Sunday July 22, 2012
Iron-lady Cheruiyot all set for an epic double
NAIROBI: Her vivacious smile belies her steely determination and ferocity on the track.
Vivian Cheruiyot (pic) made history by being the first Kenyan athlete to win a distance double at the World Championships in Daegu last summer, and knows she will need to apply the two qualities when she steps onto the Olympic track in her bid to become only the second woman to win the 5,000m and 10,000m crowns.
Only the Ethiopian great Tirunesh Dibaba, the double Olympic champion winner of the 5,000m and 10,000m in Beijing, and at the 2005 worlds, has dominated the women’s distance events in the past.
Cheruiyot has succeeded in turning the tables on her Ethiopian rivals over the last two seasons, but with the expected return of Dibaba, after a long injury lay-off, she may have her work cut out in London.
“I am not afraid of the Ethiopians,” said the diminutive track star after her pre-Olympic training workout here. “They have dominated the Olympics in the past. I believe it is our turn in London. I have prepared very well and I am ready to meet them again.
“Vivian is an Iron Lady. She is tough mentally. She runs intelligently and she can fight to the end,” said Athletics Kenya (AK) official Barnabas Korir.
“She is well ahead of the opposition, and if she plays her cards well she will win both Olympic titles,” he added.
The 28-year-old Cheruiyot remains undefeated over 5,000m this year, and currently heads the Diamond League.
She opened the season with two narrow wins over her erstwhile Ethiopian rival, Meseret Defar in Doha and Rome over 3,000m and 5,000m respectively.
The rivalry between Cheruiyot and Meseret goes back to the 2009 Berlin world meet, when the Kenyan won the 5,000m over the Ethiopian 2004 Olympic champion, whom she had only defeated once in 16 previous meetings.
That championship win marked the turning point for the Kenyan women athletes, who have long played second fiddle to the Ethiopians on the track.
It was in fact Linet Masai, who failed to make the team for the London Olympics, who broke the trend when she pipped Meseret and compatriot Meselech Melkamu to take the 10,000m, and ended a decade-long history of defeats.
Deputy team coach Sammy Rono, who has coached Cheruiyot at club level, said the Berlin victories were a pointer to the Kenyan superiority over the Ethiopians which should continue in London.
“There will be no turning back for Vivian and the rest of the athletes in the Kenyan team. We completed the mission in Berlin,” said Rono, who ruled out the return of Dibaba making any impact over the Kenyans in London.
“We saw her race in the Prefontaine Classic in Oregon recently, and how she struggled to win against our own runner, Esther Kiplagat, who is not even in the Olympic team.”
Cheruiyot has come a long way since her entry to athletics as a 16-year-old when she won the world junior cross country title in Marrakech, Morocco in 1998.
She has steadily moved up the international track ladder.
Having finished 14th at 5,000m in Sydney 2000 and fifth in Beijing she, however, begun to emerge strongly, taking the silver behind Meseret at the Osaka world meet in 2007.
The last two years have been the most successful in her illustrious career. She won both the African and Commonwealth titles in 2010, as well as setting new 5,000m records at the two competitions, and finished top in the Diamond League circuit.
She also clinched the Diamond League title unbeaten in 2011, but was disappointed not to be selected as the IAAF female Athlete of Year, which went to Australian hurdler Sally Pearson.
But it is her marriage to long-time partner and part-time coach Moses Kiplagat Kirui in April last year which has given her career a major boost.
“I have been running well since I got married to Moses. He’s very supportive of my running, especially during training” she says of her husband, whom she strongly stood by after his ex-wife took him to court over child maintenance.
Cheruiyot will also have the company of fellow world 5,000m silver medallist Sally Kipyego, as the two runners, who fought a gruelling duel in Daegu, will each attempt the distance double in London. — AFP