Kapsabet Express’ once again honked in glory besides pocketing the $40,000 (Sh3.28m) for the top medal- enough to ‘pimp out’ the bus in chrome and any other extras.