The 2023 women's Rising Star, Faith Cherotich (© Mattia Ozbot)
For the athlete that Faith Kipyegon calls “small Faith”, it has been a very big year.
At the age of 19, Faith Cherotich – the rising talent who has recently been mentored by the multiple world and Olympic champion Kipyegon – is a senior world medallist in the 3000m steeplechase and reigning world U20 champion.
She is also the women’s World Athletics Rising Star awardee for 2023.
“I am very happy and proud to receive this award,” Cherotich said shortly before receiving her honour at the Prince's Palace of Monaco, where ‘big Faith’ received the World Athlete of the Year award for women’s track after setting three world records and earning two world titles.
Kipyegon has set a dizzyingly high bar in 2023. But one day, perhaps, Cherotich – who had only finished her studies at school two weeks before the Monaco event – can hope to operate at a similar level in the No.1 Olympic sport.
“Faith Kipyegon has been mentoring me on how to be a good athlete,” she said. “I want to be a champion, to follow her. She has been teaching me a lot. I really appreciate it.
“It was a very good year for me. It was my first World Championships and I was happy with how I ran. It was a good race for me.”
Faith Kipyegon and Faith Cherotich at the World Athletics Awards 2023 (© Mattia Ozbot)
The year had begun for her at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, Australia, where she helped Kenya earn silver in the women’s U20 team event, missing out on an individual medal by one place.
Having finished third in the previous year’s Wanda Diamond League Final, where her time of 9:06.14 moved her to third on the world U20 all-time list, Cherotich began her 2023 Diamond League season by finishing third in the opening meeting in Doha.
But a few weeks later her progress was traumatically undermined when the car she was travelling in – en route to compete in another Diamond League meeting – was involved in a collision with a runaway truck, leaving her with minor injuries and concussion.
“I had an accident in a car,” she said. “But then I recovered, and I had three weeks to train before the World Championships trials. I was able to qualify, so that was good.”
In the final at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23, she was the last in the field to hold on to the eventual respective gold and silver medallists, Bahrain’s Winfred Yavi and her fellow Kenyan Beatrice Chepkoech, the 32-year-old world record-holder.
Cherotich finished almost five seconds clear of her nearest rival, Ethiopia’s Zerfe Wondemagegn, clocking a personal best of 9:00.69.
Faith Cherotich at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 (© Getty Images)
In the first Diamond League meeting after the World Championships, in Zurich, Cherotich was again third behind Yavi and Chepkoech.
And in a super-fast Diamond League Final in which the world champion set an area record of 8:50.66 and Chepkoech followed her home in a season’s best of 8:51.67, Cherotich broke the nine-minute barrier with a personal best of 8:59.65. That time in Eugene places Cherotich 11th on the senior world all-time list.
Valentijn Trouw from Global Sports Communication, who manages Cherotich’s career, is quietly confident of her continuing progress.
“I think she is going to be a future star,” he said. “She has all the ingredients. It reminds me – we are here with Faith Kipyegon and Faith Cherotich, and Faith Kipyegon 10 or 12 years ago was coming into athletics like Faith Cherotich is coming into athletics now.
“She is extremely talented. But besides that, she has a good mentality, she is calm and she is composed. She knows what she wants and she is coming in gradually in a very nice way but has the future on her side.
“She has incredible opportunities. But she has had a tough year this year because she had a quite serious car accident at the beginning of the year,” he added. “She was on her way to Eldoret to take a flight for one of the Diamond Leagues and a truck hit the car and that took her out for about six weeks.
“Everybody survived in a good way but with some injuries. But Faith had to take some rest because she had some minor injuries, including concussion. We needed to make sure she took it really easy and didn’t start back too quickly.
“Then she had a very short time to come up to the trials and she made the team, and then she had time to build on that and be ready for the World Championships.”
Faith Cherotich at the Diamond League meeting in Doha (© Matthew Quine / Diamond League AG)
It further proved her positive mindset.
“In those kinds of situations, you see how somebody is handling the situation. And to be honest, I have never seen her panicking,” Trouw continued. “She is always calm, she accepts life as it comes and makes the best out of it. And with that attitude, plus her talent, she can achieve anything.
“Many times, for us from the outside, if you look at how an athlete is handling those kinds of situations you see also how they are behaving when they are under immense pressure in an Olympic final or going for a record in the Diamond League – it is very telling.
“Faith stayed extremely calm and accepted advice from the team around her. I think she joined our team two years ago. She was at school and she was showing some great potential in cross country.
“She helped win team silver at the World Cross Country Championships – and she expected a little more, but she did well.
“She is still very young, but you feel there is so much inside that if we go slow she can have a 15- or 20-year career and go a long way.”
Asked if her securing a senior medal in Budapest had surprised him, Trouw added: “No. It could have happened that she ran fourth, fifth or sixth and still ran a good race. But to try to go for a medal was realistic. Because after the trials, she still had the time to prepare for the World Championships.
“Some people, you don’t need to tell them what to do in a competition because their intuition is such that they know what to do. And she is somebody that senses extremely well what she can do and what she can’t do.
“And so tactical races – be it fast, be it slow – it doesn’t matter so much for her because she is very much herself and she knows how much fuel is inside to bring it in a good way to the finish line.
“So far, I have not seen her making any tactical mistakes, where you would say: ‘You should have done this different’. And that, combined with her strength and talent, means she can do good things in championships.”
Kenya's Faith Cherotich on her way to the world U20 3000m steeplechase title in Cali (© Oscar Munoz Badilla)
Prior to the World Championships, it had appeared that Cherotich’s predecessor as world U20 champion – her 20-year-old compatriot Jackline Chepkoech – stood a better chance of reaching the podium in Budapest. Jackline Chepkoech ran a PB of 8:57.35 in London in the lead up and then placed ninth in Budapest.
“I think both Faith and Jackline are the future for Kenya in the steeplechase,” said Trouw. “We help them both. They don’t train together, but they are very good together when they are in the Diamond League. They share the room together and they are friendly, but they don’t train together.
“Faith is still a bit younger and newer to athletics and to settings like this. But at the same time, she is very much herself, and that helps not just in life in general, but also in sports.
“As for her coach, we are now looking for someone to take her career forward. So far, she has been in school and she had a local coach who has been overseeing her. For 2024 she would like to get more experience in the Diamond Leagues, and to run consistently under nine minutes, and to go for a good result at the Paris 2024 Olympics.
“She just wants to make the next step in athletics. But she is in a phase of her career where things can go fast.”
Mike Rowbottom for World Athletics