For the past two years Pamela Jelimo has had nothing but numerous false starts.
From the highs she enjoyed as a women’s 800m world beater at 18, she succumbed to the penultimate nightmare of any sports person – injury.
Jelimo has failed to reproduce the power, speed and endurance of two years ago that saw her cruise to the top of the world when she clinched the lucrative IAAF Golden League jackpot worth $1 million (Sh80 million) and an Olympic gold medal in Beijing in 2008.
Her recent poor form has seen many write her off. And you cannot really blame them: There appeared to be no explanation for Jelimo’s sudden drop in form, yet age is on her side. She is only 21. Off-track problems, including a career-threatening injury, have dented her confidence.
In 2007, Janeth Jepkosgei won Kenyans’ hearts with her victory in the Osaka World Championships. But it was the emergence of Jelimo that caught the world’s attention.
Seemingly out of the blues, Jelimo decimated the field that included former world champion Maria “Maputo Express” Mutola of Mozambique, Jepkosgei and Kenia Sinclair of Jamaica to be crowned Olympic champion in Beijing.
She then went on a 14-race unbeaten spree from Nairobi to Monaco, winning everything on offer – including the now defunct Sh80 million IAAF Golden League in Brussels.
Jelimo was given a heroic welcome upon her return home, complete with a street in Kapsabet town named after her.
She then took a recess to unwind, and the injuries crept up on her. She was a no-starter as the 2009 season started. This was the start of a long frustrating spell for Jelimo.
“Nobody wanted to listen to my side of the story,” says the Kenya Police runner. “I had a left knee injury, a sore ankle on my right leg and a hamstring to worry about. I put in much effort in my training as I struggled to regain my fitness.
Made several false starts
“I fought alone. In my quest for the jackpot, I ended up wearing down my body. I had run basically each and every race in 2008. I ran out of steam and the body was constantly reminding me to cut down. I was finished.”
Last year, Jelimo made several false starts in a comeback bid. But she clearly was not ready, even losing to Jepkosgei during the World Championships trials at Nyayo National Stadium.
“I heard the fans chant my name. I wanted to win but (I give) credit to Jepkosgei; she beat me clean. I also realised that the younger athletes – Cherono Koech and Winnie Chebet – were very close,” Jelimo added.
During the World Championships at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, Jelimo pulled out after 200 metres in the semi-finals with a knee injury and travelled to Belgium for treatment.
“After 100 metres I felt a sharp pain when I tried to push and so I decided to pull out rather than make the injury worse,” said Jelimo. “It was painful, but what could you do?”
This year, in Shanghai, Jelimo clocked 2:01.52 in her first international race in eight months. Jelimo now says she is over the worst, that she is on her way to the top again.
She looks forward to the 2010-2011 season with a lot of hope and is aiming for the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, in August.
While realising the tough task ahead and that self-belief holds the key to the future, Jelimo is ready to face the world once more: “I never doubted myself making a comeback. I am now fine and ready to go.
It was a difficult stage and now I have passed it. I will focus on building my career and getting my fitness back again. I will start with one or two cross country races for endurance.”
Jelimo draws some comfort from the fact that some athletes have suffered injury but made a comeback: “Look at Sanya Richards: She was out for a long time but she is promising in her comeback.
“Usain Bolt is also injured and Kenenisa Bekele could not run in Nairobi or in the Diamond League because of injury. I am not a lone ranger.
“My doctors advised me to relax and let the injury heal with time but I couldn’t just sit back and watch as my team mates trained. I did gym work, trained lightly and watched my diet.
“My husband has been of great help. He has been supportive in my darkest hour. He has always encouraged me.”
And then the warning: “I will be back. Whoever is at the top must make way for I will not stop until I am back up there.”