NAIROBI, Kenya, November 11- Whatever happens on Saturday during the annual IAAF World Gala in the French principality of Monaco, no one can dispute that Vivian Cheruiyot has been the most eminent female athlete of 2011.
Cheruiyot, who turned 28 on Wednesday, stands to receive her biggest birthday gift should she be named the first ever Kenyan female World Athlete of the Year at the climax of the fete where the finest performers of the season are announced.
She is in the running for the top accolade alongside New Zealand’s World Shot put gold winner, Valerie Adams and Australia’s shock gold medallist in the 100m Hurdles in Daegu.
“For me, being nominated for the award and making the finals is the most important thing and if I do not win, I’m motivated to work harder for next season,” Cheruiyot modestly offered before travelling to Monaco for the awards.
When she trailed Linet Masai to the tape during the National Cross Country Championships on February 20, no one was prepared for what the diminutive power pack that weighs only 38kgs had in store for the very best mid and long distance athletes.
Cheruiyot checked-in for the World Cross in Punta Umbria, Spain a month later and after sustained shadow boxing with Masai, tore away from her compatriot in the final 600m to win the women’s 8km individual gold, her first ever, at a canter.
The victory expanded her list of honours that included the World, Africa and Commonwealth women 5000m champion.
At the Daegu Worlds, Cheruiyot scaled uncharted heights for her nation when she returned home the 5000m and 10000m double and crowned it all by defending her Diamond Trophy in an unbeaten campaign.
“At the beginning of the season, I had prepared for the double and accomplishing that has given me greater hunger to win the Olympics next year,” she spoke during her elegant welcome home party in Eldoret.
After a well deserved holiday in the Kenyan coastal paradise of Mombasa, news filtered through she had been nominated for the top IAAF award and after a round of online voting, she made finalist three.
Olympics 800m titleholder, Pamela Jelimo, is the closest Kenya came to produce an women World Athlete of the Year during her dizzying 2008 season where she won 13 out of 13 races including her country’s first top medal at the quadrennial biggest gathering of sport.
However, Jelimo was awarded the Most Promising Athlete Award at that year’s World Gala and since then, no other recipient has received the citation.
In the men’s list, David Rudisha who won the Male Athlete of the Year award last year is in the running for a second successive accolade after making the short list alongside Jamaican sprinting pair, Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake.
This season, Rudisha has carried on dominating his 800m speciality, easily winning the world title in Daegu and holding on to his Diamond Trophy despite being injured at the beginning of the campaign.
But his season ended in anti-climax when he tasted a first defeat in 26 outings stretching to September 2009 in Rome.
But with Cheruiyot and Rudisha on the final short-lists for athletics top honours, Kenya has taken her place in the pedestal of the sport.