It may not have been the perfect year for either of them, but Africa’s Marie-Josee Ta Lou and Julius Yego are hoping for an uplifting climax at the IAAF Continental Cup Ostrava 2018.
Ta Lou will be attempting an ambitious double before a sell-out crowd this weekend over 100m and 200m, and few would bet against the 29-year-old Ivorian in either event.
“It’s a year when I have had some personal problems and some physical problems, a very long season, but I am generally happy with how I have competed,” said Ta Lou. “I have managed to stay motivated, to race with a smile and I have been very consistent.”
Since May Ta Lou has run 13 100m races, eight 200m races, and she has been consistently impressive across either distance. It’s in the shorter sprint that her ability has been seen to best effect, Ta Lou clocking a world-leading 10.85 to start her outdoor season in Doha back in May.
Having competed at the last edition of the IAAF Continental Cup in Marrakech in 2014 (where she finished fourth in 100m in 11.28 and fifth in 200m in 22.78), Ta Lou is hoping for far better here in Ostrava and to wear her continent’s colours with pride when she takes to the track tomorrow.
“I want to finish strongly for Team Africa. It’s an honour to be chosen and I am very happy to have the chance to help my team win this great trophy. I hope we will be successful.”
For her fellow Team Rep Julius Yego, it’s so far been a season to forget.
The 2015 world champion in the men’s javelin has been well off his best, hampered by a persistent groin problem. The 29-year-old won the Kenyan title in June with his season’s best of 80.91m and though he backed that up with the African title last month in Asaba, his winning distance of 77.34m left him far from satisfied.
“Of course you’re excited to win a championships but to see the distance, it was not pleasing. Seventy-seven metres is way, way, way down compared to my best and you know, that happens. This is sport and sometimes you have good years and sometimes you have bad years. This was the worst season of my career but hopefully I will be back again.”
Yego has been working hard with his medical team and believes he has got to grips with the injury, his training slowly climbing back towards the levels that saw him launch an African record of 92.72m in Beijing three years ago.
“Now the pain is going away, the Physio has done a really good job and the last few weeks I’ve been feeling okay – not quite fully ready but it’s good to keep trying.”
The format of the javelin will be a step into the unknown for Yego, with the event divided into three phases. The first phase, qualification, will see all eight athletes have three attempts after which they are ranked, with the highest ranked from each team proceeding to round four, the semi-final, where the two athletes with the longest throws in this specific round proceed to the final.
In the deciding fifth round, the athlete with the longest throw will take maximum points for their team, with countback to round four used to decide a winner in the event of both fouling, though the individual prize money will be awarded using typical IAAF rules to the athletes with the biggest throws across the entire competition.
On Friday afternoon in Ostrava Yego was hugely optimistic about the weekend ahead, and while he knows he’s far from his best physically he seems in a positive place mentally.
“If you never have an injury it means you don’t really train that much so I’ve been doing so well. My mind is really strong and I have come through my injuries. This year I’ve been watching the big boys and next year I want to be in the mix again. It’s a world championship year and I want to come back stronger.”
Africa’s Team Captain Nezha Bidouane raced in three IAAF World Cups during her competitive career but this time around the Moroccan will play a supporting role, one she is accepting with great pride.
“I feel very honoured to have been nominated,” she said. “Athletics is obviously an individual sport but the team spirit is so important in an athlete’s career, so to be able to be a part of a team is very special.”