Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

YouTube lessons to Olympic final: Kenya's javelin pioneer

By Paul Gittings, CNN
January 30, 2013 -- Updated 1254 GMT (2054 HKT)
Technical difficulties
YouTube lessons
Proud Olympian
Ambitious goals
Inner motivation
Perfect throw
High hopes
  • Julius Yego is first Kenyan to qualify for a field event at the Olympics
  • Yego reached javelin final at 2012 London Games and finished 12th
  • The 23-year-old is targeting a medal at the 2013 world championships
  • He refined his technique by watching videos on YouTube

Editor's note: CNN's Human to Hero series screens on World Sport at 1700 GMT (1200 ET) and 2230 GMT every Wednesday, and 0500 GMT Thursdays.

(CNN) -- He is self coached, he relies on YouTube videos to hone his technique -- and in running-mad Kenya, he had to plead with officials to win selection for the track and field team as a javelin thrower.

Julius Yego may not have won a medal at the 2012 London Olympics but his achievement in just qualifying and then reaching the final in this specialist discipline was a triumph over adversity.

"I do not have a coach, my motivation comes from within. Training without a coach is not an easy thing," he told CNN's Human to Hero series.

Human to Hero: Julius Yego
Human to Hero: Nicol David
Gold medalist: Losing is not an option
Human to Hero: Richie McCaw

But this obvious handicap did not prevent him hurling the 800-gram spear 81.81 meters -- his personal best, breaking his own national record -- in qualifying in London to join his sport's elite.

Yego eventually finished 12th in the final behind Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad and Tobago, who shocked the likes of two-time defending champion Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway to win a surprise gold.

Read: Flying high - Mourinho mentors Cape Verde's 'Special One'

Walcott's upset victory, only the second by a non-European in Olympic javelin competition, should act as encouragement to Yego, who is not short of self belief.

"I want to be a legend and leave a legacy," he said.

"My focus now is on the 2013 World Championships in Moscow. I am trying to be in the top three. I have to move into the medal bracket, not just in the finals."

Yego had to battle "a lot of challenges" to gain acceptance in his own country as a world-class athlete.

The 23-year-old hails from a village in the Rift Valley, the traditional breeding ground for the seemingly endless stream of Kenyan distance runners who have enjoyed such success in distances from 800 meters to the marathon.

Read: Born to run - Ethiopia's golden girl

The fourth child in a family of nine, he took up the javelin at secondary school when he realized he wasn't going to be a successful footballer.

"My first-born sister used to encourage me, my mum also, but my dad sometimes was angry with me," Yego said.

"Most of my time I was going out of school, no learning, so he was a bit angry with me. But after I proved him wrong he let me continue with this sport."

Yego briefly dabbled with the track, but at a stocky 85 kg his physique is more suited to an event like the javelin and its incredible technical demands.

It helped that an elder brother was also a javelin thrower at their elementary school, and he was also inspired by watching the 2004 Athens Games on the television.

"It just took me, I wanted to be like Andreas Thorkildsen," he said.

Little could he have realized that eight years later, Yego would be competing against his hero in an Olympic final.

German 'ice men' master bobsleigh
How Nicola Adams punched her way to gold
Rudy Fernandez: Basketball is my life

With no specialist javelin coaches in Kenya, the then teenager turned to technology to see what Thorkildsen and other great champions such as Czech Jan Zelezny were doing.

"I watched YouTube and it really paid off for me, to see the training techniques and skills they are using," he said.

Read: Squash gladiator on 'physical chess'

Yego first made his mark with third place at the 2010 African championships in Kenya's capital of Nairobi, but disappointment followed at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi later that year as he was well below his best in finishing seventh.

His big breakthrough came in 2011 at the All-Africa Games, but he nearly did not make it to the championships in Mozambique, which were to prove pivotal to his career and eventual qualification for the 2012 Olympics.

Yego was initially told he would be going with the Kenyan team to the event, but three days later came the shattering news that he would not be making the trip.

"I rang one of the officials in our federation and I asked what was happening," he recalls.

"He told me we don't have enough cash to accommodate all of you, so I told him you can remove one of the runners so you can give me a chance!"

