Early last week, Joshua Cheptegei hoisted Uganda’s flag on the world map by winning 10,000m gold at the IAAF World Junior Championships in the US state of Oregon.
Cheptegei’s feat is perhaps the biggest success story to have come Uganda’s way on the international stage this year.
Yet history does show that the leap from junior to senior competition has failed many a Ugandan athlete going over the years. Promising athletes like Abraham Chepkirwok, Boniface Kiprop and Paskar Owor were tremendous hopefuls as juniors but scarcely fulfilled their potential.
Even the acclaimed Dorcus Inzikuru, who shone as a junior before going on to win Uganda’s first IAAF World Championship gold, left the big stage with a tinge of regret.
Indeed, Cheptegei will do well to learn from the good and bad lessons of his senior athletes, active or retired. And by winning gold, he will be receiving approaches from agents from all over the world willing to sign him to their stables. They will entice him with lucrative offers of varying kinds.
Cheptegei is only a teenager who must resist the temptations of money. What is more important for him today is not becoming a millionaire. The adolescent’s managers must impress it upon him that he has unlimited wealth in his two feet; fulfilling his potential will make him billions of shillings.
Likewise, Cheptegei must avoid the trappings of fame.
He is already famous. What is important for him is to continue the life he led prior to becoming a world-renown teenager. And more often than not, the most successful athletes are the ones who have handled their new-found status as celebrities.
Cheptegei has a superb example in Stephen Kiprotich, Uganda’s Olympic and World Champion who has not been distracted by the attention and hundreds of thousands of dollars that have come his way.
What Cheptegei does between now and his this time next year will define the direction of his career.
Obviously hard work is a given, as well as a healthy lifestyle and dedication to a good management team. Now is not the time for him to be changing agents, unless he has a compelling reason to do so. Every decision of his will be crucial to the path of his career.
Being a 10,000m runner, Cheptegei will have no room for error in his quest to transform dominance at junior level to the senior platform. Young and upcoming Ethiopians and Kenyans will be putting in double shifts to gain revenge from now and onwards. You can also factor in the Eritreans.
Cheptegei needn’t be fazed, provided he doesn’t lose sight of what it took him to reach the pinnacle of junior long distance running.