Athletics: Concern over Kenyan star Jelimo's fast decline - Daily Monitor

Athletics: Concern over Kenyan star Jelimo's fast decline

Tuesday August 17 2010

Two years ago Kenyan track star Pamela Jelimo was a source of national pride: Her sudden rise to fame and riches earned her a private audience with President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

However, the 800m Olympic champion and world junior record's sudden downward slide has left many mystified.

Jelimo has not won a race since clinching the IAAF million-dollar jackpot in September 2008, and a series of races in Kenya and abroad have all ended in disappointment.

The athlete, who was not available for comment, finished sixth on her return to competitive racing in Rabat, Morocco in May 2009, blaming stress on her poor performance.

National athletics coach Stephen Mwaniki believes Jelimo's problems are pyschological.

"She was at the top for one solid year and the next year she was nowhere, even to the extent that she could not finish a race. It must be a pyschological problem. Athletics is 75 percent mental and 25 per cent physical," he said.

But many, including her former coach Said Aziz believe Jelimo's case epitomises the life of a superstar unable to cope with the pressures associated with celebrity fame in a lucrative Kenyan athletics industry.

Aziz said after being flavour of the month all of a sudden, Jelimo, who scooped the one-million dollar jackpot -- the richest prize in track and field -- to add to her Olympic gold in 2008, changed character.

"Her behaviour changed from being a disciplined athlete to being unruly. She showed total indifference in her attitude and acted aloof," said Aziz, who coached the runner for four years from 2005 to a world beater.

He blames external influence in the change in attitude of his former protege who, after her unexpected achievement and being exposed to the international stage, became a hot property and everyone wanted a share of her.

"People who did not know Jelimo before came and took over in the management of her affairs. Some of us who had been with her from the beginning found ourselves being sidelined," Aziz added.

Aziz, who is now training some 30 youngsters in Kenya's western Kapsabet town guided the athlete to make the race switch from a little-known 400m sprinter to the 800m.

The 18-year-old Jelimo went on to set two fastest sub 55 times in the world, and went 12 races unbeaten, becoming Kenya's first ever woman Olympic gold medallist over the distance.

Aziz said: "She had risen very well. I knew we were going to have ten more years at the top level. Her combination with Caster Semenya (the South African world champion) would have seen the world 800m record being obliterated sooner than later."

Jelimo, who has also battled leg injuries has opted to take a break for the rest of 2010 to plan for next year.

Her manager, Barnabas Korir, said he was confident she will make a successful return.

"Jelimo is okay. She has just taken a break," said Korir. "There should be no cause for alarm. She will be back."

Mwaniki said the Kenyan federation had not lost faith in the athlete despite failing to defend her African title at the African athletics championships in Nairobi early this month.

"We have not given up on her. We are making a follow up with her coaches to see what we can offer. We have even invited her to take part in the upcoming trials for the Commonwealth Games here on August 28," he said.