06 June, 2019

Forged in Fire: Julius Yego

From an internet café in Nairobi to a record-breaker at Muller Grand Prix Birmingham – Julius Yego is one of a kind.

Kenya’s javelin trailblazer is a unique force of nature, an unprecedented story that testifies to the egalitarian nature of modern athletics.

2015 was the year in which Yego took his career to a whole new level, becoming world champion, but the Birmingham faithful were treated to display of his talent just as searing.

As we count down to this year’s much-anticipated edition, we’re taking a look back at a few Muller Grand Prix Birmingham favourites, with Yego taking pride of place.

Humble beginnings

It’s fair to say the Kenyan’s road to the Alexander Stadium was long and winding, and not just because of Spaghetti Junction.

Born in the rural Tinderet area of Nandi County, Yego was the fourth of eight siblings in a farming family, a community without electricity or a road network.

Forging his first spear from sticks of wood, the Eldoret-based athlete’s talent immediately came to the fore as he set a national junior record in 2006 while competing in a pair of jogging shoes.

Yego, an officer in the CID department of the Kenya Police, was soon confronted with obstacles in the shape of a lacking of coaching, training facilities or a culture of achievement in the discipline.

So he took matters into his own hands, plunging into internet cafes in Nairobi and Eldoret to watch YouTube clips of the world’s best in training. 

Yego studied the routines of the likes of world record holder Jan Zelezny, Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen and 2007 world champion Tero Pitkamaki as the only model for his own preparation.

Hitting the front

Persisting despite odds continually stacked against him, Yego made his international debut in 2010 but really burst onto the scene in 2011.

At the All Africa Games in Maputo, he launched the spear 78.34 metres to become the first-ever Kenyan continental champion in the discipline.

Receiving a spot to train at the IAAF accredited centre in Kuortane, Finland, proved a turning point and at London 2012 he heeded the call to ‘inspire a generation.’

Yego broke a national record for the third time at the Olympic Stadium, throwing 81.81m to become the first African to reach the javelin final at the Games.

His first global title came in 2014 as British fans once again saw him at his best, 83.87m earning him Commonwealth gold in Glasgow, beating Trinidad’s reigning Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott. 

Grand Prix glory

Yego started 2015 in imperious fashion, claiming victories at Ostrava Golden Spike and Rome’s Golden Gala, signalling his intent to challenge at the autumn’s World Championships in China.

As a third-year Diamond League athlete, aged 26, Yego reached the runway in the West Midlands among a stacked field all keen to land blows less than three months before Beijing.

On the bill were Walcott, Yego’s idol Pitkamaki, 2013 world champion Vítezslav Veselý and rising star Thomas Rohler, who would go on to claim Olympic gold in Rio a year later.

Put simply, Yego was a cut above on a brilliantly sunny afternoon at a packed Alexander Stadium.

He went out to 85.95m on first attempt, over three metres further than any rival, backing it up with a hurl of 86.53 at the third time of asking.

Yego’s winning throw, eclipsing Vesely’s mark of 88.18m, soared through the 80s and pitched just past the 90m boundary, right on the very tip of the sector in the top right corner.

Initially ruled out, justice was done when the sector was remeasured and Yego’s throw counted, 91.39m earning a stunning victory that cemented him as a modern icon. 

And it saw the burly 5ft 9in thrower come full circle, surpassing Pitkamaki’s world lead and Thorkildsen’s five-year Diamond League record, stars he’d only aimed to mimic a few years earlier. 

Tickets for the Muller Grand Prix Birmingham are now on sale at www.britishathletics.org.uk