African javelin throw­ers flour­ish af­ter Fin­nish school


Pe­ri­ods of in­tense train­ing for two African ath­letes at a Fin­nish javelin school have over­turned the nat­u­ral world or­der in the phys­i­cally de­mand­ing and tech­ni­cally chal­leng­ing event.

There was a shock at Wed­nes­day’s world cham­pi­onships when Kenya’s Julius Yego won gold with the third long­est throw of all time.In all world cham­pi­onships since 1983, there has only been one non-Euro­pean gold medal­list, South African Mar­ius Cor­bett in Athens in 1997.

Yego’s mon­ster third round ef­fort of 92.72 me­ters was the long­est since Jan Zelezny threw 92.80 in 2001. His ef­forts were fol­lowed by more African sil­ver­ware when Egyp­tian Ihab Ab­delrah­man El Sayed claimed sec­ond spot with 88.99m for his coun­try’s first-ever ath­let­ics world medal. Fin­land’s Tero Pit- ka­maki, 2007 cham­pion and sil­ver medal­ist in Moscow in 2013, was de­moted to bronze (87.64m) in the most Euro­pean of dis­ci­plines.

The as­tro­nom­i­cal rise of Yego, who fa­mously honed his early tech­nique from YouTube clips of his he­roes, and El Sayed is in large part thanks to Fin­nish coach Pet­teri Pi­iro­nen, who trains the African pair. Pi­iro­nen first came across Yego when a Fin­nish agent deal­ing with African ath­letes drew his at­ten­tion to the then lit­tle-known Kenyan thrower. And El Sayed in 2008 and Yego in 2011 earned schol­ar­ships to train at the IAAF-ac­cred­ited cen­ter in Kuor­tane in Fin­land, the coun­try re­garded as the spir­i­tual home of the javelin.

“He has learnt good ba­sics from YouTube and then of course you need some­one to work to­gether,” Pi­iro­nen said af­ter proudly watch­ing his two pro­teges score a 1-2 po- dium re­sult. “Yego’s throw­ing skills are quite good. He’s not strong and he’s not such a good jumper, but when he takes the javelin, starts to run and throw, he’s one of the best.

“The ba­sic tech­nique and the run and rhythm are much bet­ter than some other throw­ers.” Pi­iro­nen added: “Last sum­mer Yego threw some good com­pe­ti­tions but didn’t get good re­sults. His form is down to good train­ing and stay­ing healthy.”

Yego is gush­ing in praise of Pi­iro­nen. “He is a bril­liant coach,” Yego said. “I still use the pro­gram Pet­teri set me when I first met him. We cre­ated a good re­la­tion­ship and he is read­ily avail­able to help me when­ever I ask.”

Pi­iro­nen joked that he was not yet seen as a traitor in his own coun­try for fos­ter­ing fresh for­eign tal­ent. “So far it’s been okay!” he laughed. “Of course it’s very good to have nonEuro­peans reach­ing the top in jave- lin. There is a lot of tal­ent in Africa.”

El Sayed de­scribed him­self as “su­per crazy happy” with his sil­ver medal show­ing. “I have to say a big thank you to my coach. He is my big brother, my friend, al­ways sup­port­ing me,” he said. “Fin­land is my sec­ond coun­try be­cause I spend all my time trav­el­ing be­tween Egypt and Fin­land. It’s a very good coun­try and the peo­ple are al­ways so nice to me.”

El Sayed’s prepa­ra­tions for the worlds, how­ever, were ham­pered by a mother stricken by a back com­plaint, mean­ing the big Egyp­tian was com­mut­ing three hours to visit her in hos­pi­tal in Cairo. “I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep prop­erly, that’s why I didn’t do well at some com­pe­ti­tions be­fore the champs,” El Sayed said. “But now she should be okay and she’s started to walk again. This medal will be a mo­ti­va­tion and a gift for her.”

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