Born: 13 December 1983 in Kabirirsang village, Kapsabet, Nandi District, Rift Valley Province
Coach: Claudio Berardelli
Residence: Ngong, Nairobi
With one World title, as well as silver and a bronze, a Commonwealth crown and an Olympics silver to her name, Janeth Jepkosgei has been one of the more consistent 800 metres athletes of the last four years.
Fourteen individual medals and counting, you would have to go back to the All Africa Games of 2003 for the last time she failed to finish on the podium at a major championship that she competed in.
A hurdler who became an 800 metres athlete by default, Janeth Jepkosgei made history at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka when she became the first ever Kenyan woman to win a gold medal in a middle distance race at a global event.
She was the stand out performer of the two lap race taking over the baton from Mozambique legend Maria Mutola whom she beat to win the World title in a new national record and personal best time of 1:56.04.
Not bad for a woman who initially wanted to be a nurse and who took up the 800 metres only because there was no 400 metres Hurdles race at a national trials.
The softly spoken and genial athlete went to Kapsombeiwo Primary School, where she started her athletics career reaching provincial finals in the 400 metres Hurdles, High Jump and Long Jump. In 1998, she joined Sing’ore Girls’ High School, taking up the Heptathlon, and went on to win the national secondary schools Heptathlon in Form one (first year) setting a national record that still stands.
In 1999, she picked up the two-lap event by a quirk of fate. A 400 metres Hurdles specialist, she decided to take part in the 800 metres at the national trials for the 1999 World Youth Championships as there was no hurdles race. She finished second and made the team to Poland in July 1999, but did not qualify for the final, finishing third in her heat (2:11.98).
In 2000, Jepkosgei won the national secondary schools 800 metres title and the 400 metres Hurdles at the national schools finals. She was selected to compete at the East Africa Youth Championships in which she won two medals – 400 metres Hurdles gold and silver in the 800 metres.
In 2001, Jepkosgei moved a step higher, winning silver in the 800 metres (2:06.21) at the African Junior Championships, in Mauritius Soon she was admitted to the Kip Keino High Performance Training Centre, in Eldoret, where she was coached by Paul Ereng, the 1988 Olympic 800 metres champion.
In July 2002, Jepkosgei won the 800 metres gold medal (2:00.80) at the World Junior Championships, in Kingston, Jamaica. A few weeks later she made her first sojourn in Europe, running in grand prix meetings in Zurich, Rovereto, Linz and Padova. In Rovereto, in August, she ran her PB in the 1,000 metres (2:37.98).
In 2003, Jepkosgei made the All Africa Games team for Abuja, where she finished third in her heat (2:05.12), failing to make the Final.
In 2004, she won the trials for 2004 Olympics, in Athens, but was left out of the team because she had not attained the qualifying time. She overcame that disappointment by running PBs at 800m (2:00.57 in Zurich and 2:00.52 in Rieti) and at 1500 metres (4:11.91 in Rovereto).
In 2005, Jepkosgei suffered yet more heartbreak when she won the trials for World Championships, in Helsinki, but she was again left out of the team because she had not achieved the qualifying time. She had run 2:00.46 in Roma, just outside of the ‘A’ qualifying standard (2:00.00). However, as she had the B standard, and no other Kenyan athlete was entered for the event, Jepkosgei could have competed.
As if spurred on by this failure, she won the Under-23 race in Zurich, the IAAF Grand Prix in Rieti (1:59.18) and, three days later, improved to 1:57.82 in Rovereto. She finished fourth in the IAAF Golden League meeting, in Berlin( 2:00.70). In September she was third in the Shanghai Grand Prix (2:00.20).
2006 was Jepkosgei’s breakthrough year. She easily won the Commonwealth trials, in Nairobi in February, and finally represented her country at senior level at the Commonwealth Games, in Melbourne, in March. Producing a powerful and well timed finishing kick to beat Mozambique’s multiple World and Olympic champion, Maria Mutola, she took gold in 1:57.88.
In June, Jepkosgei set a then new Kenyan 800 metres record (1:57.22) in the IAAF Grand Prix meeting in Gateshead. She had a poor outing in the Grand Prix, in Athens, finishing tenth, which was worrying with the Mutola rematch due in less than two weeks. It was set for Lausanne on July 11th and she again beat the Maputo Express, once more lowering her national record (1:56:66).
