Former javelin world champion Julius Yego is approaching his fourth World Athletics Championships with gratitude, but says he “can still topple the greats” in Eugene.
The four-time African champion almost did not make it to Oregon after failing to attain the qualifying mark of 85 metres by the close of the qualification period on 26 June.
The Kenyan’s participation is instead courtesy of his world ranking thanks to his throw of 79.69m while winning the African title in Mauritius last month.
“I am excited and feel somewhat lucky to have made it to the prestigious World Athletics Championships again,” the 33-year-old told BBC Sport Africa.
“It’s a real honour to get an opportunity to come back at this stage after a long period of unfitness.”
Yego may need to improve on his throw last month in Mauritius to even reach the final in Oregon, with the mark of 83.50m securing automatic qualification. If that distance is not met, the top 12 men will progress.
The Kenyan made history when he became the first African to win the javelin at the 2015 edition of the World Championships., with a huge throw of 92.72m in Beijing, China. A mark that still stands as the continental record.
He went on to win an Olympic silver medal at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016, despite throwing only once and picking up a knee injury that saw him wheeled out of the stadium.
The self-taught thrower has, however, struggled with form and has not made it to the podium in the past two World Championships, and he failed to make the finals at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo last year.
He will be up against a strong field when the qualifying begins on day seven in Eugene (Friday, 00:05 GMT).
The contenders include the reigning Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra of India – who has a season’s-best throw of 89.94m – as well Grenada’s Anderson Peters and Czech Republic’s Jakub Vadlejch, two men who have gone past the 90m mark this season.
“My goal is to get to the final because I believe I am still capable of making a strong challenge for top honours. I can still topple the greats,” said a confident Yego.
In the heats he is joined by the silver and bronze medallists from the African Championships, Egypt’s Ihab Abdelrahman and World Under-20 silver medallist Johan Grobler of South Africa.
Ethiopians on podium in steeplechase but Makwala out of 400m
Meanwhile, the evening of day six belonged to Kazakhstan’s Norah Jeruto as she took gold in the women’s 3000m steeplechase.
The Kenya-born runner won the African title in 2016 but could not hold back tears while draped in her adopted country’s flag as Kazakhstan celebrated its first ever gold at the World Championships.
Jeruto held off the challenge of Ethiopians Werkuha Getachew, who set a new national record of eight minutes 54.61, and Mekides Abebe, who ran a personal best, as they took silver and bonze respectively.
Their compatriot Letesenbet Gidey, who won the women’s 10,000m title on day two in Eugene, was quickest in qualifying for the 5,000m final as fellow Ethiopians Gudaf Tsegay and Dawit Seyaum also progressed.
Kenya’s Beatrice Chebet, Margaret Kipkemboi and Gloria Kite also secured their spots, but South Africa’s Caster Semenya missed out as she finished 13th in her heat.
Elsewhere, South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk and Botswana’s Bayapo Ndori qualified for the men’s 400m final.
The South African world record holder will line up for the final hoping to end a podium drought since he last won the world 400m title and a 200m silver in London in 2017.
Meanwhile, Botswana’s Isaac Makwala failed to make the final, finishing last in his heat, in what could potentially be his last world Championships.
“I think I will just quit. For now I just want to concentrate on my Diamond League races of the season,” Makwala, 36, said.
“I will skip the Commonwealth Games because I already have a medal there.”