Born: 11 September 1983, Rokocho, Kaptarakwa, Keiyo District, Rift Valley
Height: 155 cm
Weight: 38 kg
Camp: Pace Management, Kaptagat
Vivian Jepkemoi Cheruiyot is a petite runner who continues to stretch frontiers in female distance running. The honours list has continued to expand for Vivian Cheruiyot who is the reigning double World, World Cross, Commonwealth 5,000m and African 5,000m champion since 1998 when she first competed for her nation.
While still at Chemwabul Primary School in Keiyo, Cheruiyot, when in competition, started taking athletics seriously in 1996 while still in Standard Four competing at school competitions. The following year, Cheruiyot’s brimming talent was discovered by veteran coach David Maiyo, who took her under his care, entering her in the national trials, in Nairobi, for the 1997 World Cross Country Championships. In 1998, Cheruiyot had to repeat Standard 5 but most importantly, it was the year she broke into the junior ranks of the national team and made her international debut, finishing fifth in the junior women’s race at the World Cross, in Marrakech.
Still a primary school pupil, Cheruiyot again made the national team for the World Cross Country the following year, 1999, this time in Belfast, where she took junior silver. Then, at the All Africa Games, in Johannesburg in June, she gained her first major track honour, bronze in the 5000m. That was after the amazing talent topped the national track and field championships to become the country’s 5000m title-holder.
In 2000, the schoolgirl was crowned World Cross Country Junior Champion in Vilamoura, Portugal, before taking silver on the track in Kenya’s Championships to qualify for the Sydney Olympics. In 2001, her final primary school year, Cheruiyot failed to hold on to her World Cross Country title in Ostend, finishing fifth, but more than made up for it by winning the African Junior 5000m title in Réduit, Mauritius.
Cheruiyot enrolled at Sing’ore Girls’ High School, an institution famed for its athletics prowess, for her secondary education in 2002. As a form one student at Sing’ore (the same school that produced Sylvia Kibet) Cheruiyot won junior women’s bronze at the World Cross in Dublin. She was then crowned Kenya’s 5000m junior champion (15:49.7), earning her a berth in the national team for the World Junior Championships in Kingston, Jamaica. There she clocked 15:56.04 for bronze.
During the school holidays, Cheruiyot featured in two European races, in the Asics meeting in Helsinki, where she finished 10th in the 3000m (9:28.44) and at the Raiffeisen meeting in Germany, where she also finished 10th (9:21.94). In the 2003 national trials, she finished fifth at 5000m, missing the cut for the World Championships in Paris and the All Africa Games in Abuja. In 2004, Cheruiyot finished sixth at the National Championships to qualify for the World Cross Country in Brussels, where she finished eighth at 4km. But she failed to make it into the team for the Athens Olympics, finishing fourth in the 5000m trial (15:54.59).
In 2005, Cheruiyot opted to take a sabbatical to finish her final secondary school year (Form 4) at Singore, having missed out on the World Cross Country for the second time in a row since she made her debut in 1998. In 2006, having finished fourth in the 5000m trials for the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, thus failing to make the team, Cheruiyot then focused on the cross country, taking sixth place in the senior women’s 4km short course trials to return to the Kenyan World Cross Country team, in Fukuoka, Japan, placing eighth in the world event.
In the summer season, Cheruiyot made her debut on the Golden League circuit, with two fifth places in Zurich (14:52.10) and Brussels (14:47.43). In the World Athletics Final, in Stuttgart, she was third in the 3000m and fifth in the 5000m. Qualifying fourth through the trials at Ngong Racecourse, Nairobi, Cheruiyot went to finish eighth in the senior women’s 8km at the 2007 World Cross Country in Mombasa. She then clinched the 1500/3000m double at the European Champion Clubs Cup, in Albufiera in May. Her winning streak continued at the Norwich Union GP in Glasgow, on 3 June, where she clinched the 5000m (14:44.93) before setting a national record with second place (14:22.51) at the Bislett Games Golden League meeting in Oslo on 15 June. Ahead of her, Ethiopia’s Meseret Defar set a world record 14:16.63.
Cheruiyot returned to Kenya, winning the national 5000m trial for the World Championships in Osaka. In the world final in Japan, she chased gold medallist Defar all the way, taking silver (14:58.50). That was followed by successive victories in the European GP circuit, at 3000m in Rieti GP (8:30.25) and at 5000m at the ISTAF IAAF Berlin Golden League meeting (14:50.78).
In her second IAAF World Athletics Final appearance, Cheruiyot first took the 5000m title (14:56.94) before earning second place at 3000m (8:28.66). In 2008, she finished eighth at the National Cross-Country cum trials (the two events were merged following the post-election unrest) for Edinburgh at Ngong Racecourse in Nairobi but after being belatedly named in the provisional squad under protest, Athletics Kenya (AK) dropped her from the final squad. Cheruiyot turned to road races, winning over 5K in Carlsbad (15:14) on 6 April and 10K in Glasgow (31:32) on 18 May and back on track, she then dipped under 15 minutes at Prefontaine Classic (14:57.43) before being given a wild card for the Kenyan team to the Olympic Games in Beijing after finishing fourth in the trials in Nairobi.
