Until last year, Winny Langat was an ordinary recruit trying to impress her seniors at the Kenya Police’s Kiganjo Training College.
But a trip to Nairobi changed her life from what she terms as play girl competition to a serious contender. Lang’at was encouraged by her coach to compete in the pole vault event during the 2010 Kenya police athletics championship.
Ironically, it was the only time she came to know of a landing mat used in the event.
Before, Lang’at was used to landing on quick sand or dry banana leaves when she used to compete at the secondary school championships.
Now she is being asked to hit the bulls’ eye.
Athletics Kenya has selected her, together with Caroline Cherotich and Priscillah Nasimiyu, to represent the country in next week’s Senior Africa Athletics Championship that will be staged at the Nyayo National Stadium.
Lang’at is conscious of the task at hand, which she equates to be as challenging as attempting to scale Mt. Everest in sandshoes.
“I started pole vault in 2009,” she said. “This is my second time to use the landing mattress and I still feel some butterflies going up. But I am prepared to do something good for this great nation. I want to win.”
Lang’at was introduced to pole vault in 2006 when she was still a student at Sosiot Girls High school in Kericho. But her interest in the sport faded as she sort employment and trained as a sprinter to join the Police force.
On graduation from Kiganjo in 2008, Lang’at, 21, picked up where she had left in pole vault, but not for competition purpose, just to keep fit and busy.
“From bamboo sticks and banana leaves; now to this equipment, I believe we will get a culture shock when the championship start. But there is the first time for everything and I believe we are strong enough to compete. I can clear up to 2.65 metres. It is this I want to improve on,” she said.
Stephen Mwaniki, the team’s head coach, remained upbeat his team will overcome their personal fears and the continent at home as Kenya plays host to over 46 countries in Africa’s premier track and field competition.
“They have been neglected but now they have the chance to prove the world wrong. It is not easy for them to attain the marks they have, but gradually as they are taken through the basics and techniques, they will sharpen up,” he said.
It is not Lang’at alone who is hunting for medals. Kennedy Kiptanui first heard of the pole vault through television during the 2007 Osaka World Championship, and got interested.
Now he stands on the brim of writing his own piece of history as he carries the country flag in an event few have dared to take part in locally.
“I used to see it at school, but it was then dangerous as pupils would get injured,” he said.