NAIROBI, January 20 – Javelin star Julius Yego has the extraordinary ability of making anyone in his presence feel at home; his infectious bonhomie an instant magnet that adds to his pulling power.
Last Friday, he rose to be widely acclaimed as the Sports Personality and Sportsman of the Year at the glittering 2015 Safaricom Soya Awards. There was no one in the huge plenary hall who could dispute he stood head and shoulders above the rest in a resounding year where Kenyans excelled across multiple disciplines.
Looking dapper in a light blue suit, white shirt and bow tie, the stocky-built ‘You-Tube Man’ who has established a global following took to the stage and went on to deliver another performance that marks him out as a seasoned politician in the making.
As he spoke, the dazzling presence of retired Cameroon football legend, Patrice Mboma the invited celebrity guest, Soya patron/founder, Paul Tergat, and Cabinet Secretary, Sports, Culture and Arts, Dr. Hassan Wario did not faze him.
Rather, they only acted as supporting cast to a rendition that any Kenyan political titan would be proud of only that Yego was not campaigning to run for office in the 2017 General Elections. His aim is to continue his internal competition to re-write history at the 2016 Rio Olympics this summer.
“I remember watching you and Cameroon win the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, and I told my sister that one day, I will compete for Kenya at the Olympics. The Cameroon team inspired me to work hard and having Mboma here will inspire more young Kenyans to do well in sport.
“Pass my greetings to Samuel Eto’o, I was his big fan,” Yego said, facing Mboma who in those moments, hung on to every word with immense pride, in what was arguably the biggest deed of reverence to his decorated career since he landed in the country.
As he went on with his stirring off-the-cuff acceptance speech, he ruffled no feathers when he paid tribute to his sponsors, Orange Mobile at an event title-sponsored by their rivals Safaricom in another example of his rich oratory skills.
Of course, Yego’s words were not scripted but like a seasoned politician, he possesses the wits to sound great on whatever he is speaking on, whether it’s his beloved Javelin or trending topics on social media, a platform that has significantly enhanced his ascendancy as a Kenyan cross over star.
His appeal has spilled from the confines of sport into popular culture as evidenced by celebrated local rapper, Kaligraph Jones who belted his ‘Yego’ monster hit that conquered airwaves in the latter part of 2015, in tribute to his epic victory at last summer’s IAAF World Championships in Beijing, China.
The tune provided the ideal soundtrack for the two-time African champion and London 2012 Olympics finalist as he walked to the stage to accept the two big gongs at Soya Awards, as well as the Athlete of the Year decoration at the 2015 AK Golden Gala on December 10.
Yego’s growing stature as one of the most recognisable sport icons in the country owes its roots on overcoming crushing disappointment, when he arrived to the scene as a raw teenager harbouring a big dream.
Every time this writer meets him, the first thing he always says is “Remember 2008?”
As a young reporter striving to cut his teeth in athletics then, Kenyan Trials for whatever age group and event were a no miss since they offered a rich catchment to interact with established and budding stars.
With colleague James Wokabi, now a presenter at SuperSport and Football Sunday on Capital FM, attention to the burly teenager was drawn when he threw an outstanding 72.41m to become the first Kenyan to qualify for the IAAF World Junior Championships at the 2008 Trials in June.
Yego went on to amaze when he narrated his vision was to emulate Czech Republic record holder, Jan Železný who holds the 98.48m standard set in Germany in 1996 when he was barely seven years old.
Then and now, it’s rare to hear a young Kenyan athlete talking of world records and since 2008, he has improved his lifetime best to the African record of 92.72m, the winning giant throw that brought him a first senior world title in China.
However, his hopes of making a name at the 2008 Bydgoszcz World Juniors were cruelly dashed when Athletics Kenya (AK) declined to take him to Poland.
Former Secretary General and suspended Vice-President, David Okeyo, told off this reporter when together with his colleague, took heated protests of the glaring omission to the Panel of Selectors he headed when he named the team for Bydgoszcz at Nairobi’s Nyayo National Stadium.
“We cannot enter athletes in disciplines where we have no chances of winning medals since our budget is tight.” he curtly retorted.
Almost eight years later, a nation now pins her Olympics hopes on a man who has become synonymous with history, since he won his country a maiden men’s Javelin gold medal at the All Africa Games in Maputo in 2011.
Okeyo and indeed all other Kenyans, can only sit and watch.