In the African Championships, in August, Jepkosgei completed her hat-trick of victories over Mutola, winning gold in Mauritius in 2:00.64. Affected by the exertions of the continental championships, she could manage only fourth at Zürich Weltklasse Grand Prix in August. She improved at the Van Damme Memorial meeting, in Brussels, finishing second behind Hasna Benhassi in 1:59.65. In September, at the World Athletics Final, in Stuttgart, she finished second to Zulia Calatayud, of Cuba, in 1:59.10, and, at the World Cup, in Athens, she again finished runner-up to Calatayud, this time in 2:00.6.
Jepkosgei was named the 2006 Kenya Sportswoman of the Year in February 2007 and she started this season with fifth place in Eugene in June (2:00.21) followed by a victory in Rivas (2:01.01). She also timed 4:14.70 in the 1500 metres race at the IAAF Grand Prix meet, in Doha in May. In July, she was second behind Calatayud in Athens, sixth in Lausanne, third in Rome, then easily won Kenya’s national trials to book a ticket to Osaka .
In Osaka, she stunned the rest of the field in her semifinal when she led from start to finish setting a new national record. A day later, Jepkosgei again led from start to finish to win gold in 1:56.04.
She moved to on Zürich on 7 September winning in 1:59.03 and two days later she won in Rieti (1:56.29). A 1:58.62 in Berlin followed and at the World Athletics Final she set a new Championship record of 1:57.87. Jepkosgei finished the season by running the then fastest ever time run on Kenyan soil (1:59.00).
Nicknamed ‘Eldoret Express’ after public transport buses that ply the Western, Rift Valley and Nyanza routes for Nairobi, Jepkosgei was tipped to continue her dominance in the two-lap race in the Olympic year of 2008.
However, she and all other elite female two-lap athletes had not reckoned with the emergence of an 18 year-old who idolised Jepkosgei – Pamela Jelimo.
Having set her sights on winning a share of the lucrative $1 million Golden League jackpot, Jepkosgei saw her hopes go up in smoke in the opening round in Berlin finishing third (1:59.13) where Jelimo, fresh from succeeding her as the African champion in Addis Ababa, reigned supreme. In the second round held in Oslo, she attempted to match Jelimo’s quick first 400 metres but finished fifth in 1:59.57.
At the national trials in early July, she finished second to Jelimo in 2:00.90. At the third round of the Golden league series on 11 July, Jepkosgei was second (1:58.74) and in her final race before the Olympics, she timed 1:58.52 in Paris.
But despite losing five races to Jelimo, Jepkosgei remained confident in her abilities. “I am running better than I did this time last year so I am happy with my performances. Of course Jelimo has made it even tougher but that is all about competition and we remain friends.”
The tale of the season continued at Beijing’s Bird Nest – she could not better the new ‘bus’ in town, nicknamed ‘Kapsabet Express’, being forced to accept silver in 1:56.07.
“I’m pleased to have been part of the Kenyan 1-2 at a major event in 800m,” she said during a lavish party hosted for Beijing medallist on 4 October in Eldoret. With Pamela and I in these races, Kenya will continue winning major honours for some time to come. More young girls will be encouraged to join this distance. It’s a good thing for female 800m running in Kenya to have two tough athletes. Before, it used only to be Faith Macharia, who ran on her own for almost ten years,” she explained.
Her only 800m victory of the year came at the Athletissima Grand Prix in Lausanne on 2 September, where she clinched victory in 1:58.15. Jelimo was not in the race. On 7 September, she clocked her personal best over 1,500m at the Rieti Grand Prix before once again playing bridesmaid to Jelimo at the World Athletics Final in Stuttgart with an effort of 1:58.41.
Speaking in early 2009, Jepkosgei said that Jelimo’s emergence had affected her. “Last year when Pamela came up it was a surprise. I was dispirited and lost a bit of focus in my race as I tried to keep up with her,” says the 25 year old.
Maybe Jepkosgei should be blaming herself; after all, she was the one who encouraged Jelimo – a 400 metre athlete – to take up the longer distance.
“I told her to try 800 metres because she was stronger and I don’t regret it because sport is for everyone and challenges are good for the sport.”
“We meet and talk, especially after the season and last year most of the time she would ask questions and I would advise her. I would like us to run for long and have a successful career like the one Mutola had. I am determined to work hard and close the gap. Last year Jelimo was like 5-6 seconds ahead but I want it reduced. I want to be more competitive.”
