Saturday August 12 2017

Cheptegei must not take the Boniface Kiprop way

Ten years ago, Boniface Kiprop was the leading sportsman in the country before he vanished into wilderness

Forgotten Man. Boniface Kiprop 

By Mark Namanya

London.

At the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, something unique happened - something that should have left an imprint on Ugandan long distance running. It should have been a cornerstone for the next generation of 10,000m runners.
Boniface Kiprop ran a season best time of 27:25.48 to finish fourth in the 10,000m final. It was not good enough to push him in the top three (Kenenisa Bekele, Sileshi Sihine and Zersenay Tadese finished 1-2-3) but the Ugandan managed to defeat the greatest long distance runner of all time Haile Gebrselassie.
Admittedly Gebreselassie was on the wane but victory over him was to be savoured.
The following year Kiprop again finished fourth at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Helsinki, Finland before winning silver at the World Athletics final in Paris.
In 2006 he clinched gold in the 10,000m final at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne but his career never maintained the upward trajectory it had all along promised.

Early stagnation
By the 2007 World Championships at a young age of 23, Kiprop crossed the 10,000m finish line in slow time of 28:30.99. That 10th place finish was the beginning of the end of a career that stagnated early. Kiprop also finished 10th at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
It is unlikely that Kiprop was ever going to get the better of the impregnable Bekele, still the world record holder of the 5000 and 10000m titles. But the Kapchorwa boy was three years younger than the Ethiopian with the talent to push himself to perhaps a major silver or bronze.
A combination of business distractions and a lack of focus put paid to his career.
Today 35-year-old Bekele is still competing – he is into road running – while Kiprop’s career is long gone. Enter the boy of the moment Joshua Cheptegei.
We all admonished him for the disastrous finish in March that left everyone at Kololo stunned on that bright Sunday afternoon. Even President Yoweri Museveni was left mystified.
“What happened?” we all wondered.
Privately it ate up the athlete and it was ages before he washed the debacle out of his system.
Credit to Cheptegei that four months later he picked himself up to become the second best runner in the 10,000m distance in the world.
That in itself is evidence of the mental strengths of the kid.
Lesser men would have had their careers crushed into oblivion after that surrender in the IAAF World Cross-Country Championships in Kampala. Cheptegei was mocked on all social media groups with his heart-rending 500m walk to the finish line turning viral.
As he bled inside, the country turned the anguish of missing his gold into jokes of every form.
The media wasn’t kind on him either. It was a lone world Cheptegei lived in. Last Friday’s silver was the perfect riposte.
However, the biggest challenge for Cheptegei will be ensuring that last Friday’s terrific run was not a flash in the pan.
It is beyond doubt that he is a precocious talent with a running style that is very different from that of Kiprop, Moses Kipsiro and Stephen Kiprotich.
In March he was accused of having kicked early but as the 10,000m race in London showed, Cheptegei’s style is to lead from the front.
Cheptegei has the next two years to hone his talent, stay level-headed, and make the 10,000m distance his own. Although the Commonwealth Games take place next year in the Australian city of Gold Coast, the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar will present the Ugandan the first opportunity to prove that he has officially taken over Mo Farah’s crown as the king of track.
With no Farah in the picture, Cheptegei has the opportunity to do what no other Ugandan has managed - winning 5,000 or 10,000m gold at the Worlds or Olympics.

mnamanya@ug.nationmedia.com
@mnamanya

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