Balancing between books and track: prodigy Zakayo speaks on challenges

For World U-20 5,000m champion Edward Pingua Zakayo, 2018 was definitely a good year; bedecked by bountiful harvest.

Firstly; the Kenyan prodigy shone at the junior level and as if that is not enough, senior success streamed in plenty. It seemed the athletics gods were all over the skies smiling at him and guiding every step and lap he covered on the track.

You see, the fast-rising Zakayo announced his entry in athletics at the 2017 IAAF World U-18 Championships held in Nairobi and although he settled for a silver medal in 3,000m, he remained a promising prospect for the future.

But the vast potential of the  17-year-old burst to light when he recorded a blistering  2018 season performance in 5,000m race where he stunned big names at the Commonwealth Games held April in Gold, Coast, Australia to clinch bronze in 13:54.06 behind Uganda’s talisman Joshua Cheptegei (13:50.83) and Mohammed Ahmed of Canada (13:52.78) who clinched gold and silver respectively.

In July, Zakayo once again proved his mettle in the long distance race clinching the IAAF World U-20 title in Tampere, Finland in 13:20.16 in a race that he also pulled a revenge on Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega who had beaten him to gold in the 3,000m at the 2017 IAAF World U-18 competition held in Nairobi.

A month later, Zakayo earned a wild card to the African Athletics Championships in Asaba, Nigeria and he did not disappoint either as he clinched gold in 13:48.58 after overpowering Ethiopia’s Getaneh Molla (13:49.06) and Eritrea’s Yemane Haileselassie (13:49.58).

Edward Zakayo from Kenya celebrate winning 3000m boys race during their WU18 championship at Kasarani stadium,Nairobi in July 13,2017.Zakayo finished in the first position with time of 2.51. Photo/Oliver Ananda/Sportpicha

Alongside the 12 and a half laps event,  Zakayo also participated in three Spanish cross country races where he finished second at the Campo Travel International Cross country before coming in third at both the Cross Internacional de Atapuerca and Cross International De la Constitution.

Due to these bountiful heroics, the teenager purred in pure delight.

“The year 2018 was a good season for me having won gold medals in both Africa Championships and World U-20 Championships and even though I won  bronze in Gold Coast , I thank God for that and pray for a successful 2019,” said Zakayo.

Balancing education and athletics

Despite the much success he has enjoyed, Zakayo who hails from Narok County is only a form four student at Kapsait Secondary School in Elgeyo Marakwet County and has had to devote some of his time to education, a challenge he says is not easy.

“Balancing education and athletics is challenging because sometimes you may be out for a competition maybe for three weeks and your classmates are progressing with the syllabus and when you come back the teacher cannot repeat the same.

“It’s quite hard but I have tried my best to strike a balance between my studies and athletics because I never subscribe to losing hope,” Zakayo said.

With a proven talent already and having made a name many of his age would only dream of, many would wonder why Zakayo is still in school.

“You know it is important to look into the future because when you have studied you get your own certificates which will land you jobs when you retire from athletics. Also, in sport you never know when you may succumb to injury and what may follow next,” he opined oozing wisdom a hitherto uncommon characteristic amongst athletes.

One for the future

Gold medal has evaded Kenya at the World Championships for more than a decade with Benjamin Limo being the last Kenyan to clinch gold at the 2003 competition held in Helsinki, Finland.

Similarly, in Olympic Games Kenya has struggled for a gold medal for two decades as John Ngugi became the only Kenyan to have ever won an Olympic gold medal in men’s 5000m at the 1988 Seoul Games.

In recent years it has been Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele and Britain’s Mo Farah who have dominated the race, both having quit track for marathon begging the question: could Zakayo be the next prospect?

Wilson Kipsang and Kenenisa Bekele during the Berlin Marathon (PHOTO/IAAF/Organisers/Victah Sailer)
In recent years it has been Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele and Britain’s Mo Farah who have dominated the race, both having quit track for marathon begging the question: could Zakayo be the next prospect?

“For me I am not so hungry to compete in road races because I think I still have four years, so I am going to concentrate in cross country and track and then we will see if I can help Kenya in dominate in 5000m,” Zakayo noted.

2019 targets

The 2019 season presents yet another busy year for him and he has earmarked the IAAF World Cross Country Championships to be held in Aarhus, Denmark in March and the World Championships slated for Doha, Qatar in September as his major targets.

“I want to assure all my fans that this season we call it the ‘year of achievement’. I will work hard to make it to team Kenya for both the World Cross in Denmark and the World championships in Doha, Qatar where I will strive for a podium finish,” Zakayo concluded.