Jepkosgei began training for her 2009 season in earnest in March and in June moved to Ngong, in the outskirts of Nairobi, with coach and boyfriend, Claudio Berardelli. Her training partners include Olympic 1,500m champion, Nancy Jebet Langat and World 800m men’s champion Alfred Kirwa Yego who won bronze in Beijing.
There’s talk that she will take up the longer 1,500m race sooner than she had planned (in the run up to the 2012 London Olympics). “We can’t say that for now,” Berardelli said.
Janeth clocked 4:13.87 in 1500m in her first race of the season in Doha. Typically her 800 metres season started slowly with a poor fifth place (2:03.63) in Lausanne followed by sixth (2:01.39) in Rome.
But at the national trials, Jepkosgei stunned Jelimo – her sheer willpower propelling her forward in the final metres to edge her arch rival by the slimmest of margins. It was her first ever win over Jelimo and her winning time (1:59.31) was also a seasonal best.
She however was quick to downplay it. “It was not about beating Jelimo but running good. I was not running against her but against myself but I am happy to close that gap. I am happy with the time because I really wanted to run a good time and be comfortable.”
She attributed her poor start of the season to niggling injuries, “I had a hamstring and tendon injuries so I had to take a break from training and at times was only training halfway.
Jepkosgei did not hide her ambition in Berlin. “I want to run good, I want to defend my crown but I will be happy with winning any medal. I have to remain focused and go on with my training as usual.”
In Berlin, Jepkosgei went through drama as her campaign was almost over before it had even started when she was tripped in her heat going on to finish last but was allowed to advance to the next round by a Jury of Appeal decision, which ruled that she had been unfairly stopped. She would make no such mistake in the semis cruising through in third place (1:59.47) to book a place in the final.
Here she was up against Caster Semenya and despite a typically fast finish Jepkosgei could not summon enough power to beat the South African teenager settling for silver in a seasonal best time of 1:57.90.
Jepkosgei ran just one more race in the year placing second in Zagreb in 1:59.94.
She started 2010 by meddling with indoor running for the first time in her career running a slow 2:12.04 for sixth place in Moscow in February.
A win at the Diamond meeting in Shanghai on 23 May (2:01.06) was followed by another win in Hengelo (2:02.03) on 30 May and then a second place finish at the Golden Gala in Rome (1:58.85).
Jepkosgei then returned home for the National championships to select the team for the African Athletics Championships and she didn’t disappoint, clocking a fast 1:58.95 to win her specialty. Curiously, she also ran in the 400metres and won! clocking a personal best time of 54.06.
She followed it with a seasonal best time of 1:57.84 at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene (3 July) and seems to be inching closer to her impressive form of 2007 and 2008.
Back in Nairobi for the African Championships, Jepkosgei was one of the star attractions with fans eager to catch a glimpse of the Eldoret Express.
She flew out of the blocks in the final, leading the pack through the first lap and seemed to be cruising towards gold on the home straight when she made an error, leaving the inside lane open for unheralded Algerian Zahra Bouras to sneak in and win gold to the shock and disbelief of the crowd. An angry Jepkosgei came in second in 2:00.50 – her slowest time in Kenya in three years.
She quickly got a chance to redeem herself, lining up for the 4×400 metres relay. Anchoring the team, she received the baton in fourth place and released all that disappointment and frustration with a scintillating run that saw her flash past her opponents, helping Kenya win silver.
The grin on her face told it all. “I am so happy to have run so well in the relay, I was so disappointed with the 800 metres race but I decided I would finish on a high,” she said.
Back in Europe in chase of the Diamond League trophy, Jepkosgei placed second at the Aviva Grand Prix in London in 1:59.16 in a race won by Mariya Savinova on 14 August. Five days later, she set a personal best of 4:04.17 in 1500 metrtes at the Wetklasse meet in Zurich.
Her toughest race of the season would be the grand finale of the Diamond League, in Brussels, where in addition to being one of four possible winners of the jackpot in the field, she would come face to face with World champion Caster Semenya who beat her at the world’s in Berlin.
She stayed near the front for the first lap, then Jepkosgei produced her famous finishing kick holding off Semenya and Britain’s Jenny Meadows to win the race in 1:58.82 and with it the Diamond trophy and a 40,000 dollar bounty.
The expression on her face told it all as she punched the air in joy at having not only won the race, but beating Semenya for the first time in three meetings.
2011 would have another medal for the by now seasoned athlete. She started her season with a 1500 metres race in May (4:04:87) and followed it up with two fast 800 metres races in early June in Eugene (1:59:15) and Oslo (1:59:05). Then it was back to Nairobi for the World Athletics Championships Trials, where she comfortably won in 1:59:34 in July.
