A baby isn’t the end of the world for sportswomen

Thursday May 30 2013

The reigning world 5,000m and 10,000m champion Vivian “Pocket Rocket” Cheruiyot won’t defend her titles in Moscow this August.

Cheruiyot and her husband Moses Kiplagat, who is also her coach, announced recently that they are expecting their first child.

But the question is, will Cheruiyot make a comeback after having a child?

“I am very happy to announce that I will take some time off from athletics this year as I am pregnant,” Cheruiyot said. “At 29, I feel that now is the right time to start a family.”

Cheruiyot said it was unfortunate she would not defend her World Championships titles, but vowed to return for the 2014 season to reclaim her titles at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing.

“I have already spoken to some of my colleagues who have had babies, to get advice about when to return to training after giving birth,” said Cheruiyot, adding that her long term goal is the 2016 Rio Olympic Games where she will hopes to win her first Olympic title.


Cheruiyot can draw inspiration from sportswomen who came back from maternity leave with inspiring performances. Catherine “The Great” Ndereba, Mary Keitany, Rita Jeptoo, Florence Kiplagat, Lydia Cheromei, Lucy Kabuu and Uganda’s Dorcas Inzikuru are some of the women who have staged magnificent comebacks after maternity leave.

Perhaps the greatest ever comebacks are those of Ndereba and Keitany.

After the birth to her daughter Jane in 1997, Ndereba won two World marathon titles in Paris in 2003 and Osaka in 2007, adding to her silver medal at the 2005 Helsinki World Championships. She won Olympic silver medals at the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Games, and became the first woman to ever win four Boston Marathon titles in 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2005.

Ndereba’s most memorable moment was when she retained her Chicago Marathon title in 2001 with a world record-breaking performance of 2:18:47. These accomplishments saw her win the 2004 and 2005 Kenyan Sportswoman of the Year awards, and be decorated with the Order of the Golden Warrior by President Mwai Kibaki in 2005.

Keitany, 31, gave birth to her son Jared Kipchumba in 2008 before romping back with victories at the 2009 World Half Marathon Championships title in Birmingham, with a new personal best of 1:06:36; also a Championship record.

She then set a new World Half Marathon record at 2011 Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon in 1:05:50, becoming the first woman in history to run under 66 minutes.

Keitany’s first major marathon victory came at the 2011 London where she won in 2:19:17, becoming the fourth fastest woman ever over the distance.

She retained the title in 2012 with a personal best of 2:18:37, the third fastest ever after 2:15:25 set by Briton Paula Radcliffe in 2003 in London and 2:18:20 by Russian Liliya Shobukhova’s in Chicago.

Keitany, who is married to fellow runner Charles Koech, is planning a major assault at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, having given birth to a baby daughter, Samantha Cherop, a month ago. “One usually comes back stronger and better after giving birth,” Keitany said.

Keitany said even her friend “Pocket rocket” will come back much better, with a fresh and settled mind. “I started training seven months after my first baby was born, and my performance after the maternity leave speaks volumes,” Keitany said.

“Resuming training is tough in the initial stages since it’s like when an athlete finishes the race. She can vow never to run again, but in the end she is back on the road the following day.”

Keitany said she will be back up and running when Samantha is around six or seventh months old. “I want Rio to feel my might, God willing, in 2016,” she said.

Ndereba advised Cheruiyot to take her time before making a comeback. “Let her breastfeed her baby until she feels strong enough for return,” she said. “One just can’t give birth today and start running after one month. There is no magic about that. A quick return could have its own consequences like back pain, that would be detrimental to her health.”

Further afield, UK’s Paula Radcliffe took a break through the 2006 season and in July announced that she was expecting her first child.

Radcliffe made her marathon return at the New York City Marathon on November 4, 2007, which she won with an official time of 2:23:09.

In 2009, Belgian tennis star Kim Clijsters became the first mother to win a Grand Slam title in the Open era since Evonne Goolagong Cawley won Wimbledon in 1980.

In March 2010, Clijsters won her first Laureus World Sports Award, for her remarkable 2009 US Open comeback. She also won the WTA Comeback Player of the Year and the Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award for the seventh time.