The phrase “meteoric rise” may be a long-drawn-out cliche, but it, perhaps, most suitably describes Margaret Nyairera Wambui’s fledgling athletics career.
Just when gold medals were proving elusive, desperation setting in and cross-border rivals Uganda taunting the Kenyan camp at the 15th IAAF World Junior Championships, the 18-year-old from Endarasha proved to be the Joker in the pack, effectively opening the floodgates for Kenya’s gold medal rush with victory in the women’s 800 metres final.
Kapkuto Secondary School dropout, Jonathan Sawe, from Kapsabet would take up the cue from Wambui to add another gold in the men’s 1,500 metres.
But while Wambui is featuring in her first event abroad, Sawe, a Youth Commonwealth Games gold medallist, is a veteran despite the fact that he’s still a junior. Sawe struck bronze in his maiden race abroad at the 2011 World Youth Championships in Lille, France.
The victories on Thursday night took Kenya to the top of the medal standings after three days of competition at the University of Oregon with eight medals, two gold, two silver and four bronze. No journalist at the championships believed that prior to this competition, Wambui had run just one competitive 800m race ever - at the Kenyan Junior trials!
Hers is a tears-eye story of determination, self-confidence and a humble upbringing. She managed a personal best time of two minutes, 0.49 seconds.
Raised by a single mother, Anne Wambui, the Form Three student at Nyeri’s Tetu High School started off as a 400-metre runner while in Form Two.
She also played volleyball up to national level for her school team.
“I also used to compete in the heptathlon, which has 800 metres competition. It was when I ran 2:05 at one 800 metres race in heptathlon that my coach thought I should focus more on the event,” Wambui says. “I know my mother will be proud of me, she has always encouraged me to work hard.”
Wambui ran a tactical race and was not distracted when Kenya national junior champion Maximila Emali pulled out with hamstring problems on the final lap.
“I was very hurt when Uganda won a gold medal in the men’s 10,000 m (through Joshua Cheptengei) and we had none, so I said I’ll give it my all to bring glory to my country,” Wambui said.
“My strategy was to closely observe Cuba’s Sahily Diago, who was the strongest in the field, and I’m glad I did it!” Diago settled for silver in 2:02.11 while Australia’s Georgia Wassall (2:04.12) claimed the bronze.
“I’m so happy and now I will cheer my teammates so that we win more gold medals,” said Wambui who intimated that she will take up professional athletics after high school next year.