At the Worlds, in Daegu, she won her heat before finishing second in the semis to book a place in the final, where he had to contend with her successor from Berlin, Caster Semenya and the lightning-fast Mariya Savinova.
On September 4, she took to the track in the final summoning another gallant finish to win bronze in a seasonal best time of 1:57.42 behind Savinova who won gold in a PB of 1:55.87 and Semenya who clinched silver.
“I was able to be in the podium again in Daegu, it was my great achievement, I did my best and I always say I need to do my best.”
There was enough time left in the season for her to win at the ISTAF Meet in Berlin (1:58.26) and set a Personal Best in 1500 metres of 4:02.32 on 16 September in Brussels.
Jepkosgei started 2012 with a third placed finish in Doha on 11 May (1:58.50) and followed it up with a seasonal best (4:07.34) in 1500 metres in Shanghai. An 800metres seasonal best (1:57.79) as she won in Hengelo on 27 May showed an athlete working her way to form.
But then injury struck and by the time the Olympic trials started in Nairobi, she had not trained for weeks. Nevertheless, she summoned all her resilience to finish third and book a place for her second appearance at the biggest sporting spectacle on earth.
“I had a hamstring injury that saw me not train for two weeks but now, I have another chance to go there and do my best to finish in the podium,” the 2007 Osaka Worlds champion offered.
The athlete is looking forwards to another podium run at the London Olympics before switching to the longer 1500m that she has been dabbling with in the past two seasons. “I hope I will be able to wave all my five fingers since I have won medals in four major championships and right now my training has been okay and I’m hoping to be in the podium once more.”
“It depends on how the training goes, when you do not have any injury, anything is possible. Competition is competition, I do not care which medal but in real sense, I want to have the medal I do not have,” she stated as she dreams of landing the Olympics gold that eluded her in 2008.
“This year I will concentrate on 800m and also do the 1500m. Last year, I ran a 4:02 and I need time to learn the tactics in 1500m. It is opening another page in my career; you can do something for long and have no motivation and interest and that is why I want to change.”
Away from the track, Jepkosgei has involved herself in giving back to the community. In addition to donating sporting kit that includes balls, nets and athletics equipment, Jepkosgei undertakes to pay salaries of three teachers who teach at her former school – Kapsambeiwo Primary school.
She also sponsors students some of who are already in University. “I sponsor seven students from here, two are in Moi University and I am proud that they have done well in education.” Jepkosgei is also helping with the construction of a local church, “That is where I grew up spiritually and where I learnt that I had to be disciplined which has really helped me in my training.”
Yearly Progression – Outdoor
800m- 1999-2:11.98; 2001-2:06.21; 2002-2:00.80; 2003-2:03.05; 2004-2:00.52; 2005-1:57.82; 2006-1:56.66; 2007-1:56.04; 2008-1:56.07; 2009- 1:57.90; 2010-1:57.84; 2011- 1:57.42; 2012 – 1:57.79
1500m- 2004-4:11.91; 2005 4:15.77; 2006- 4:15.43; 2007-4:14.70; 2008-4:08.48; 2009- 4:13.87; 2010- 4:04.17, 2011- 4:02.32; 2012- 4:07.34
1999 3h2 World Youth Championships, Bydgoszcz (2:11.98)
2001 2nd African Junior Championships, Réduit (2:06.21)
2002 1st World Junior Championships, Kingston (2:00.80)
2003 3h2 All Africa Game, Abuja (2:05.12)
2006 1st Commonwealth Games, Melbourne (1:57.88)
2006 1st African Championships, Bambous (2:00.64)
2006 2nd World Athletics Final, Stuttgart (1:59.10)
2006 2nd World Cup in Athletics, Athens (2:00.09)
2007 1st World Athletics Championships, Osaka (1:56.04)
2007 1st World Athletics Final, Stuttgart (1:57.87)
2008 2nd Olympic Games, Beijing (1:56.07)
2008 2nd World Athletics Final, Stuttgart (1:58.41)
2009 2nd World Athletics Championships, Berlin (1:57:90)
2010 2nd African Athletics Championships, Nairobi (2:00.50)
2010 3rd African Athletics Championships, Nairobi (4×400) (3:35.55)
2010 1st Continental Cup, Split (1:57:88)
2010 1st Samsung Diamond League Race
2011 3rd World Athletics Championships (1:57.42)