Athletics Athletics

US-based Betsy out to lift Kenya in China

Betsy Saina (left) raises her arms in triumph after following Vivian Cheruiyot home to make the Kenya team for Beijing World Championship. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya
Betsy Saina (left) raises her arms in triumph after following Vivian Cheruiyot home to make the Kenya team for Beijing World Championship. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya

NAIROBI, August 4- Despite establishing a big name in United States as a champion distance runner since her college days, Betsy Saina 27, finally cracked the Kenyan team to the IAAF World Championships at the third time of asking when she nailed a place in the Beijing-bound squad.

Her second place finish in 32:59.2 behind three-time world champion, Vivian Cheruiyot during the women 10000m Trial confirmed her ticket to China.

Kenya may have given America its president in Barack Obama but in return, Saina is keen to grab the opportunity to become the latest medallist minted in the US at the biennial annual track and field showpiece having chose to run for the red, green and black over the star and stripes.

Running a smart race from the off, Saina motored through 23 laps as seasoned names around her fell off the pace, including fellow US-based star and Olympics silver medallist, Sally Kipyego whose race ended prematurely three-laps to the finish with a bad case of cramps.

Only the superior finishing ability of Cheruiyot who won the 10000m title in Daegu, South Korea, proved to be her match on the day but there is no shame to losing to the ‘Pocket Rocket’ who is hailed as one of the finest female distance track runner on the planet.

“I just ran my own race and I fell so good and decided to go a little hard a little bit, trying to make everyone feel the hurt. It’s exciting for me to make this team, I have dreamed about it for the last four years when I was in college.

“I knew everyone was here. It’s really exciting to have Vivian; Sally Kipyego there, my coach was just do my own thing and try not to do anyone’s race. I just felt great, I don’t know why but I have been training really well in Iten.

“It seems like coming back home and making the team is really exciting. I’m so happy about this,” the overjoyed Saina said after putting together a performance that ushered her through the door to the World Championships.

Cheruiyot who is finding her feet back after taking a maternal break following her silver (5000m) and bronze (10000m) at the London Olympics and Kipyego who were given a wildcard will partner her in Beijing.

– Running scholar-

Just like Kipyego, Saina is the new breed of Kenyan female runners who have an education to match the talent having studied and graduated after five years at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, with an agriculture and life sciences degree with a focus on nursing.

Unlike most of her peers who blossom from biting poverty to riches through the sport, Saina grew up in Kenya’s version of the middle class – “not poor, or rich,” she asserted – with a father who worked as an elementary-school teacher and mother who operated a small business.

She began running as a teenager in Eldoret, with hopes to pursue education at Otago Girls High School.

Her family had success in distance running, so her sisters mentored her as a youth to prepare her for a national stage of running before she caught the eye of recruiters who flew her to the US in an athletics sponsorship deal where she was to sturdy and run for Iowa State.

The fast spoken eloquent runner with a flowing American accent has medalled for Kenya before, taking bronze at the 2012 African Championships in Porto Novo, Mauritius (32:48.36) and her aim of making the Moscow Worlds team in 2013 was dashed when she ran to sixth (34:10.19) at the Trials.

It was her second successive sixth finish at the national selection event having clocked 32:46.81 to miss out on the London Olympics but earning a place in the African squad in the joint Trials.

Notwithstanding the failure to break into the fiercely competitive Kenyan team, Saina was all the rave in the US, winning the 2010, 2011, 2012 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Cross Country Championship.

On the track, she took top honours in 5,000 meters at the 2012 NCAA Indoor Championship and 10,000 meters at the 2013 Outdoor NCAA Championship under the guidance of coach Corey Ihmels.

Saina was the 2011–2012 Iowa State Cyclones Female Student-Athlete of the year and received this honour in front of 61,000 fans at the football home opener on September 1, 2012.

She is also a nine-time Big 12 Champion and an 11-time All-American runner and was named Athlete of the Year by the Track and Field Cross Country Coaches Association on her first senior season in 2013.

On August 31, when she was still healing from missing out on Moscow, Saina was honoured as the 2013 Iowa State Female Athlete of the Year.

-Home recognition-

While her impressive honours list have made her a household name in the US, Saina will get the home recognition she craves should she complete at least a podium performance or at best, return as the new world champion.

However, she is keen to keep her ambitions bottled to give her legs the chance to do all the talking in Beijing.

“I can’t say anything about that (chances of victory). The first aim was to make the team. I’m going back to train for the remaining two weeks but I’m peaking at the right time.

“I knew I had a shot because my workouts have been going really great but it’s just like a blessing for things to happen in Kenya and I’m so happy.

“After college, I felt like I need to train like way Vivian is because she is my hero, I tell everyone she I used to admire her when she was growing up. I came back in 2012 and did not make the team; in 2013 I didn’t make the team, this was my third time,” she gushed.

Saina has a template to the podium to follow from teammate Kipyego.

After failing to make the Beijing 2008 Olympics and Berlin 2009 Worlds, she got third time lucky to run in Daegu 2011 where she followed Cheruiyot across the line for silver.

It was to get better at the London Olympics when she stunned Cheruiyot to take the second medal in 10000m behind Ethiopian titan, Tirunesh Dibaba whose blistering finishing found no answer from the Kenyan girls.