HAS ANYONE HAD A MORE Appropriate name? "Vivian" (sometimes spelled "Vivien") comes from a Latin word meaning "lively". It is also the name of an enchantress in the legend of King Arthur who gets the better of the magician Merlin and while the knights and kings are laying about each other with their swords and spears in battle, she manages to snatch the prize--the magic sword Excalibur. So it has been with Vivian Jepkemoi Cheruiyot, who was born on 11 September 1983 near Keiyo in Kenya's Rift Valley Province. This diminutive woman has set a very lively pace around the tracks of the world and while the Ethiopians, who have dominated the longer distances for some decades, have been tied up with their own rivalries for supremacy, she has nipped in to snatch the prize.
"I started running because of a sports day at school," she told an interviewer. "I ran, I was good at it, and really enjoyed it." She confided, too, that her early track heroine was Sally Barsosio, the 10,000 metres world champion in 1997.
And quite a prize it is because Vivian Cheruiyot is the 2012 Laureus Female Athlete of the Year. It is impossible to get any higher recognition. Every time that one looked at the track last year, either in the arena itself or on the television screen, it seemed that Cheruiyot was setting the pace, with her rivals, including many well-known names, stretched out behind her. Cheruiyot won so many races, including the gold medal in both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres in the IAAF World Championships at Daegu, Korea.
Even when she didn't take an early lead, her famed "killer kick" to the finish, which she has described as being "natural" but sharpened by "speed-work sessions on the track", was sufficient to demolish the opposition.
Yes, 2011 was exceptional by any standards. It started with Cheruiyot cruising past Linet Masai on the last lap to win the IAAF World Cross Country Championship at Punta Umbria. She was also successful in the IAAF Diamond League series of meetings in which she attained victories at Stockholm, Eugene (USA), Shanghai, and Zurich.
I was privileged to watch the latter from high in the press stands at the Letzigrund Stadium. The meeting came immediately after the World Championships when some of the winners there took the opportunity to rest from competition. Not so for the double victor.
Cheruiyot won the 5,000 metres after leading her Kenyan compatriots, including Sally Kipyego, Linet Masai, and Sylvia Kibet to the first five positions even though Meselech Melkamu and Sentayehu Ejigu presented a very strong Ethiopian challenge. Although her recent breakthrough has been spectacular, Cheruiyot has been around for some time, working her way through the ranks. She competed in her first Olympic Games at Sydney in 2000--reaching the 5,000 metres final. That had come on the back of her winning the junior IAAF World Cross Country Championships at Vilamoura after achieving the silver medal in the same event at Belfast the previous year. Then she disappeared from the scene for several years while completing her studies.
Her comeback to the "big time" started with her taking the silver medal behind Meseret Defar at the IAAF World Championships at Osaka in 2007, a season which she closed by winning gold in the IAAF World Athletics Final at Stuttgart, Germany.
The next year, Cheruiyot was fifth in the 5,000 metres at the Beijing Olympic Games. Her big chance came in 2009 which she started by breaking the Kenyan 3,000 metres indoor record with 8:30.53 at Birmingham, UK.
When favourite Tirunesh Dibaba pulled out of the IAAF World Championships in Berlin with injury, Cheruiyot seized her chance to win the 5,000 metres in 14:53.33.
She began 2010 with a silver medal in the 3,000 metres in IAAF World Indoor Championships at Doha--finishing behind Defar again--but then at last she turned the tables on the Ethiopian in the 5,000 metres of the African Championships in Nairobi. …