Affectionately known as ‘Kadogo’ Swahili for ‘shorty’ the diminutive Vivian Cheruiyot is making up for her lack of inches by standing tall in the world of athletics.
The 23-year-old Kenyan is finally making a noise in senior athletics after starring as a gifted junior athlete, and hopes the twin aims of the World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa and on the track at the World Championships in Athletics in Osaka can reap precious senior metal this year.
After putting her athletics career on hold in 2005 to finish her schooling many could be forgiven for thinking Cheruiyot had vanished from the sport never to return.Yet return she did and evidence grew she could compete as a leading senior athlete after she finished an encouraging eighth in the short race at the 2006 World Cross Country Championships, Fukuoka, Japan.
She carried her form on to the track last summer where she shattered her lifetime bests with 8:38.86 for the 3000m – to finish third in the IAAF World Athletics Final in Stuttgart - and ran an impressive 14:47.43 clocking for 5000m in Brussels.
And this cross country season has also offered a further indication of Cheruiyot’s ability to compete with the very best after defeating former World Cross Country champion Benita Johnson in Amorebieta (7 Jan) before finishing second behind Gelete Burka in Edinburgh, last weekend.
World Junior XC gold
Yet it has been a long road to the top after Cheruiyot was first exposed to international athletics at the tender age of 15, when finishing fifth in the junior race at the 1998 World Cross Country Championships in Marrakesh. The following year she improved to the silver medal behind Ethiopia’s Werknesh Kidane and in 2000 sounded the biggest warning yet of her exciting potential by striking junior gold at the World Cross Country Championships, and also reaching the final of the 5000m at the Sydney Olympic Games.
Yet the final two years of her junior career were almost a let down after what had gone before as she had to settle for fourth and third respectively in the World Cross Country Championships. Then in 2004 after finishing eighth in the senior short course race at the World Cross Country Championships, the following year she quit competitive racing to finish her schooling.
Her manager and coach Ricky Simms explained: “It is uncommon for Kenyans to finish their schooling at a later age and in 2005 Vivian’s main priority was to finish her education.”
After a whole year away from the sport many wondered whether we had seen the last of the tiny Kenyan athlete but she has returned to the sport with renewed vigour.
Simms has given her more structure to her training to fit her individual requirements and the first fruits of her hard labour were in evidence at the 2006 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Fukuoka.
“She came from 35th with a kilometre to go to finish eighth,” he said barely able to comprehend her finishing burst.
He was also satisfied with her efforts during the summer campaign and believes she is ready to take up the mantle as the next great Kenyan female distance runner.
“She has a killer kick and can live with anyone at the moment apart from (Tirunesh) Dibaba and (Meseret) Defar (the Ethiopian distance runners). She maybe cannot produce what they can on the last lap but she can live with anyone else. Kenya has had the likes of Sally Barsosio and Edith Masai now Vivian is ready to be the next strong Kenyan challenger for medals on the track,” he added confidently.
Steve Landells for the IAAF