Young athletes in Ilkley are coming on in leaps and bounds thanks to training sessions with an Olympic coach.

Titles are being won, personal bests smashed and team spirit fostered, thanks to Wondimu Keno Wodajo, who has an amazing knowledge of all the athletic disciplines through his experience with the Ethiopian Elite National teams.

The 34-year-old, who had been imprisoned for political reasons for two months in his home country without his family’s knowledge, came to the UK for the London 2012 Olympics with the Ethiopian Olympics team and, along with a number of African coaches and athletes sought asylum in the UK.

He has now been recognised as a bona fide political refugee, having been granted leave to remain in the UK for five years by the Home Office.

But he has not been sitting idle while waiting for permission to work from the Home Office – he has been busy volunteering with Ilkley Harriers, where he has been coaching junior athletes since January 2013.

Once word got out about the presence of an Olympic coach in Ilkley, sessions which attracted around six youngsters now see more than 20 turn up, eager to absorb Wondimu’s knowledge.

“No one misses my sessions,” said Wondimu, who has worked with some of the best athletes to come out of Ethiopia, such as Ibrahim Jeilan, who beat Mo Farah over 10,000m at the World Athletics Championships in Daegu in 2011. “I know how to develop an athlete’s performance and I need to share this with athletes. This is so important to me.”

He started with a one-hour session of Sportshall Athletics with eight-to-11-year-olds, followed by an hour with the seniors coaching speed endurance. And in July he started coaching a specific speed session with 11-to-18-year-olds with speed endurance groups on a Wednesday in Ilkley and on the University Academy Keighley track on Friday.

It is a win-win situation for all concerned. The youngsters absolutely love being coached by Wondimu and being able to stay involved in athletics – albeit at a different level – has helped Wondimu through a very stressful time.

He has not seen his wife and two young sons – two-year-old Yerosen and Na’ol, five – since leaving Ethiopia and he has also gone from being a well-regarded and successful professional to a political refugee, having to seek help for the most basic needs, such as food, housing and travel.

“I had a lot of prestige and respect at home,” he said. “I have lost that now but I am happy working with young children here.”

His involvement with Ilkley Harriers began when he was introduced to Shirley Wood, the club’s junior coaching co-ordinator, by Alison Garford, of Ilkley, whose 17-year-old son, Harry Maslen, is an Ilkley Harriers star.

Alison has a volunteer role with Bradford Action for Refugees, and met Wondimu at an English class she teaches. After discovering his profession, she asked if he would be interested in coaching the youngsters in Ilkley.

“He could have said he was a big Olympics coach but he didn’t,” said Alison, who last year saw her son achieve five personal bests to retain his Yorkshire title in the octathlon after being coached by Wondimu.

“He says he is lucky, but he has made his own luck. The support and help he has given is really helping young people reach their potential. Harry has gained a huge amount.”

Wondimu said: “I just love my athletics. When I think about stopping I feel fear.”

Wondimu’s newly-granted status from the Home Office now allows him to work and he is hoping to re-establish himself as an athletics coach and raise enough funds to be reunited with his wife and two young children.

He has a masters degree from Addis Ababa University and comes armed with a raft of professional qualifications from bodies such as the International Association of Athletics Federation, and references from organisations such as the Ethiopian Paralympic Committee, as well as personal references from his new-found friends in Ilkley, whom he now calls his family.

This “family” is hoping he continues his association with Ilkley Harriers.

“He is always smiling and happy, despite the situation he is in, and his commitment and contribution to our coaching programme is enormous,” said Shirley, who coaches alongside Wondimu.

“The juniors are so lucky to be coached by an Olympic coach with so much knowledge and experience.

“And for us coaches he has shown us different ideas and a new approach to coaching. We are learning so much from him. He has always treated everyone equally – whether it’s a nine-year-old doing Sportshall Athletics for the first time or our talented junior teams competing in the cross-country championship races or coaching specialist track and field athletics.

“The depth of his knowledge is amazing. It is safe to say that we would love Wondimu to be able to stay in the area and continue to coach and support our junior athletes.”