A breeding ground for future stars

Monaco, July 03, 2013: Before the current crop of leading athletes achieved global glory at the Olympic Games or IAAF World Championships, many of them first tasted success – and some, even failure – at the IAAF World Youth Championships.

No less than 10 athletes have so far achieved a ‘triple’ of winning gold medals at all three IAAF global track and field championships – World Youth, World Junior and World Championships.

Most notable of these is, of course, Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt.

The six-time Olympic gold medallist is the only member of the elite club to have won his World junior gold before his World youth title. He won the 2002 World junior 200m title at aged 15, one year before triumphing over the same distance at the World Youth Championships.

Also in the sprints, Kirani James holds the accolade for the shortest period in which all three global medals have been won. The Grenadian won two World youth gold medals in 2009, then won the 2010 World junior 400m title before taking gold at the 2011 World Championships over the same distance. For good measure, he also won gold at the Olympics in 2012.

Other members of the ‘triple gold’ club include shot putters Valerie Adams and David Storl, pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva and heptathlete Tatyana Chernova.

Aside from those, though, there have been many other former World youth champions who went on to replicate their success as a senior. The first edition of the IAAF World Youth Championships in 1999 saw victories from the likes of Russia’s Anna Chicherova in the High Jump, Qatar’s Saif Saaeed Shaheen in the 2000m Steeplechase, France’s Ladji Doucoure in the 110m Hurdles and Hungary’s Krisztian Pars in the Hammer. All of these went on to win gold medals at senior global athletics championships.

There’s also Allyson Felix, 100m champion in 2001, Jason Richardson, winner of a Hurdles double in 2003, and Christian Taylor, Triple Jump victor in 2007, who have all since won gold for the USA at major championships in recent years.

Not forgetting, of course, 2003 100m Hurdles winner Sally Pearson of Australia and 2009 10,000m Race Walk champion Yelena Lashmanova of Russia, both of whom struck gold at the Olympics last year.

The list of former youth champions who have gone on to major success is an extensive one, but the list of runners-up and also-rans from previous editions to progress to senior gold is even longer.

Take the 3000m in 1999, for example. Kenenisa Bekele took the silver medal, while Mo Farah finished well outside the medals in sixth, but both have since won multiple World and Olympic gold medals.

The women’s 3000m that same year saw the minor places on the podium filled by none other than Ethiopia’s two-time Olympic gold medallist Meseret Defar and Kenya’s triple World champion Vivian Cheruiyot.

Germany’s reigning World and Olympic champion Robert Harting rarely loses a Discus contest these days, but back in 2001 he had to settle for silver at the World Youth Championships.

Other notable past silver medallists who have since gone on to win senior global titles include Jamaica’s Melaine Walker in the 200m in 1999, Kenya’s Brimin Kipruto in the 2000m Steeplechase in 2001, Ethiopia’s Ibrahim Jeilan in the 3000m in 2005 and Ryan Brathwaite of Barbados in the 110m Hurdles in 2005.

Some of the gold medallists at least year’s London 2012 Olympics Games made their global championships debut at the World Youths, but missed out on medals. British heptathlete Jessica Ennis finished fifth at the 2003 edition, but six years later she was the World champion. Javelin thrower Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad & Tobago missed out on making the World Youth final by one place in 2009, but three years later took Olympic gold in London.

Although the last edition of the IAAF World Youth Championships was held just two years ago, already some of the medallists from Lille have started to make significant inroads on the international scene.

Ethiopia’s Mohammed Aman took silver in the 800m in Lille, but just nine months later he was crowned World indoor champion. Fellow 800m runner Timothy Kitum of Kenya took bronze in Lille and won the same colour medal at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Kitum’s team-mates Conseslus Kipruto and Faith Kipyegon struck gold in Lille. Both athletes have since gone on to enjoy major breakthroughs this year – Kipruto is undefeated in the 3000m Steeplechase and currently leads the Diamond Race, while Kipyegon smashed through the four-minute barrier for the first time in the 1500m, breaking the African junior record.

What all this shows is that predicting future champions based on the results of the IAAF World Youth Championships can be difficult. Sometimes the gold medallists keep on winning through to their senior years, while other athletes progress steadily through the ranks having failed to make a significant impression as a youth athlete.

Either way, what’s clear is that the IAAF World Youth Championships provides invaluable experience to athletes the world over regardless of the result. —- IAAF/Image © Getty Images

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