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Harding grad runs her way to Olympic qualification

By Jeanni Brosius

This article was published July 8, 2012 at 4:06 a.m.

— Although she is an Olympic runner, Kenyanborn Janet (Kogo) Cherobon-Bawcom will say that she is not the stereotypical Kenyan runner.

“I know a lot of people think that people from Kenya are born runners, but my coaches at Harding will tell you that it was Arkansas, not Kenya, that made a runner out of me,” the 33-year-old said about her time running track at Harding University in Searcy.

Claiming that she wasn’t very good when she came to Harding in 2002, Cherobon-Bawcom recently qualified for the 2012 London Olympics in the 10,000 meters on June 20 at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

The Harding graduate finished seventh among 24 runners in 32 minutes, 17.06 seconds but became one of three Olympic qualifiers under the U.S. Olympic Committee rules.

Cherobon-Bawcom was one of only four American women this season to run the Olympic A standard of 31 minutes, 45 seconds needed to qualify for the Olympics. She ran a time of 31:33.50 earlier this year. One of four runners who met the A standard said she will not run the 10,000 meters in London, instead choosing focus on the marathon. That essentially meant all Cherobon-Bawcom and the other two qualifiers had to do was finish the race at the Olympic Trials.

The three American women will be among 25 competitors in the 10K in London. The race will be run during the afternoon session on Aug. 3.

Cherobon-Bawcom graduated in May 2005 with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in health care management and nursing.

She grew up just outside of Kapsabet, a small town in western Kenya. She became an American citizen on Aug. 22, 2011, and she now lives in Rome, Ga., with her husband, Jay Bawcom.

“There was a guy from a neighboring village who was running and studying at Harding, and when he came home for Christmas break, he encouraged me to apply. I did, and the rest is history,” Cherobon-Bawcom said.

When she arrived at Harding, she found that some wrong information had been given to the school about her athletic performance.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but someone back in Kenya had lied to the Harding coaches about my times, and when I got here, I was not nearly as good as they expected,” she said.

“I don’t know if they were thinking about cutting my scholarship, but assumed they were, and I worked hard to make sure that I could live up to expectations. After my first year, I trained really hard all summer, and you know how summer in Arkansas is.”

Her determination to keep her scholarship worked out because she improved to the point of setting school records, national records and receiving National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II All-American Honors. She credits her coaches for her success, too.

“When I got there, she was a red-shirt sophomore,” Harding track coach Steve Guymon said. “… She hadn’t been running that long, and not real impressive her first year. We just kind of hit it off, and she turned into our No. 1 runner.”

Cherobon-Bawcom said coaches Guymon and Bryan Phillips provided her two different styles to coaching.

“She kept running and is obviously doing well,” Guymon said. “She’s probably one of the toughest athletes I’ve coached.”

Cherobon-Bawcom began running when she was 20, and it wasn’t always her dream to compete in the Olympics.

“My first year at Harding would indicate I wasn’t even good enough to dream about dreaming about the Olympics,” she said.

“I’ve never really let my running be about long-term goals. I just get up each morning, do my training for that day, and then see where that takes me. I enjoy that approach.

“After I didn’t make the team in the marathon, I assumed I wasn’t going to the Olympics. I hadn’t even run a track race in six years, so why would I think I could make the Olympics on the track? I thought I might qualify for the trials and go run them just for fun, but making the team didn’t really cross my mind.”

All that changed in late April when she went to the Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford.

“I went into the race hoping to run under 32:45, which would let me get into the trials - something I thought would just be lots of fun,” she said.

“Well, I ended up running 31:33, which got me under the Olympic A Standard, and suddenly I had to change my thinking about the trials. Anyway, I did not run particularly well at the trials, but that time from back in April was good enough to get me in, so I guess the dream I never dared to dream is coming true in spite of me.”

During July, she will go to Flagstaff, Ariz., for high-altitude training in cooler weather. From there, it’s off to London.

Cherobon-Bawcom was a six-time track All-America honoree at Harding from 2002-05.

She won Division II national championships in the 2005 indoor 5,000 meters, 2005 outdoor 5,000 meters and the 2005 outdoor 10,000 meters. Cherobon-Bawcom was inducted into the Division II Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Harding Athletics Hall of Fame in January 2012.

Follow her progress on Facebook at facebook.com/janet.cherobonbawcom.

“I’d love to say thanks to all the people in Arkansas who encouraged me and helped me become a runner,” she said.

Staff writer Jeanni Brosius can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or jbrosius@arkansasonline.com.

Three Rivers, Pages 115 on 07/08/2012

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