Sunday, 2 September 2007

Calm and cool, Jamal bears Helsinki in mind en route to Osaka gold

Maryam Yusuf Jamal of Bahrain and Yelena Soboleva of Russia during the 1500m Final (Getty Images)

Osaka, Japan - Most athletes lock themselves away in their hotel rooms the day before a competition and cut themselves off entirely from every possible distraction. Not Maryam Jamal. The women’s 1500m gold medalist spent Saturday walking about Osaka with her manager Jacky Delapierre shopping and having a lunch of Kobe beef at a Japanese restaurant.

Not once did they discuss the women’s 1500m. But then that’s the sign of confidence and that is something she has in droves.

Remembering well her Helsinki experience

“I had planned that if it was too fast I would kick with three or four hundred metres to go,” she explained. “But as it happened when the Russian took the lead it was perfect for me to kick with about 150 metres to go.”

“I remember in Helsinki 2005 I got pushed around in the race and then I lost. This year I have come here well prepared and I was able to win the race.”

Allowing Russia’s Yelena Soboleva, the world leader coming into the race at 3:57.30, to run from the front, Jamal simply followed, trying to keep out of trouble. She admitted she had concerns that she might get bumped around a bit. After all, the Russian Yuliya Chizhenko was disqualified for roughhouse tactics two years ago.

“I did many things before I came into the race,” Jamal allowed. “There was Yelena Soboleva, who had run very fast all year, I decided I would wait until I go, and now I am the winner. In 2005 I was pushed quite a lot but now I had convinced myself that no matter what happens I would handle the pressure and win the race.”

The two and a half months prior to these championships Jamal spent at a high altitude training camp at St Moritz, Switzerland. Then a week before, she tested herself on a track north of Osaka running a 1000m time trial at race pace finishing the last 400m in 57.5 seconds. That gave her the confidence that she could not be caught in a flat out sprint.

Born in Ethiopia - the same region as Haile Gebrselassie - she traveled to Europe in 2002 as a promising Ethiopian runner and impressed Jacky Delapierre sufficiently to realise she could make a career out of running professionally. One of five children, she knew that she wanted more from life than her family had. In May, 2002 for personal reasons she asked for political asylum in Switzerland and has remained since. Her request for Swiss citizenship was denied as that country has severe restrictions on such applications. Together with her husband Tareq Sabt Hasan who was also an asylum seeker she became a citizen of Bahrain.

“I feel happy about winning the gold medal for Bahrain,” she told a press conference speaking in Amharic. She is also fluent in French and understands English to a degree. “They expected me to win the gold medal. I had plans to win the gold medal for Bahrain, I had confidence going into the race to win.”

“I usually go to Bahrain two times a year,” she says. “This day is a special celebration and usually I stay between one and two weeks. I can’t go back now but after I finish the season I have plans to go back.”

Jamal has one other trip penciled in to her busy schedule. It has been five years since she has been to Ethiopia and she intends to take a three week holiday once her athletics commitments are completed.

“With the help of God I plan to go back to Ethiopia,” she says, “I want to see my family because it is a long time since I have seen them.”

Paul Gains for the IAAF 

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