No Coach, No Problem: Silver Medalist Javelin Thrower Julius Yego and The YouTube Generation

Julius Yego and his only Javelin Throw
Yego’s first and only throw at the Rio Olympics

 

He had won gold in the 2015 Beijing World Championships, so YouTube Man was expected to compete for gold in Rio.

His first throw was strong 88.24 meters. But quite unexpectedly, that would be Julius Yego’s last throw. While it is still unclear what happened, Yego severely injured his ankle and was carted off in tears. Instead of attempting to throw over 90 meters, which he did in Beijing, the Kenyan had to watch from the stands as German Thomas Rohler managed a throw of 90.3 meters. Still, amazingly, his first throw was good enough for silver.

One could only imagine the pain of inactivity was greater than the pain in the ankle. Yego promised he would be back though. “It was that painful, but I thank God it not serious as I thought! I am going to be back stronger guys, love you all my fans wherever you are. Your tremendous support can never go unnoticed! You always cheer me up even in hard times! God bless you all.

Yego was a favorite to win gold, which is amazing if you consider his story – a teenager from a farmer’s family who liked throwing a javelin so much he learned how to do it on the internet.

Way back in 2000, Thomas Friedman wrote the seminal book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree. He posited that globalization, particularly the pace of global commerce was occurring due to three factors: the democratization of technology, the democratization of finance and the democratization of information.

In reference to the last factor, the democratization of information, Friedman swooned at the thought of a future pioneered by the likes of Netscape, and its gateway browser to the internet, and the promise of high-speed broadband. “Never before in the history of the world have so many people been able to learn about so many other people’s lives, products and ideas,” wrote Friedman.

Only a few years after Friedman published that book, a school boy named Julius Yego of Kenya got hooked on the javelin throw watching his fellow primary school students send their wooden javelins flying, and was inspired by his brother who was pretty good at the discipline.

But he did not have the resources, nor were there any coaches at his school. In 2009, believing he had a chance to become a world-class thrower, he was frustrated that he could not get the help he needed. That’s when he turned to YouTube. “Nobody was there for me to see if I was doing well or not, so I went to the cybercafe,” he told CNN.

He would watch champions Jan Zelezny and Andreas Thorkidsen, examining their technique, and learning the right ways to train to thrown a two-and-a-half meter spear nearly the length of a football pitch.

In 2010, the self-taught Yego won bronze at his first international tournament at the African Championships in Nairobi, throwing the javelin 74.51 meters. Finally gaining visibility, Yego got some support, earning a scholarship to train in Finland for two weeks in the cold of winter of 2011. There he met leading javelin coach, Petteri Piironen, who saw potential in Yego, who was then reaching distances of around 78 meters. Yego visited Piironen again for three months in the run-up to the London Games, where he finished 12th.

Petteri Piironen and Julius Yego
Petteri Piironen and Julius Yego

While he continues to seek advice from Piironen, Yego continued to self coach, and also to progress, winning championships at The Commonwealth Games, African Championships in 2014, and the World Championships in 2015.

In a CNN interview, the javelin world champion recalled in 2011, when he found success at the All Africa Games, “people wanted to talk to his coach, to know what I did before the competitions, the championships. By then seriously I didn’t have a coach. I didn’t go with a coach. They asked me, ‘Who is your coach,’ and then I told them, ‘YouTube’.”