NAIROBI, Kenya, September 16- The queen of distance running, Vivian Cheruiyot would love nothing more than a stroll in the park as she winds down after her astonishing season that elevated her to three world titles.
In what can be described as a coronation ceremony on Wednesday, the self declared distance running capital, Eldoret, rolled out the red carpet as she made her triumphant return and Capital Sport spent time with the champion at her Kaptagat home after the din from the huge party died down.
Nothing prepares any visitor for the warm reception one of the most recognisable female distance running machine on the planet accords visitors to her residence that is set against a backdrop of serenity with the Sosiani River snaking its way nearby.
“Welcome and feel at home,” Moses Kirui, her spouse says as the latest journalists to make a call at the couple’s mansion check in.
Shortly, the diminutive Cheruiyot comes down the stairs and throwing one of her famed bright smiles and warm greetings, proceeds to serve assembled guests who include relatives and villagers refreshments, nothing can commence without a proper African welcome, she insists.
Soon, she joins her husband in conducting her visitors round the neighbourhood, pausing to inspect activity in their farms that produce maize and dairy products of to chat heartily with a neighbour- a complete contrast to the glitz and glamour she commands in various sporting cathedrals worldwide.
“I thank the people of Eldoret and my neighbours for the great welcome they gave me. This is the kind of motivation we need to train hard and perform. Next year, it’s the Olympics and I want to return to such a welcome,” she begins.
Flanked by fellow Daegu gold winner, Edna Kiplagat (women marathon), the athlete she led to the altar in the women 5000m, Sylvia Kibet, Olympic champion, Nancy Jebet Langat, Daegu 1500m finalist, Viola Kibiwott and 2009 Boston winner, Salina Kosgei among a slew of other runners, Cheruiyot was the toast of the town on her return.
Residents lined the Kaptagat-Eldoret road to wave at the champion as she waved back from the sunroof of her vehicle that was escorted in convoy complete with outriders to Eldoret.
After making a courtesy call at the District Commissioner’s office, she then went on a lap of honour around the streets of the town, bringing business to a stop as more residents poured out to salute their heroine in song, dance and ululation.
“We have reserved some streets to be named after champion athletes and we shall also elect statues in their honour at our sports grounds. We welcome our athletes to share with us on how to market this town as the running capital of the world,” Eldoret Mayor, William Kiprop said when he received the heroine at his parlour.
“We need such gestures since they will make us remembered for ever and I’m encouraged by what the mayor has said,” Cheruiyot acknowledged.
That ushered in the second part of the grand return where hundreds converged at her compound for a ravish feast that went on till dusk as glowing homage was paid on the first ever Kenyan female double gold medallist at the Worlds.
“Both of my gold medals in Daegu were special, I can place none above the other. Before I decided I was going to double, I was already set and decided to go out and try my best. Many had tried to do it before, I believed I could make it and I thank God,” she stated.
On her searing last lap kick she has perfected since winning her first world title in Berlin two years ago, Cheruiyot disclosed, “That is a natural kick and hard training. When I’m training, I train knowing I must have a fast quick lap. At a final, it is a last act, at the finish line, there is always something waiting and since everyone prepares for the last kick and you have to be the best.”
“For long, Ethiopians dominated female distance running and we had to work hard to beat them at the finish where they beat us all the time. As Kenyans, we have also worked as a team at major events and it has made us change things.”
With the Olympics coming up next year, Cheruiyot wants more of the same as she seeks the only top medal missing from her impressive collection.
“I pray to God that my health will be good and my training to go as planned so that I can try to do what I did this year sine I want to win more and more medals. For now, I want to enjoy what I have achieved this year and I will talk about the Olympics later.”
And how does she intend to celebrate a year that saw her crowned the World Cross senior women champion in March, clinch the 5000m/10000m Worlds double before wrapping her second successive Diamond Trophy triumph in women’s 5000m?
“I love nature and wildlife and we have planned nothing yet with my husband but a visit to Tsavo or Meru National Parks would be welcome,” as she threw suggestive glances at her spouse.
“I love my husband since he understands what I need to be successful. He helps me in training and is always there for me at home. We wake up together at 5am for training and when we are done, he then takes care of our businesses, leaving me to focus on my career,” she poured.
“To get such a man who understands what a successful woman needs is hard but I’m grateful to have him and that is why I embraced him when I saw him after winning the 10000m in the crowded mixed zone,” Cheruiyot added.
Amid the humble village folk she shares an address, the illustrious company of the 2010 World Cross champion, Joseph Ebuya and Daegu marathon silver winner, Vincent Kiprop, are among fellow athletes in close proximity.
It’s the best illustration of how eminent she is as a champion and how humble she is when she is not handing the best runners on the planet a beating.