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Oh Kipyegon, how great is your faith

Sportswoman of the Year Faith Kipyegon at SOYA Awards at Bukhungu Stadium in Kakamega County.[Washington Onyango,Standard]

Her smooth running with swift steps, the economical movement of the arms and a text book distance running style makes Faith Chepngétich Kipyegon stand out.

Her blow-dried hair has remained her distinctive feature for sometime. And it has featured prominently on three occasions –at the 2016 Olympic Games, 2017 World Athletics Championships and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games –save for a series of World Athletics Diamond League meetings across the globe.

It was a spectacular sight watching her compete at the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London.

It was billed as the women's 1500m race of the decade, with a start list brimming with menace, speed, endurance and athletic power.

Then Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya of South Africa, US champion and Olympic bronze medallist Jenny Simpson, Great Britain’s Laura Muir, Netherlands’ track ace Sifan Hassan, world record-holder Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia – all with below four-minute times in the 1,500m women’s race.

And in that mix of gunpowder stood a coy, tiny gazelle from Ndabibit village in Kuresoi, Nakuru County. That girl was Faith Chepng’etich Kipyegon.

She didn’t disappoint. Cruising down the stretch, her legs cutting through the air with the rhythmic power of a well-oiled engine, Faith struck Kenya's women’s first gold medal in 1,500m in the World Athletics Championships history, leaving the sporting world in a daze.

The Kenyan track queen is drop-dead gorgeous, an eye candy who stopped male athletes on their tracks at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London. Her beauty and style sidelined the Ethiopian track superstars.

 August 6, 2021. Gold medallist Faith Kipyegon of Kenya on the podium. REUTERS

The lithe girl from far-flung Ndabibit village, who caught the world’s attention, running barefoot to finish fourth at the World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, in 2010 is now a track assassin.

Gorgeous in running kit and absolutely stunning in an evening gown, she is the perfect poster girl that would leave any pin-up model gasping in envy.

This beauty would no doubt cause a traffic jam on Moi Avenue if she crossed that road on a Sunday morning! Then meet her in her room – at Keringet Athletics Camp in Nakuru County, Kaptagat Camp in Uasin Gishu and  Nijmegen in The Netherlands, listening to a mix of Tanzania music super star, Diamond Platinumz – and you will confirm her unbridled love for Bongo Flava.

Her full lips sit pretty on her lovely, bright face, emphasising a beauty that the manicured nails and blow-dried soft hair crown with such great flair.

Faith has come so far since she won won her first gold medal on July 4, 2011 during the World Youth Championships in Lille, France.

She has come a long way from the clean-shaven Winners Girls High School student who, as a junior, raced her peers to the ground.

When she threw down the gauntlet to race down her opponents, it was evident she has come of age.

“I won the Olympics in 2016 but victory at the World Championships in 2017 was sweeter because I fought the hardest,” said Chepngétich, who lined up for what was termed as the most unpredictable race of the championships.

“In 2016 Rio, I was only wary of Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia because I had a fantastic season. In London, Caster Semenya, Dibaba, Sifan Hassan, Laura Muir and Jenifer Simpson were all gold medal prospects,” she said.

The two-time Olympic champion says she has achieved what most of her peers just dream of. Sample her calling card; World Youth (Under 18), World Junior (Under 20), World Cross, Commonwealth Games, World Relays, World Championships and two Olympic titles.

Faith Kipyegon, of Kenya races to win a women's 1,500-meter heat at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. AP

“I couldn’t sleep the moment we landed in London in 2017. I did not even feel hungry. It was an extremely difficult time waiting for the competition. The only good thing is that the pressure was not only on me, but also on the rest of the field."

“It was well distributed among us, especially after I lost to Sifan at the Monaco Diamond League before coming into the championships,” added Faith, before making history as the first Kenyan female world champion in 1,500m since the race was introduced in Gothenburg Sweden in 1995.

She always borrows a famous Nigerian proverb ‘a determined hunter is never frightened in the jungle’ to re-affirm her prowess.

“I knew it would be a tough race and everyone was going for gold. I knew nobody would go to the front in the first two laps and they would go faster in the last lap. So I trained for it,” said Faith, who is managed by Dutchman Jos Hermens of Global Sports Communications in The Netherlands.

At times, Faith trains in Dutch’s oldest city of Nijmegen, where their management has a camp.

As a Form Two student at Winner’s Girls High School in Keringet, Faith was among young athletes feted at the centenary celebrations of the World Athletics in Barcelona, Spain, in 2012.

All along, she had wanted to improve on her father Samuel Koech’s exploits in athletics.

“My father was a good 800m and 1,500m runner but, he never boarded a plane. He would only win his races up to nationals and go back home. There were no big competitions like we have these days,” Faith said.

In 2014 during the Commonwealth Games inside Hampden Park Stadium in Glasgow, Scotland, Faith, then a Form Three student, exhibited exceptional courage to bag the 1500m gold medal.

She beat a classy field that included track star Hellen Obiri and a strong Australian and Canadian challenge to win her maiden track championship race since graduating to seniors.

At only 27, she has a long career ahead, and no doubt, her charming smile will light up the finish line again and again, her athletic, beautiful frame draped in the national flag at Hayward Field inside University of Oregon in USA at the World Championships next month.

Confident, gorgeous, eloquent, humble. That’s the track assassin who always keeps the Faith.

With proper management of her training regimen and competitions, Faith can match her longevity to 2018 London Marathon winner Vivian Cheruiyot, who spent 18 years actively competing on the track.