Editor’s Note: This is Stuart Weir’s feature on Vivian Cheruiyot, who missed the Athens 2004 Olympics after competing in Sydney 2000, then Beijing 2008, London 2012, and Rio 2016. At the age of 40, she just took 3rd at the Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris in 2:21.46. Vivian’s last marathon was at Valencia in December 2019, where she ran 2:18.52 for 4th. 

Vivian Cheruiyot is an Olympic and World Champion, and six years after running the London 2018 Marathon, Vivian Cheruiyot shows that she is not done! 

Vivian Cheruiyot, a personal memory

Vivian Cheruiyot finished third in the Paris Marathon in 2:21:46 at the age of 40, running her first Marathon in five years. I first met Vivian in 2011 in Daegu at the World Championships and have kept in touch with her.

In that 2011 World Championship, she won the 5k and the 10k, adding to her 2007 and 2009 5K world titles. She missed the 2013 World Championship following the birth of her son, Allan, but returned to win the 10k in Beijing in 2015. She won medals in the 5k and the 10k at two Olympics (2012 and 2016). She then concentrated on the Marathon, winning London in 2018. Her daughter Arielle was born in 2021.

Vivian Cheruyuit, Beijing 2015, photo by World Athletics

As I said, I first met her in 2011 in Daegu, Korea. I remember clearly the circumstances.  I was in the main press center, and there was an announcement that some athletes were about to plant a tree.  My work must have been rather dull as I decided to go along.  There was Vivian and her husband, Moses.  We talked.  I was immediately struck by how friendly they both were.  She agreed to do an interview with me after she had run the 5000m and 10000m.  She won both.

I spoke to her at the winners’ press conference and discovered that she was leaving the next morning, so there would be no time for an interview—and an easy get-out. Not Vivian. She had made a promise and would keep it. “I can’t do the interview tomorrow, but I can do it now!” she said.

BEIJING, CHINA – AUGUST 24: Vivian Jepkemoi Cheruiyot of Kenya celebrates after winning gold in the Women’s 10000 meters final during day three of the 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 at Beijing National Stadium on August 24, 2015, in Beijing, China. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images for IAAF)

I had the pleasure of seeing her win silver and bronze in London in 2012.  Then, she took a career break to have her son, Allan, in 2013.  By 2015, she was World Champion again, winning the 10000m in Beijing – the third World Championship in which I had seen her win a medal.  She said of the challenge of running after childbirth: “It was not so difficult because when I was going on maternity leave, I had planned everything.  I did not want to come back too quickly.  I wanted to have my baby and take it 8 months after delivery.  So I stayed away for 8 months.  The problem was just the weight.  I was 54 kilos and had to reduce that to 40”.

She won gold and silver medals in the 2016 Olympics. Another precious memory was meeting her in the Olympic Village the day after her gold medal. I greeted her with a “Good morning, Olympic Champion.” She gave me a big hug.

Vivian Cheruiyot and her husband, photo by Stuart Weir

She told me the Rio gold medal was her career highlight:  “because it was the one thing I had not previously done in my athletics career. It was something I was looking for. Achieving it meant that my career in athletics was complete, and I thank God. In Rio, I was in good shape, and when we did the 10,000, I did my personal best.  I was disappointed because every time it came to the Olympics year, it seemed I couldn’t win a gold medal.  In 2012, I completed the 5000m and 10000m and got silver and bronze.  So I asked myself: ‘Why every time in the world championship can I win medals but in the Olympics? Why every time I don’t get gold medals.’  I was questioning myself, but I thought there was still time, and I could still run.  And I won the 5000m.  We planned that race well.  We looked at the way she [Ayala] was running.  I watched the way she was running, and she was quicker in the middle of the race.  She was running 66, and perhaps we were doing 68, so we were watching the race she was doing.  In the last two kilometres I hear the commentator say that she was doing 72 and we were doing 68 so I thought ‘we are quicker than her’ so we decided to elevate the pace.  It was unbelievable, and I thank God.  It was my last race on the track. It was so nice to end with a medal for me”.

Vivian Cheruiyot took third at the 2024 Paris Marathon in 2:21.46, photo by Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris

Rio was her last track race as she switched to road racing, targeting the London Marathon 2017 as her first marathon.  She explained that she felt the time was right for the new challenge.  She said: “I have been running for almost 18 years – track and cross country.  Because I am 33 years old, I decided to do a marathon while still strong.  I chose London for my first marathon because London is my second home. I love London because of the people.  They are very supportive and are always cheering you on”.

I spoke to her before the race—a telephone interview. She arranged a time and answered the phone when I rang. Typical integrity! I was struck by how sensible her attitude was. She told me, “In London 2017, I want to run for the experience. I want to run without pressure because it is my first marathon. I don’t want to say that I will run a particular time because that is my first marathon, and I want to run without pressure.” She came fourth.

24 years after competing in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney @VivianCheruiyot is still on the podium in the @parismarathon today, running 2:21.46 for 3rd. In between she won the Olympic Games, World Champions in the 5000m, 10,000m and Cross Country, London Marathon…. pic.twitter.com/XFl04BTOdL

— PACE (@PACESportsMgmt) April 7, 2024

I next saw her at the Great North Run in September 2017 when she came second to Mary Keitany.  The critics said that if she could not beat Keitany over a half marathon, she would never beat her over a full marathon.  Vivian said, “I’m happy to be second because I’m still new in road races. And I know I’m going to improve. Maybe when I come back next year. To come from 5000m and 10000m up to a half marathon – it’s not something that is easy. But I’m so happy because today I did my best”.

When she mentioned God earlier, it was not a throw-away line but something very important to her, as she explained: “Since I started my career, I have seen a lot that God has done for me.  Where I was 10-15 years ago and where I am now is different.  He is the one who gives us strength and everything, so without God, everything is impossible.   Without him, you cannot succeed in your life.  It is not my strength it is God’s strength.  Without Jesus, I would not be succeeding the way I am because, without him, I could not do anything”.

It’s great to see her still competitive at 40!