Updated 3 March 2008
Veronica Wanjiru NYARUAI, Kenya (1500m, 3000, 5000, cross country)
Born: 29 October, 1989, Sopili, Nyandarua; 47kg
Camp/Team: PACE Management
Coach/manager: Ricky Simms
Veronica Wanjiru Nyaruai made her name as a junior prodigy representing her country and winning numerous honours. Born in Sopili, near Ngarua in Nyandarua province, formerly in Kenya's Central Region, but now in Rift Valley, she hails from the same region that produced five-time World Cross Country champion John Ngugi and 2001 10,000m World champion Charles Kamathi.
Nyaruai burst into prominence in 2005 as a 16-year-old that saw her eventually crowned as the Most Promising Sportswoman in Kenya's version of sports Oscars, the Sports Personality of the Year (Soya) Awards. At the same event, she came third in the Sportswoman of the Year category behind Boston Marathon champion, and Helsinki World Championships runner-up Catherine Ndereba (also 2003 and 2007 World marathon champion), and boxer Conjestina Achieng.
After winning four successive domestic cross country races in 2004-05, Nyaruai won the junior title at the National Cross Country Championships in February. The following month Nyaruai announced her big arrival on the global stage when she won the silver medal in the junior women’s race at the World Cross Country Championships in Saint-Etienne/Saint-Galmier, France, behind Ethiopia's Gelete Burka. Nyaruai then turned her attention to the track and, in May 7, set a personal best 9:03.01 for 3,000m when finishing second at the Confederation of Africa Athletics meeting, in Nairobi, behind Priscah Cherono.
Nyaruai then booked her place in the World Youth squad when she beat Pauline Korikwiang in 3,000m at the trials in Nairobi in June, clocking 8:52.9. It was the prelude to her winning the World Youth title in Marrakech, Morocco (9:01.61). In the final, Nyaruai broke away from Korikwiang, who took silver (9:05.42), to intensify a rivalry that had begun in 2003, when they finished 1-2 in primary schools nationals at 5000m.
After her gold medal performance in Marrakech, Nyaruai returned home and went on to clock 15:13.1 for 5,000m in taking second place behind Isabella Ochichi at the National Championships in June. It remains her best time over that distance.
In the winter of 2005-06, Nyaruai continued her domestic dominance of Kenyan junior women’s cross country, culminating in the retention of her national title in February 2006, edging out Korikwiang in a close finish. She beat Korikwiang again in early March, at the national trials, to book a place in the squad for the World Cross Country Championships in Fukuoka, Japan.
Despite her dominance locally, Nyaruai could manage only to win world silver again as Korikwiang turned the tables for gold.
The duo broke away from the rest of the pack with Nyaruai making a decisive move in the last 100 metres. But, as they approached the final 60 metres, the Pokot-born Korikwiang found some strength from deep within and caught Nyaruai in the last few metres in a thrilling dash for the tape. In the end, it took a video decision to separate the two. Kenya retained the junior women's team title after yet another teenage sensation; Mercy Kosgei topped the chasing pack to take bronze.
Nyaruai and Korikwiang then went head-to-head again, this time over 3000m, at the 2006 World Junior Championships in Beijing. And they did not disappoint. Nyaruai sprinted clear of Korikwiang down the home straight to storm to victory in 9:02.90, three seconds ahead of her rival (9:05.21). "I am not feeling bad because both of us are Kenyans and all we wanted was victory for Kenya," Korikwiang remarked on Nyaruai during the team's return to Nairobi. "She is a great competitor and pushes me hard - she is like a sister to me," Nyaruai said of her rival.
Prior to the Beijing showdown in August, the world junior 3000m champion had taken runner-up spot in 1500m at the Doha Super Grand Prix in May, recording 4:08.21 for a personal best that still stands. She also clocked 15:42.1 for 5000m during the national athletics championships, in Nairobi, in June.
Keen to win the elusive World Cross Country Championships gold medal, Nyaruai began her 2007 season with a third place finish at the Amorebieta Cross Permit Meet in Spain in a race won by senior compatriot, Vivian Cheruiyot. A week later, she came second in the Cross Ouest Meet in Le Mans, France, before finishing seventh in the Seville Cross.
