By Lance Jenkinson
It was the 12 exhilarating seconds that made Jara Konteh’s recovery from 11 hamstring injuries worth all the sweat and tears.
Konteh stood proudly on the podium as the 2019 Keilor Gift champion on Saturday night after swooping on first place in the final at Joe Brown Recreation Reserve.
The St Albans resident could not contain his delight post-race, with his beaming smile illuminating the stage.
“To live that moment and be crowned the Keilor Gift winner is pretty amazing,” Konteh said. “There was so much adrenalin pumping.
“Being able to perform in front of that crowd and be recognised for your efforts – it’s an amazing feeling.”
Konteh endured a hellish 2018 season.
Chosen for the world junior athletics championships, the 19-year-old succumbed to the hamstring injuries that have plagued his past three seasons.
“I’ve done 11 hamstrings – five on the left and six on the right,” he said. “The determination to wear the green and gold just keeps me going.
“That’s my dream – I’ve always had it since I was young.”
Konteh made the tough decision to split with former coach Steven Gaffney recently.
He described Gaffney as a “great man” who had been influential in his running career.
But after so many injuries, Konteh needed a change of coach and some new ideas – he found guidance in the form of Scott Rowsell.
“He [Gaffney] was completely all right with it,” Konteh said.
“He’s the guy that really got me into the sport, so I’m grateful for that.
“I made the switch of coaches as I figured out that I’d try something new.”
Incredibly, the Keilor Gift was Konteh’s first Victorian Athletic League meeting.
His only other Gift race was in Devonport, Tasmania, which ended in him hobbling away with a hamstring injury.
If Konteh pulls up well after Keilor, he will turn his attention to this Saturday’s Geelong Gift, which he will use as a launching pad for a possible shot at the Stawell Gift.
A talented sportsman, Konteh’s long-term dream is to represent Australia as a sprinter.
He had the potential to be a good rugby union or rugby league player, but athletics is his favourite sport.
“I used to play multiple sports when I was young – you could call me an all-rounder,” he said.
“I was pretty good at rugby and soccer – mainly rugby. I was supposed to try out for the Storm and Rebels junior teams, but I turned it down for the love of running.”
Konteh had massive support from family and friends at Keilor, who he thanked after the race.
His greatest supporter, long-time girlfriend Rose Nguyen, was unfortunately absent due to work.
“She just came off a flight – she’s a flight attendant – and I told her of the win and she started screaming in the airport,” Konteh
In the 120-metres women’s final, Bree Masters etched her name into the history books.
Masters was victorious in a time of 13.914 seconds, pipping Hannah Duynhoven and Liv Ryan.
It was a huge night of festivities at the Old Calder Highway venue. There were 25 races in all, plus the always-popular woodchopping.