Olympic silver medalist Julius Yego: ′The situation for many African athletes is tough′ | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 03.04.2020
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Olympic silver medalist Julius Yego: 'The situation for many African athletes is tough'

Julius Yego is Africa's most successful javelin thrower. He had been training for this summer's Olympic Games, until the cononavirus outbreak. He spoke to DW about what the pandemic has meant for him and sport in Africa.

DW: Julius Yego, your country, Kenya, has not been spared by the coronavirus pandemic. Are you still able to train at all?

Julius Yego: Everything is at a standstill, the stadiums are closed. I can't train the way I usually would and I can't throw a javelin. The only thing I can do is to go jogging and play a bit of football around the corner with my boys. Plus a few strengthening exercises, of course. All of the facilities where I used to be able to throw are closed. Everybody is afraid, and I am no exception. 

So far, there have been dozens of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Kenya. What is your assessment of the impact the outbreak has had on Kenya? 

Everyone here is scared. We have a curfew from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. in Kenya. People who have to go to work do so. But people like me who don't have to go into the city stay at home. If I have to go shopping, I go to the supermarket around the corner and then I return home straight away. That's how things are in Kenya at the moment. I've moved back out to the region I come from. It's dangerous in Nairobi now, so I am staying here with my family. It is safer here.

How much longer do you think you will have to stay home?

Until the appropriate authorities tell us we can go back out and things have changed for the better. There's no timeframe yet. But when that happens, I'll go back to Nairobi and resume training.

Did the International Olympic Committee make the right decision by postponing the Olympic Games for a year?

I don't think they had any other option. Many major nations had already said that they would not participate. And I too would have been afraid to take part this summer, because you just don't know when it will all end. Before the outbreak we were able to train well, we were in high-altitude training, I was very well prepared. But now this is no longer possible.

What were your aspirations for the 2020 Summer Games?

I was looking to make a comeback after three not-so-good years in which I missed out on medals a number of times. Although, at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro I did win one [silver in 2016]. For me it's always been one good competition followed by another that wasn't so good. I was aiming to change this.

Julius Yego IAAF China Peking 2015 (picture-alliance/dpa/H. Hwee Young)

World champion: Kenya's Julius Yego won gold at the World Championships in Beijing in 2015

You can't earn any money from your sport at the moment because no competitions are being held at this time. Are you able to compensate for this loss of income through other means?

This is a problem facing people way beyond the world of sports. We accept this and there is nothing we can do about it. And to begin with, we have become accustomed to the little that we as athletes were able to earn in recent years. The situation is especially hard for the African athletes who don't have jobs on the side, but instead were concentrating exclusively on their discipline. There is no money coming in from anywhere. For me it is a little easier because I do have a paid job on the side. Of course it's not as much as you can earn in the Diamond League. Many athletes are affected by this difficult situation.

Will a lot of African Olympians have to give up on their aspirations now?

Perhaps the football clubs are doing a little better, they may have a bit of money. But many other athletes are affected by the crisis. And this doesn't just apply to Africa.

Will you be competing in Tokyo in 2021?

Yes, of course. Those are the last Games in which I will be able to compete at the highest level. Age is a major factor in this sport and I will be 36 by the time the next Olympics come around! But first I have to qualify.

What is your goal for what you say will be your last Olympic Games?

I will do everything I can to become Olympic champion. Thomas Röhler beat me with his second-last throw in Rio. I didn't even notice it at the time because I was in the medical room receiving treatment. Becoming an Olympic champion is my biggest dream. But I am also hoping for somebody to come along who will follow in my footsteps.

After all these years I am still the only Kenyan to have thrown further than 80 meters. I have a training partner, but he hasn't achieved this distance yet. I wish the federation would provide us with more support, because javelin-throwing competitions are still very rare in Kenya. We need fresh blood.

Julius Yego, 31, is the only Kenyan javelin thrower to have made it to the Olympic Games; his first was in London in 2012. Yego grew up as the son of a farmer in the Nandi region of western Kenya. He got started while herding his father's cattle, when he would throw sticks to pass the time. He learned the technique of throwing a javelin by watching videos on the internet. He won a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, as well as a World Championship title in Beijing in 2015. He has also won three African championships. His best performance is 92.72 meters, which is also an African record.

The interview was conducted by DW's Jörg Strohschein.