In Beijing Cheruiyot was in a fast semi-final, timing 14:57.27 to make the final. She however could not produce another fast race ending up in fifth (15:46.32). After the Games, she clocked her season best time of 14:25.43 in winning the Van Damme Memorial in Brussels. At the World Athletics Final in Stuttgart, she came in second in both 3,000 and 5,000m clocking 8:44.64 and 14:54.60 respectively. Cheruiyot decided to skip the World Cross Country Championships in 2009, opting instead to give indoors a try. She registered a couple of victories in 3,000 metres, first in Valencia (8:42.13) and then set a national record in Birmingham (8:30.53) on 1 February. Continuing her progress also on the roads, she also set a new personal best in 10K (31:12) in San Juan on 1 March.
Cheruiyot got her outdoor season going in Doha in May posting a season’s best time in 1500 (4:07.41) for second place before winning the Great BUPA Run in 32:01, followed by a personal best in the rarely run 2000 metres in Eugene (5:31.52). A third place finish at Golden Spike meeting in Ostrava (14:38.26) and a season best in Oslo (14:37.01) prepared her for the national trials. Despite having only six athletes, the 12 and a half-lap race proved to be a thrilling spectacle as Cheruiyot and Sylvia Kibet fought hard for victory. The final lap had spectators on their feet as Cheruiyot put on the afterburners to power past Kibet in the very last few metres and win in 15:25.21. At the time, she also admitted that she drew inspiration from her greatest international track rival, Defar. Running in Heat 2 at the World Championships in Berlin, Cheruiyot qualified for the final by finishing second to defending champion Defar in 15:16.59.
At the decider on August 22, Cheruiyot, who had only beaten Defar once (Brussels, September 2008) in their previous 11 meetings, stunned the equally diminutive Ethiopian with a 14:57.97 run characterised by an explosive finishing kick in the last 200m after she went outside of the Osaka champion who had taken the inner lane. A shocked Defar settled for bronze after Cheruiyot’s team mate, Kibet, stole in for silver at the line.
Silver (3,000m/8:30.61) and bronze (5,000m/15:26.21) at the World Athletics Final in Thessaloniki, Greece in September added to the medal basket of the freshly minted World champion. Cheruiyot began her 2010 season by declaring she would skip Poland’s World Cross Championships and focus on indoor running, stating a World record attempt over 3,000m and rarely competed Two Miles were in the offing.
Her chance in the former presented itself at the Doha World Indoors, after being named alongside Kibet as her country’s representatives in the 3,000m women’s race. At the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham, Cheruiyot set a national record and personal best in the Two Mile when she ran 9:12.35, passing through 3,000m in 8:41.0 although she and double Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba who won failed to break Defar’s World record of 9:06.26.
At the World Indoors, Cheruiyot clocked 9:01.35 in the third 3000 metres heat to qualify for the final, where she would line up against Ethiopia’s Defar in a rematch of the Berlin 5000m final. But try as she might, Cheruiyot could not reproduce her German heroics finishing behind Defar to clinch silver in 8:51.85.
A niggling groin injury troubled her early season track plans as she battled to get in under control. But on June 26, Cheruiyot showed that she was still the top Kenyan girl in 5000 metres, effortlessly cruising to a win at the National Championships on June 26 in 15:31.39 to make the team for the African Athletics Championships. Then a week later, she showed that she had fully recovered with a world leading time in 3000 metres in Lausanne as she beat her bitter rival Defar to win in 8:34.58. A blistering win at the Paris Diamond League meet on July 16 further underlined her full recovery as she dominated the later stages of the race to win in another world leading time of 14:27.41.
When the gun went, signalling the start of the 5000 metres race at the Nyayo National stadium during the African Athletics Championships, all eyes were trained on Cheruiyot and her Ethiopian nemesis. After a slow start, Cheruiyot moved to the front at the bell then powered away from Defar for a most comprehensive of wins in 16:18.72.
A second place finish at the Aviva Diamond League meet in London in 14:38.17 on 13 August marked her return to Europe and Cheruiyot concluded her European season in style winning her specialty in 14:34.13 at the Van Damme memorial meet in Brussels. A Diamond Trophy and a 40,000 dollar cheque were the fruits of that win. Victory at her home event earned her a ticket for the 4 and 5 September IAAF Continental Cup in Split, where Cheruiyot returned 16:05.74 to give Team Africa gold in the women’s 5000m.
She checked in three days before her race at the October Delhi Commonwealth Games and delivered a 15:55.12 performance to lead team mates Kibet (15:55.61) and Iness Chenonge (16:02.47) to the clean medal sweep, capping a memorable year although she came runner-up to Olympic 1500m titleholder, Nancy Jebet Langat who also had a barnstorming season, at the Soya Awards. After closing the year with victory at the Tuskys Wareng Cross Country meet in Eldoret, Cheruiyot announced she would be seeking to qualify for the World Cross.