Read: Why hoops star turned his back on the NBA

Yego's confrontation with officialdom clearly struck a chord, and three days later he was reinstated on the team.

He repaid their faith with a national record of 78.20m to become the first Kenyan to win javelin gold at the All-Africa Games.

It also led to an invite from the IAAF, the world governing body of track and field, to go on a six-month scholarship to its center in Kuortane, Finland, the traditional home of javelin.

Human to Hero: Adrien Niyonshuti
Human to Hero: Stephanie Rice
Human to Hero: Jessica Ennis

Returning in the spring of 2012, Yego achieved the qualifying mark for the London Olympics and threw further than 80m for the first time later in the summer.

Now he could not be ignored by the Kenyan selectors and his dream was about to become reality, admittedly as the only field event athlete in a 44-strong team.

"My Olympic experience is something I will never forget. I'm an Olympian now, not everyone can be Olympian," he said.

Like many top Kenyan athletes, Yego has a job with the national police force, but is allowed ample time to train between four to five hours per day, working on specialist exercises in the gym, jumps over hurdles and a throwing routine.

"Javelin requires a combination of speed, skill and power, and if you don't combine all of them, you cannot get it right," he said.

"I was born with the talent, but the skills I have had to work on."

Thorkildsen remains his reference point.

"Andreas is a unique guy, he's very skilful," Yego said. "He does some gymnastics (in training) you cannot do.

"When I watch his squats he's doing almost 200 kg and I was doing 90, so you can see it's a very big range, but now I'm doing 150.

"When I read his biography, he started training when he was just 11, so you can see he's far ahead of everybody."

Still battling the lack of specialist facilities, Yego goes it alone, spending hours every day training at the Kasarani stadium in Nairobi.

"What I love about the javelin, when you throw and you hit it right, when it's flying in the sky, you feel so nice."

Part of complete coverage on
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1504 GMT (2304 HKT)
Lionel Messi often moves so fast his opponents struggle to keep up, so spare a thought for the photographers who have to capture his magic moments.
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
He mesmerized as a player and, as millions saw at the 2010 World Cup, Diego Maradona the coach was equally entertaining.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
You don't need special access to get great World Cup photos -- but it helps. Leading sports snapper Shaun Botterill reveals how he has made the most of his insider privileges.
June 19, 2014 -- Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT)
It's a World Cup photograph taken over 40 years ago. Shot on film, and after the game, but it still ranks as one of the most memorable football images.
June 11, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
CNN's director of photography Simon Barnett gives tips for amateur snappers hoping to catch a great sporting image.
June 4, 2014 -- Updated 1504 GMT (2304 HKT)
National heroes don't always belong to one country. Ask France's World Cup hero Patrick Vieira, who is rediscovering his roots.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
By the age of just 29, he was recognized by many as the greatest footballer Japan had ever produced. But he was also among the most secretive.
May 21, 2014 -- Updated 1314 GMT (2114 HKT)
Former German goalkeeper, Bodo Illgner, communicates with his defence at the European Championships of 1992.
His first act as a pro goalkeeper was to pick the ball out of the back of the net. But before long the football world was in the palm of his hands.
June 6, 2014 -- Updated 1651 GMT (0051 HKT)
He wasn't built to be the world's greatest center back, and he certainly never expected to be named the world's best player.
May 7, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Cafu enjoyed a glittering career on the pitch. Now he's trying to help disadvantaged kids emulate his feats of endurance.
April 30, 2014 -- Updated 1715 GMT (0115 HKT)
Former Soviet footballer Sergei Baltacha traveled from the land of the hammer and sickle to join The Tractor Boys and in doing so broke new ground.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
Sunday Oliseh plays for NIgeria at the 1998 World Cup in France.
When Sunday Oliseh was a young boy, he never dreamed he would one day carry the hopes of 170 million people on football's biggest stage.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Olof Mellberg never lived out his childhood tennis fantasy, but he did achieve something millions of football fans around the world can only imagine.
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1117 GMT (1917 HKT)
If you're aiming to land a top job at the world's most famous financial district, it might help to take up a sport -- but perhaps not the one you're thinking of.