Athletics veteran Cheruiyot plans a golden finish in Tokyo

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NAIROBI, June 16 (Xinhua) — Two decades ago, a 16-year-old prodigy arrived on the international scene to write a new chapter in track and field when she won a maiden global title at the World Junior Cross Country Championships in Algarve, Portugal in March 2000.

The rookie oozed raw talent as she raced bare feet to announce her arrival, which by extension, triggered the retirement of another long-distance runner, the great Tegla Loroupe.

Her run in Portugal was a clear justification of the cliche that out of Africa, there is always something new, and the world had better accept Kenyans’ talent and advantage in middle distance and endurance terms.

In the summer of the same year, Cheruiyot made her debut at the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, finishing a distant 14th in 5,000 meters.

Injuries, loss of form and intense challenges took Cheruiyot’s voyage into headwinds.

It had to take her another eight years before she returned to the Olympics in Beijing, China. But as fate would have it, she had to endure more misery as she ranked fifth in 5,000m.

But like true legends, Cheruiyot never gave up. She would clinch silver and bronze medals in 5,000m and 10,000m, respectively, at the 2012 Olympics held in London, and four years later, her coronation was complete as she emerged to rule the world winning gold at the Rio Olympics in the 5,000m race.

For an athlete who made her debut at the Olympics as a 16-year-old rookie, Cheruiyot has gone on to live her dream, making a complete 360 degrees career span.

“Three years ago, I announced my decision to retire from track competition and focus solely on road races and marathons. I am not going back on that because I want to give a chance to younger athletes to take over the baton, fight for the Kenyan flag and dominate the track completion. Someday I will retire and want to see these young athletes flourish,” Cheruiyot said.

But Cheruiyot said she’ll never think about retirement even at the age of 36 – not until she clinches her second Olympic title in Tokyo over the ultimate distance in athletics discipline, the marathon.

The former Laureus award winner has cited discipline, hard work and focus as her mantra, which has helped her remain competitive in a career spanning over 20 years.

“It is the same thing I tell the young athletes of today, be patient, discipline and run clean. Always train hard and be focused, the victory will follow,” said Cheruiyot.

Cheruiyot, who has recovered from a tendon injury, which ruled her out of the Berlin marathon last year, hopes to return to action after the health situation improves across the globe.

She had hoped to wrap up her performance for the national team in 2020 with the Olympics, but she will now be forced to wait another year to actualize her plans.

“One year is a long time in sport and I want to be in my best shape to compete. But I will be patient and see how the season unfolds. The important thing, for now, is to remain safe,” Cheruiyot said.

There will be no guarantees for making the Kenyan team for the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics after Athletics Kenya said performance and fitness would be considered before confirming the final squad to the ultimate sports competition in 2021.

For Cheruiyot, she hopes to remain injury-free and pledged to honor a call to represent her country in the Olympics one final time. It will be her fifth show, a feat not many athletes have attained in their career.

“Looking back in my career, I am happy with what I have achieved. There have been highs and lows, especially when I missed a medal at the Beijing Games in 2008, but I have worked hard to be where I am,” she said.

Cheruiyot made her marathon debut in London in 2017, where she finished fourth in time with 2:23:50. In Frankfurt the same year, she clocked the fastest time of 2:23:35.

In 2018 she broke the odds in London to beat the strongest field ever assembled to win in 2:18:31, which then was the sixth-fastest time in a women’s marathon.

Her sunset in the road running discipline may be prolonged until her legs fail to carry her diminutive figure as fast as she would like.

Until then, Cheruiyot will relish living her dream and will never lack choice on where to make her next run. Enditem

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