The opening to her 2011 campaign was marked by a third place in the snow at the Edinburgh Cross in January before being beaten by Masai at the National Cross Country Championships in February. At the Punta Umbria World Cross in Spain on 20 March, Cheruiyot sounded the warning when she deployed the afterburners in a 6:03 blast in the last two kilometres to quash Masai and the rest of the field for her first World Cross senior title. Her victory in Punta Umbria set the stage for her planned double assault when the track season set in with the aside of denying Masai gold for a third consecutive year.
Her next appearance was a winning dream 10,000m debut of 31:07.02 in Pontevedra on April 2, the significance of that win being first it was below the A-Standard for Daegu and secondly, it set another bar for gifted running machine. Her four Diamond League races brought an equal number of wins, opening the campaign with a 14:31.92 shellacking of the opposition at the Shanghai leg on 15 May followed by a 14:33.96 triumph at Prefontaine (2 June). Cheruiyot returned home for the World Championships Trials (15 July /31:55.8) where she opted to take on the 10,000m field where once again, her rocket finish proved to be far superior to Sally Kipyego and Priscah Jepleting who shared the podium after a largely pedestrian race prior to the final 400m.
At the end of July, the Commonwealth and national 5,000m record fell as Cheruiyot romped around the Stockholm track almost unchallenged in a world leading 14:20.87 and also set a world leading 8:38.67 in 3000m en route. Ever the one to set higher bars, she boldly predicted a World record for next season. On the first track final of the World Championships programme in Daegu, Cheruiyot led her country to the improbable 1-2-3-4 finish in the women 10,000m in a 30:48.98 lifetime best. The date, 27 August was poignant since Kenya marked exactly one year since ushering the new birth of the nation with the promulgation of the new constitution.
Six days later, she took to the Daegu Stadium track for her more familiar 5,000m and the outcome was the same, a scarcely believable 58.6 last-lap doing the trick as once again, Kibet played her bridesmaid. After Daegu, a routine victory in the Diamond League Final in Zurich (8 September /14:30.10) confirmed her defence of the Diamond Trophy and the $40,000 jackpot in the women 3000m/5000m for the second year running to cap the most stellar season in her career.
Following an unbeaten campaign and three World titles, Cheruiyot’s name featured prominently in the annual IAF World Gala awards list where as expected, she made the final-three shortlist in the Female Athlete of the Year Award.Fellow Daegu champion, Sally Pearson, got the nod for the top award, with Cheruiyot feted with the Female Performance of the Year recognition in a decision that was received with uproar back home. But there was no surprise when she was named the first winner of the Overall Sports Personality of the Year at Kenya’s red carpet SOYA Awards where she shared the stage with World marathon record holder, Patrick Makau who bagged the Sportsman of the Year Award. Cheruiyot welcomed 2012 with a second finish at the Seville IAAF Permit Cross Country meet (Jan 15) where she was led to the line by Masai.
After initially refraining from officially declaring ambitions to go for another distance double at the 2012 London Games, where gold success could open new frontiers for her as the first runner from her nation to reach that peak, Cheruiyot formally broadcast on 12 June she was up for the challenge. She had just completed a tactical 32:24:52 win at the Kenyan women 10,000m Trial in Nairobi.
With a resurgent double Beijing champion, Tirunesh bouncing back to rich form, Cheruiyot, who had extended her unbeaten streak on the track with her two opening Diamond League races in Doha (3000m/8:46.44/11 May) and Rome (5000m/14:35.62/WL/31 May) when she stopped arch-rival Meseret on both occasions, charged she was not cowed by Dibaba.
Cheruiyot is happily married to Moses Kiplagat, a former runner who is her personal coach. Unlike most of the women from Kenya’s Rift Valley, the Pocket Rocket decided to scale the heights in her career before settling down to establishing a family. The couple live in their beautifully manicured maisonette in Korkitony (near Eldoret).
Besides a medal and trophy cabinet that is bursting at the seams, Cheruiyot was conferred the Order of Grand Warrior (OGW) State honour by the country’s President, Dr. Mwai Kibaki, to mark the nation’s 46th birthday on 12 December, 2009, following her epic triumph in Berlin, where she became the first Kenyan runner to ascend to the 5,000m women’s title. She has since been promoted to the rank of Inspector at Kenya Police Force where she serves and on 3 January 2012, she was named the Female Athlete of the Year by US Track and Field Magazine, before being decorated as Laureus Female Athlete of the Year on 7 February, a high accolade that went some way in wiping away her Monaco heartache.
Cheruiyot was voted by the Laureus World Sports Academy members of 47 of the greatest sportsmen and sportswomen of all time that includes Kenya’s legend Kipchoge Keino and became the first Kenya woman and only the second ever sportsperson from her country after the former to win an individual decoration at the premier awards.