Vivian Cheruiyot has strong case to be IAAF female athlete of 2011

By Mark ButlerBBC athletics statistician
Vivian Cheruiyot
Cheruiyot has already secured an Olympic place in the 5000m and 10,000m

Vivian Cheruiyot ought to be many people's choice when the IAAF names the female athlete of the year on Saturday.external-link

British-managed and a frequent visitor here, her third place in the snow in Edinburgh last January was not a sign of things to come. And after she finished second in the Kenyan Cross Country Championships, the 28-year-old proved unbeatable.

Cheruiyot collected the first of three world golds at the World Cross Country Championships in Spain in March, set a Commonwealth 5,000m record in July, before completing a 5,000m/10,000m double at the World Championships in Daegu and then claiming victory in the Diamond Race in Zurich.

She never looked like losing any of those races, showing greater strength and the ability to out-sprint her opponents.

At the World Cross, her closing 2km circuit in six minutes and three seconds was faster than some of the British men managed on the same course that day.

Despite adding the track 10,000m to her repertoire she has lost none of her top-end speed, as evidenced by a 58.68-second last lap in the Daegu 5,000m. That is the female equivalent of the blistering 52-second 400s generated by Mo Farah, Bernard Lagat and the best Ethiopians.

Cheruiyot's reward is that she has now been selected by Athletics Kenya for the Olympic Games at both the 5,000m and 10,000m.

It is an unprecedented gesture by her federation and means she will not have to worry about the hazards of the Kenyan trials at high altitude next summer.

That is chilling news for her Ethiopian rivals, especially the reigning Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba, who already faces a mountain to climb after being out of action for a year.

Three world golds for Cheruiyot highlight the year of the Kenyan woman long-distance runner.

It has been such a strong year for them that the exploits of Mary Keitany are almost forgotten. She broke the world 20km and half-marathon records in February, then two months later in London, ran the fourth fastest marathon in history.

In Daegu, Kenya's women won eight of the nine available medals in the 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon, reducing the previously all-conquering Ethiopia to a solitary bronze. That was quickly followed by Lucy Kabuu's commanding win at the Great North Run and Florence Kiplagat's Berlin Marathon victory.

Whoever is clothed in a Kenyan vest in a distance race in London 2012 will be a serious medal threat, and it seems the danger will be even greater if the wearer is female.

That is all the more impressive when you consider that before 2008 no Kenyan woman had won an Olympic title, and only three had ever taken gold at World Championships.