Obiri ready to take over track mantle from mentor Cheruiyot
Hellen Obiri Onsando is ready to take over the mantle from her mentor Vivian Cheruiyot on the track after realising her dream of medalling at the Olympics in Rio 2016 last month.
The 26 year-old mother of one followed Cheruiyot, 32, across the line in a Kenyan 1-2 in the women 5000m final in a stunning upset of overwhelming favourite and Ethiopian women 10000m record holder, Almaz Ayana, in a performance that rocked an entire nation.
It capped the remarkable journey of the affable runner who has scaled the heights of the country’s biggest sporting export despite hailing from a humble background.
Her performance and joy at winning the second medal in Rio in a career best of 14:29.77 won the hearts of many Kenyans and after returning to the country after completing her European circuit obligations, Obiri is lined up for the grandest of homecomings this weekend in her native Kisii.
Born and raised in the backwaters of Riontueka village, Bogichora in Bobasi Constituency of the banana county, Obiri who is also a Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldier based at the Laikipia Airbase has represented her nation with distinction since she broke to the international scene at the 2011 IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea.
“I started running in my tender age when I was in Ekeonga Primary School. I participated in various school competitions even after joining Riruta Central Secondary School in Nairobi. In 2010, I joined the Forces and that is how my star started shining,” Obiri retraced her roots in the sport that has catapulted her to global fame.
Meeting Sydney 2000 Olympics champion, Noah Ngeny at KDF where her talent was identified at the inter-forces championships opened the doors to a career she never imagined and soon, the retired great introduced her to PACE Management, the agency led by Briton Ricky Simms.
Her debut in Daegu ended in a painful fall during the final of the women 1500m that saw her end her podium interest and slump to 10th (4:20.23) when poised to challenge for the medals after getting entangled and tripped in the pack after the bell, a chastening introduction to the grand stage.
At PACE, she met their Kenyan female distance running ace, Cheruiyot, the four-time IAAF World Championships in Athletics titleholder who was given the responsibility of nurturing her talent.
“I will always be grateful to Vivian because we have trained together for a long time. She is my family friend and we are under the same management I can say that all along, she has been my mentor and pillar especially now after I shifted from 1500m. Her experience in 3000m and 5000m has been very helpful to me,” Obiri told.
The mother of one said juggling her military and running career with being wife to fellow KDF soldier, Tom Simon Nyaundi and mother to her 16 month-old baby is challenging and requires commitment and sacrifice.
Royal Media Services Ekegusii station, Egesa FM, is sponsoring her thanksgiving/homecoming party in Kisii, an initiative the 2012 IAAF World Indoor 3000m champion (8:37.16) said could inspire more youth in the region to take up the sport.
“In Gusii we have talent but we have not achieved the standards we need to get more athletes from the region and we can join hands. We also need training camps in Kisii we have only one camp in Keroka whereas in Rift Valley, there are so many camps which can accommodate many athletes,” the 2014 World Indoor silver winner and women 1500m African Champion pointed out.
Obiri said they have formed a welfare group of Abagusii female runners with the likes of Athens 2004 Olympics 5000m silver medallist Isabella Ochichi, 2010 Commonwealth 10000m champion, Grace Momanyi among others to seek ways of giving back to their community in the example of their neighbours from the Rift.
Her dream is to continue the rich legacy of Cheruiyot who is quitting the track for the roads after a decorated track career and own a world record as she prepares for the onset of the cross country season that starts in November.
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