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Julius Yego: Kenya’s javelin hero preparing for an Olympic swansong that might not happen

Kenya’s Olympic silver medallist Julius Yego has told the BBC that Tokyo 2020 will be his last Games – if it ever happens.

Yego got silver four years ago at Rio in a final in which he only had one throw before injury struck.

Now 32, Yego – who is known for being self-taught, as well as the first Africa javelin champion – is desperate for the coronavirus-threatened Games to go ahead, as he will not be at another one.

“Winning the Olympics is my main priority; it’s all I have dreamt of since the last Olympics,” he told BBC Africa Sport.

“I want to win a gold so badly. I want to make a mark in the beautiful city of Tokyo and have a chance for a special celebration.”

Last Olympics

Julius Yego at the 2015 World Championships
Yego’s win at the 2015 World Championships was a defining moment for African athletics – showing Kenya could compete in the field as well as on the track

The fate of the Tokyo Olympics currently hangs in the balance. It is the biggest sporting event that remains to be postponed in 2020, with tennis and golf majors, F1 races, and the European Championships in football all having been moved to later this year or next year.

Yego said that he hoped that if there was to be a change to the Olympics, it would only be a short postponement, and not a total cancellation.

“It’s for sure going to be my last Olympics,” he said.

“I don’t want to imagine that there may be a potential postponement or a total cancelation of the Tokyo games. The 2024 Olympics are still far away, and age is catching up with me. I can’t possibly still be competitive in another four years,” he said.

Early in the week the Sports ministry in Kenya ordered a closure of all public sports facilities for the next 30 days as the Kenyan government battles to contain the number of coronavirus infections.

Yego trains at the country’s national stadium in Nairobi, and explained that these closures had “really impacted my training.”

“I am adjusting by going to the gym so that I remain fit – I understand and support the directive because we have to fight this pandemic together, but it has really thrown my preparations off in a major way,” he said.

“The current situation also means our competition programmes will not start as planned.”

A proper pre-season is crucial for Yego, who has struggled to find his footing since first grabbing attention with his gold at the 2015 World Championships, following up with that silver in Rio.

Yego recalled how he sustained an injury during that final in Rio, which meant he was unable to challenge for gold.

“I got injured after just one throw, and I remember getting so disappointed when I was taken off the field where I ended up in the medical room,” he said.

“I was in so much pain. But when the officer who had taken me to hospital broke the news about my silver medal, I stood up from the bed – although my groin was in so much pain, I couldn’t really celebrate”.

Despite only being able to make one throw before the injury struck, at 88.24m it was still good enough for Yego to get silver.

‘Bad day at the office’

2016 men's javelin Olympic podium
Yego finished second at the 2016 Olympics to Thomas Rohler of Germany

He has since suffered two poor major events, however, failing to reach the podium at the 2017 World Championships in London and having all all his throws at the 2019 World Championships in Doha disqualified.

He said that the explanation for that also lay in injury problems.

“Last year I can say I was actually okay, because I had recorded a throw of 87m which was not even the winning distance in Doha – I just had a bad day in office,” he said.

“But I have also been injured for a long time, and I ended up losing part of my technique. That’s the main reason as to why I am struggling.

“I have the power and the speed but I am challenged technically. That’s our main focus with my coach this season. ”

Despite his global stage dip in form, Yego is still the best there is in Africa – amidst his injury struggles.

He defended his Africa title at the continent’s athletics championships in 2018 albeit in a throw of just 77. 34 metres before emerging top again at the African games in 2019 where he broke the games record with an 87.73m throw, one that also qualified him for this year’s Tokyo games.

“My long-term season target is to throw 90m – that’s a distance that straight up gets you to any championship podium,” he said.

“It’s still the beginning of the season but this is the first time I have felt this level of fitness in three years.

“I am taking it step by step, and hope to peak at the right time,” he added.

“Hopefully this coronavirus pandemic that has grounded the sports calendar will end soon.”

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