Hyvin Jepkemoi Kiyeng, Kenya’s unlikely world steeplechase champion, is out to continue her good run at the Olympic Games to prove she is not a one-hit wonder.
After bagging gold as an underdog at last year’s IAAF World Athletics Championships in Beijing, she is inspired to hold both the Olympics and world titles simultaneously.
In Beijing, Kiyeng, 23, confounded pundits when she bagged the title in a time of 9mins and 11secs, beating much-fancied Habiba Ghirbi of Tunisia and German Gesa Krause to the lower medals.
She told Daily Nation Sport that to date, her victory still seems like a dream.
“I entered the stadium hoping for a medal. But until now, I’m still surprised that I won gold, considering I was quite tensed,” Kiyeng said in the interview.
“Every time I see the gold medal hanging in my cabinet, I’m convinced that another title is possible at the Rio Olympic Games, if I qualify. The victory in Beijing was the happiest moment of my life,” she added.
The Beijing women’s steeplechase gold was least expected after the 2013 champion Milcah Chemos missed out due to injury.
An “inexperienced” trio of Kiyeng, Virginia Nyambura and Rosefline Chepng’etich carried the country’s hopes.
For the first time, Kenya topped the medals table at the end of the championship with seven gold, six silver and three bronze.
Prior to the steeplechase race, the best bet for gold at Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium was Diamond League winner Nyambura who was in top form.
Kiyeng’s 2015 season wasn’t too bad. She won gold at the Rome Diamond League after finishing second and third in the Birmingham and Doha legs. But little was expected of her in Beijing.
“I felt obliged to give my all. It wasn’t easy, before the gun went off, I had to fight hard off anxiety,” said Kiyeng.
She stands a big chance of making Kenya’s 3,000m team for March’s IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland, Oregon, USA.
While running 12 laps round a dusty surface in Kamariny Stadium, Elgeyo Marakwet County, during Athletics Kenya’s grassroots races six years ago, she did not give up hope after failing to make it past the district level.
She was placed fifth at the national trials for the 2011 All Africa Games in Maputo, but was included in the team albeit as a “weak” finisher.
In Maputo, thirst for greatness pushed her to double up in the 5,000m and 3,000m steeplechase.
She won the steeplechase title but finished fourth in the 5,000m.
A year later, Kiyeng won the steeplechase bronze medal at the African Championships in Porto Novo, Benin.
“The victory in Maputo changed my focus because I decided to concentrate on steeplechase. I realised that it is the race in which I could build my career,” said recalled at her village in Kipkorgot, Uasin Gishu County.