At the prime age of 33 and having attained the holy grail of being an Olympics champion, Vivian Cheruiyot is ready to turn a new leaf in her highly illustrious athletics career.
The multiple world champion in 5,000m and 10,000m has, however, had very little time to savour being voted the 2016 Sports Personality of the Year Award (Soya) recently.
Cheruiyot made her marathon debut among a star-studded female field for the 2017 London Marathon last month where she finished an impressive fourth.
The diminutive athlete, affectionately referred to as “Pocket Rocket”, tested the waters in road races with a memorable half marathon debut last September when she upstaged compatriot Priscah Jeptoo to win the Great North Run on her 33rd birthday.
At the Lisbon Half Marathon held on March 19, she finished second after 2015 world marathon champion Mare Dibaba of Ethiopia.
Getting to the top has indeed been a long torturous journey for Vivian given that all her glorious achievements notwithstanding, an Olympic gold medal was still missing from her trophy cabinet until the heroics of last year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Ironically, at some point, the Rio excursion threatened to become a disaster thanks to one Ethiopian runner by the name Almaz Ayana who had trumped her dreams of the elusive gold medal in a world record breaking performance in the 10,000m contest on Day One of track and field competition in the Brazilian city.
After that debacle, Vivian, who had been chasing Olympics glory since 2000, was distraught and inconsolable.
She snubbed the probing journalists who were waiting for her at Rio’s Olympic Stadium’s mixed zone while at the mandatory post-race press conference she would only offer: “One day, one time, I know I’ll be an Olympic champion.”
Thankfully, she didn’t have to wait long for that day. Just days later, she got her pound of flesh by turning the tables on Ayana, who up to that point had seemed invincible and a source of much misery for her Kenyan rivals.
But an intricate and well-laid out plan by Vivian and her two team mates, Helen Obiri and Mercy Cherono, enabled Kenya to bag gold and silver in a dramatic women’s 5,000m race as the erstwhile Ayana was blown away into smithereens.
The moment truly belonged to Vivian, who saved the best for last to produce the finest performance of her entire career by sensationally clinching the gold medal in a new Olympic record of 14:26.17.
The victory proved to be the perfect tonic for Vivian, who was still hurting from that loss in the 10,000m race.
“Before the race I didn’t believe that it would be possible to beat Ayana. But Helen (Obiri) came over to me and told me that we should have some self-belief, that it’s possible to beat her,” Vivian would later reveal.
Six months down that line, Vivian still remains thankful to Obiri for the big help she got from her during that epic race.
“One person who had the heart of a lioness is Obiri. She instilled bravery in us and it worked,” she recently reminisced after bagging the overall Soya award – the second in her glittering career.
Recently, she said that her preparations for her marathon debut started after the conclusion of the Olympic Games in Rio.
“I know it’s not easy. You have to really work hard for good results,” she said.
But the one that works for Vivian is the strong support system that she enjoys, especially from her family members.
Her husband, Kiplagat Kirui, who took over as coach in 2006, has been ever present during the low and high moments for Vivian.
“She has been a good student, listener and never complains on something that she knows will be good for her,” Kirui says of his spouse whom he also describes as “a wonderful athlete and wife.”
The chemistry between the two is evident both on and off the track and the two have become role models for athletics couples.
On her part, Vivian already has her sights set on another Olympic gold medal – this time in the women’s marathon.
And when she finally attains that milestone, she will be ready to hang up her spikes and pass on the baton to the next generation, presumably at the age of 40, right when life begins.
“The reason why I would want to retire at 40 to do other things is because I don’t want to strain myself in old age,” she said recently.