However, a stomach injury saw Nyaruai drop out of the junior women's race at the national cross-country trials at Ngong Racecourse on February 24, exactly a month before the World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa. "I was running well but I felt painful cramps in the second lap and I had to stop," an exasperated Nyaruai said.
Korikwiang won the trials but another showdown with her rival in Mombasa looked a pipe dream since Athletics Kenya (AK) had set the selection criteria as the top six finishers. But AK handed Nyaruai a wildcard to the provisional squad based on her 2006 performances as well as her early season form in Europe. The reigning junior silver medallist eventually made the final team of six.
In the sweltering heat of Mombasa (temperatures hit a high of 38 degrees) the 6K women's race was the curtain-raiser. Amid punishing conditions, Korikwiang, hit the front with Burka and Meselech Melkamu in hot pursuit as the runners came through the second lap after an error by the timekeeper who sounded the finishing bell a lap early.
Realising the mistake, Nyaruai urged her compatriots - Linet Masai, 2006 bronze winner Mercy Kosgei Jelimo, Mercy Cherono and Chemweno, who were all huddled together in the chasing group, to stop chasing the frontrunners. "When Pauline went with the two Ethiopians, Nyaruai told us there had been a mistake in the number of laps we had run and we should keep running at our pace," Kosgei Jelimo, who eventually took silver, said.
The stomach ailment that had halted Nyaruai's progress at the trials recurred midway through the final lap as three Kenyans broke away for the podium sweep. Clearly struggling, Nyaruai signalled Masai and Kosgei to go for top honours with a wave of an arm as she bravely held on for bronze.
A remarkable turnaround was achieved by Masai who claimed her first world junior cross country crown as Kenya completed a hat trick of team titles in the 6Km women's race with a perfect 10 score after Chemweno took fourth. "The team is more important than anyone,” Nyaruai said. “When I realised that the bell went too early, I had to inform my team-mates and, since Kosgei had noticed it too, it was easy to convince the rest.”
In May, Nyaruai returned to the Doha GP meet to finish fifth in the women's 1500m in 4:09.96 before qualifying for her first senior international assignment at the All Africa Games, in Algiers, in July. Contesting the 1500m, Nyaruai kept close to overwhelming favourite Gelete Burka after the two broke away. With 800m to go, the Ethiopian raced clear for gold in 4:06.89, Nyaruai taking silver in 4:09.11.
Two days after returning from the exhausting trip to Algiers, Nyaruai lined up for the national trials for the World Championships in Osaka. Once again, she offered a measured performance (4:10.2) to finish behind Viola Kibiwott (4:09.7) to clinch a ticket to Japan. But, in Osaka, she ran her worst time (4:21.50) to finish 12th in her semi-final.
This winter, Nyaruai finished second in the Caceres Cross Meet on January 20. She then took part in her first indoor race, at the Norwich Union meet in Glasgow, on January 26, in which she finished in the 3000m (9:08.57).
Another good indoor performance over the same distance on February 9 (9:03.59) in Valencia saw AK name her in the Kenyan national team for the World Indoor Championships in the same city. In spite of the wobble in form that saw her disappoint in Osaka, Nyaruai remains one of the brightest prospects in Kenyan women distance running.
1500m 4:08.21 (2006)
3000m 8:52.9 (2005)
5000m 15:13.1 (2005)
1500m: 2005 - 4:21.8, 2006 - 4:08.21, 2007 - 4:09.11
3,000m: 2005 - 8:52.9, 2006 - 9:02.90, 2007 –
5,000m: 2005 - 15:13.1, 2006 - 15:42.1, 2007 - 15:23.37
2005 2nd World Cross Country Championships, Saint- Etienne (junior women)
2005 1st World Youth Championships, Marrakech (3,000m)
2006 2nd World Cross Country Championships, Fukuoka (junior women)
2006 1st World Junior Championships, Beijing (3,000m)
2007 3rd World Cross Country Championships, Mombasa (junior women)
2007 2nd All Africa Games, Algiers (1500m)
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008