IN GOLD COAST
Despite coming just a spear’s throw away from the Olympic champion and world record holder’s home in Narok County, Kenya’s new Commonwealth Games 800 metres champion Wycliffe Kinyamal has never met David Rudisha.
But the 20-year-old is primed to take over as the next two-lap great if his gold medal exploits at the Carrara Stadium on Thursday are anything to go by.
Not even defending champion Nigel Amos would have bet on the youngster dethroning him, no wonder the Botswana star broke down and wept in the media interview area after the race.
Interestingly, Kinyamal took up the 800m by “default” lured by a friend, Leshan Togom, away from the high jump, his high school speciality at athletics-rich Mogonga Secondary School in neighbouring Kisii County.
“I never competed on the track while in high school, not even in the 400 metres. High jump was my event,” he said after reclaiming the Commonwealth Games gold, clocking one minute, 45.11 seconds to finish ahead of Englishman Kyle Langford (1:45.16 personal best) and Aussie Luke Mathews (1:45.60).
“I actually started running the 800 metres seriously in 2016 after I had completed my high school studies.
“David Rudisha was my hero and I wanted to run like him, although I have never met him to date, despite my home (Poroko in Trans Mara) being close to Rudisha’s place.”
Kinyamal’s journey to the podium wasn’t an easy one.
Hitherto, his only claim to fame was victory in the East Africa Junior Championships, a feat he achieved in his first year running the 800m.
Two days to the Games’ opening ceremony here, he was treated for a stiff waist.
“At one point, he couldn’t even walk. We even though he’d not compete, but I must thank the Kenyan medical staff for handling him well,” an elated Kenya head coach Japheth Kemei told Nation Sport trackside on Thursday.
Amos seemed destined to cash in on his rich experience to defend his title.
And, indeed, he appeared to be cruising when he gobbled up the first 400m ahead of the pack in 52.01 seconds before Kinyamal powered through in 1:18.03 at 600 metres.
Interestingly, the second 400 metres was 01.8 seconds slower than the first.
“Our strategy was that one of us needed to win the gold, and we agreed that Kinyamal goes ahead and I stay back to check how Amos would respond,” the second Kenyan in the race, Jonathan Kitilit, explained.
Kitilit should be credited for sacrificing himself to allow Kinyamal to triumph.
He finished sixth in 1:47.20 with Amos eighth and last in 1:48.45, which must have triggered the flood of tears the man from Gaborone unleashed at the mixed zone.
“Amos started off fast and I thought he would go all the way. In fact, I had tipped him for the gold medal,” Kinyamal added.
“But when I saw he wasn’t really accelerating, I decided to over-take him with 250 metres to go and went for it.”
In fact, Amos’ progression right from the start was impeccable as he led the field at 200m (24.6 seconds), 300m (38.0), 400m (52.1) and 500m (1:05.7) before Kinyamal took over at 600m.
Maintaining a rich tradition that has seen Narok County produce a dozen 800m champions, Kinyamal’s next target is to win gold at the 2020 Olympics, and his journey continues next month in Qatar where he will run in the opening leg of that IAAF Diamond League Series in Doha.
He will be looking to improving his personal best time over the distance, which stands at 1:43.94, attained in Rovereto, Italy, on August 29 last year.
“That’s what I’m going for,” he quipped, smiling broadly after having eased the pressure off the Team Kenya camp that had gone seven days at these championships without a gold medal.
His victory atoned for the disaster, just a few minutes earlier, in Kenya’s 400m hurdles campaign.
Former world champion Nicholas Bett and his twin brother Aron Koech were tipped to at least get a medal between them, but they flopped and breezed past journalists without uttering a word.
Koech finished sixth in 50.02 second while Bett was eighth in 51.00, the race won by Kyron McMaster (48.25) with the first ever Commonwealth Games gold medal for the British Virgin Islands.
Jeffery Gibson of the Bahamas (49.10) was second with Jamaica’s Jaheel Hyde taking bronze in 49.19.
And now Kenya can dare to dream with further gold medals expected Friday in the men’s 3,000m steeplechase and 10,000m.
“I expect more medals at these championships, especially in the steeplechase, javelin, men’s 10,000 and 1,500 metres, women’s 5,000 metres and the marathons,” the now relieved coach Kemei said.