One of the things that is amazing about Kenyan athletes is that every year, you can be sure that new names will emerge and that there will be sensational performances produced by either hitherto-unknowns or middle level performers.
However, such is Kenya’s strength in depth at middle and long distance running that it’s not too unusual for our runners to have one great year and then never come close to topping it.
Obviously, no one expects every athlete to have the longevity of the recently retired Paul Tergat or Leah Malot, but it makes you wonder what the reasons are behind being a flash in the pan.
Most of the time, injury will be a big factor in athletes being unable to maintain their best form.
Other times, the stars will fall perfectly in line for athletes and, with a little bit of luck, they’ll achieve something they know is a true one-off and so lose motivation in the years that follow.
The recent embarrassing last place performance of Olympic 800m champion Pamela Jelimo at the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League event in the US sadly brings into sharp focus one of Kenya’s best examples of a one season wonder.
Her downfall was just as meteoric as her rise to the top of her event.
Three years ago, Jelimo rose from total obscurity to global stardom in the space of eight months.
After storming to the African women’s 800m title in April 2008, where she obliterated the legendary Maputo Express, Maria Mutola, Jelimo went on to establish a winning run that defied logic in her mystical year.
The teenage phenomenon single-handedly won the US$1 million IAAF Golden League jackpot, set the world junior record (1:54:01), remained unbeaten in 13 races and above all, became the first Kenyan female athlete to win Olympic gold in Beijing.
A dream season for any athlete!
Many people, including myself, thought Jelimo would be the one to break the 800m world record after her season in which she ran three World Junior Records and consistently dipped below 1:55, the mark of superiority in that event.
Three competitive seasons later and the same people are wondering will she ever return to form or should she retire after a series of uninspiring performances? So where did all go wrong for the “Kapsabet Express,” who suffered the most sudden and biggest decline from world class athletics?
Coaching issues, the lack of an efficient support network, motivation are some of the reasons cited for her spectacular meltdown.
Jelimo should definitely wrap up her season until she is in better form and end the hugely disappointing performances. Her value as an athlete is surely dropping with every such last place performance.
As her Olympic title defence is only 13 months away, given that she is still young and active, she’s physically capable of returning to her old form but I feel psychologically, it’s much less likely.
As the adage goes, getting to the top is easier than staying there!