Kenya's Cheruiyot adjusts to reality of preparing for Olympics amid pandemic

Kenya's world champion Timothy Cheruiyot has been struggling to keep a consistent training schedule in a topsy-turvy year as he prepares for the Tokyo Olympics.

Timothy Cheruiyot was one of the top contenders for an Olympic gold in Japan after an impressive 2019, when he won the world title in Doha.   -  Getty Images

Coach Bernard Ouma barked orders to start stretching and the team of a dozen athletes fanned out in the morning sunshine, leaving a good six feet between them.

Among them was Kenya's 1500-metre world champion Timothy Cheruiyot, who has been struggling to keep a consistent training schedule in a topsy-turvy year as he prepares for this summer's Olympic Games scheduled in Tokyo.

Cheruiyot was one of the top contenders for an Olympic gold in Japan after an impressive 2019, when he won the world title in Doha. Then the Games were postponed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, the three-time Diamond League champion is being forced to adjust. He sometimes has to train alone, rather than in his traditional team environment.

This makes the mental aspect of the sport even more important, Ouma said. He has pared down the intensity of Cheruiyot's training, putting more emphasis on the process.

"I said I am not interested in timing," added Ouma. "I just want to see effort. Show me how you can run, this eases pressure."

RELATED | Former world track chief Diack back in Senegal after release

He has worked with Cheruiyot more closely on his mental strength to help build his resilience, checking in how he is coping and what is happening with his three younger siblings and his parents, who are farmers in western Kenya.

"Last year was bad, this year ... we are prepared for any eventuality," Ouma claimed. "We live together, all of us, that means the bubble is working for us and we try to keep up the adherence of the coronavirus protocol."

Their routine is simple -- train at their track or run on a track in Nairobi's National Park -- home to lions, hyenas and rhinos. "Luckily the animals don't have COVID," Ouma joked.

Cheruiyot still managed to compete in some races last year despite the pandemic. He won in Monaco and Stockholm, showing little signs of rust in either race, although he lost a 2,000 metre virtual race in June, where his "Team Cheruiyot" pitted itself against the Norwegian "Team Ingebrigtsen".

"When we go to races, we normally go there and train. But now, you are going there and stay in a room. It's a bit challenging," Cheruiyot stated.

In 2016, Cheruiyot failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics after finishing fourth in the trials for the 1500m race, a mere half-a-second from making the team -- a moment he described as one of the worst of his career.

"I am running against time. Trials in Kenya is very competitive. I lack a medal in Olympics, so that is my goal," he signed off.

For more updates, follow Sportstar on :