Write her off at your own peril. But Janeth Jepkosgei is like the Energizer bunny that keeps going on and on, and her age-defying zeal has earned her the bragging rights to the IAAF World Championships in Beijing.
Some 15 years after making her high profile athletics debut, the “Eldoret Express” never seems to run out of gas, and just when one thought she has finally shifted to lower gears, Jepkosgei now has her sights set on a second World Championships gold.
The 2007 World Championships 800m gold medallist first clinched gold at the 2001 World Youth Championships in Kingston, Jamaica, and went to win the senior title in the two-lap race six years later in Osaka, Japan.
She bagged silver while vying to defend her title in 2009 in Berlin and bronze two years later at the Daegu World Championships.
Jepkosgei lines up for the Beijing World Championships having hit the season peak (1.59.37) in June with a silver medal at the Diamond League New York .
But Jepkosgei, who will be turning 32 in December, has lived to see stars come and reign, most of whom she mentored, including her protégé Eunice Sum (800m) and world champions Mercy Cherono (5,000m) and Agatha Jeruto (800m).
“It will be the greatest moment of my life to race against my friend Sum; it will be the biggest contest we are lining up. She is the closest friend in my life now and it fuels me to hear her mentioning me as part of her mentors on television interviews. This is what keeps me going further,” Jepkosgei says.
It will be a thrilling showpiece as student and teacher hit the iconic “Bird’s Nest” Beijing Stadium red track on August 26 when the women’s 800 metres heats get underway.
Jepkosgei, whose exploits have earned her recognition through naming of a street in Kapsabet in her honour, will be seeking a second title in her fourth World Championships appearance this August.
The athlete born and raised in Kabirirsang village in Nandi County won gold at the Osaka World Championships of 2007, five years after winning the Commonwealth and African titles.
“It is 15 years since I entered the international scene but that does not really matter. I am focusing on a second title, most importantly the one I should have won when I tipped and finished second in Berlin,” said Jepkosgei.
The “Eldoret Express” had a nasty collision with South Africa’s Caster Semenya at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin and was only reinstated in the semi-final after an appeal by Athletics Kenya at the prompting of hawk-eyed Kenyan journalists covering the championships.
Jepkosgei, who is the daughter of retired 800m runner Michael Busienei, won a silver medal at the Africa Championships last year in Marrakech, Morocco, after Sum and ahead of Jeruto. She bagged bronze at the Shanghai Diamond League meeting this year in a race her protégé Sum won.
“The spirit to appeal for a second gold at the World Championships started well in Shanghai, where I managed bronze. The podium slot gave me the zeal and courage to soldier on and my dream for a good run in Beijing stays alive,” Jepkosgei said.
“The epitome if it is when Sum and I meet in Beijing,” she added.
“Both of us were charging for Beijing slots and then gun for titles are the agendas now.”
Sum has had a promising season, winning three of the Diamond League meetings that she has contested in.
“For now, we can’t say much but winning in my season starter and the victories in the season really mean a lot to my title defence later this month. Had it not been for Jepkosgei’s encouragements and love, I do not know if I could have made it this far,” said Sum.