Three-time Diamond League champion, Timothy Cheruiyot now sets his focus on gold in Doha

Had it not been for a rookie error in his first ever international race, Timothy Cheruiyot may not be the same runner – and three-time Diamond League champion – that he is today.

He can now look back on the experience and smile, but in the aftermath of the 2015 IAAF World Relays in The Bahamas he faced backlash back home in Kenya for throwing away the chance of a world record in the distance medley relay.

Cheruiyot, aged 19 at the time and far less experienced than almost everyone else in the race, covered the first lap of his 1600m leg in a lactic-inducing 51.96, opening up a three-second lead on the USA. Over the last two laps, though, USA’s Ben Blankenship clawed back the deficit and overtook Cheruiyot in the closing stages, clocking a world record of 9:15.50.

“It was amazing but also nerve wracking,” he says. “I was young and inexperienced but I also had a lot of adrenalin. I was told by the team coaches that I’d be running the anchor leg and my goal was to bring the baton home in a world. It was a lot of pressure.

“Looking back on it now, of course I know that I went out too fast. Ben Blankenship was a great competitor that day and he and his teammates deserved the world record. I was still really pleased to get silver, but people at home blamed me for not getting gold. It was quite difficult for me.”

It wasn’t long before Cheruiyot redeemed himself. He set 1500m PBs of 3:35.24 and 3:34.86 in the months that followed and went on to finish seventh in the World Championships final in Beijing. The race in Nassau acted as the catalyst for Cheruiyot wanting to improve as a runner.

“The experience gave me a hunger for wanting more international races and to get better at 1500m running.”

Throwing away the chance of a world record wasn’t the first missed opportunity of Cheruiyot’s career, nor was it the last.

One year earlier, he finished third over 800m at Kenya’s trials for the 2014 World U20 Championships, missing a place on the team by 0.07. He finished fourth in the 1500m at Kenya’s 2016 Olympic Trials, missing a place on the team for Rio by half a second.

He also has a streak of four successive major championship silver medals, but he doesn’t count those as disappointments, especially the three that have been earned when finishing second to training partner Elijah Manangoi.

The world champion doesn’t always get the better of Cheruiyot, though, especially on the IAAF Diamond League circuit. In fact, Cheruiyot has been the more dominant in that arena, winning 11 of his 12 Diamond League races between 2018 and 2019, capped last weekend in Brussels with his third successive Diamond trophy.

posted Wednesday September 11th