If wishes were horses, Joshua Cheptegei should be given a 21-gun salute upon return home and even the country’s highest honour after a stellar 2019 with his spikes.
The long-distance runner wrapped up the best calendar year performance ever by a Ugandan runner after breaking the 10km world record (WR) at the Valencia Trinidad Alfonso race in Spain yesterday.
Cheptegei expectedly shattered the previous WR mark set by Kenyan Leonard Patrick Komon over the 10K distance nine years ago by posting a stellar 26 minutes and 38 seconds.
“What a year this has been. I am thrilled,” a delighted Cheptegei said moments after crossing the yellow tape located at a long blue stretch on a fine bright morning.
“I can’t believe it! I knew that Valencia was going to be a really fast course, one of the fastest in the world. So to get to achieve what we came here for is something really special,” he added.
In relation to Uganda’s great runner like Stephen Kiprotich, Moses Kipsiro, Boniface Kiprop and John Akii-Bua among others, Cheptegei is now respectably at a higher level.
His triumph meant that the 23-year-old hit all his four targets for this year; the World Cross-country title in Denmark on March 30, the 5000m trophy on the Diamond League on August 29, the 10000m world title on October 6 and now the 10K WR.
“It means you’re rising to greater heights,” said Cheptegei’s manager Jurrie van der Velden.
By taking six seconds off the time Komon ran in Utrecht, Netherlands, Cheptegei now holds two WR having also set the 15K best time in Nijemegen a year ago.
Before Valencia, Cheptegei had a tough week to counter mentally. First, many a pundit will feel he deserved the Male Athlete of Year crown at the World Athletics Awards in Monaco, France nine days ago.
However, Kenyan marathon Eliud Kipchoge edged him on the five-man shortlist.
And as Cheptegei arrived in Valencia on Friday, his foe Briton Mo Farah announced he will be returning to track to defend his 10000m Olympic title in Tokyo, Japan in seven months’ time. Yet, this is Cheptegei’s next assignment; an Olympic double!
The Ugandan however smashed those cognitive blocks to conquer the World Athletics Silver Label road race. Cheptegei was briefly ahead of pace maker Roy Hoornweg and crossed the 2km mark in 5:42 minutes.
His training partners Stephen Kissa and Abdallah Mande then went ahead of him and the trio but Cheptegei took over before the halfway mark and got to the 5km spot in 13:23, a second under the WR.
He went ahead with 16:02 after 6km and 18:42 for the next 1000m. The WR was in sight with 21:37 at 8km. “It was perfect again,” his coach Addy Ruiter remarked.
Mande’s younger brother Kevin Kibet came second in 28:19 as Cheptegei was cheering with the flag while Swede Reza Abootorabi was third in 28:35.
CHEPTEGEI AT A GLANCE
Date of birth: September 12, 1996
Major Races: 5000m, 10000m
Personal Bests: 5000m (12:57.41), 10000m (26:48.36)
Coach: Addy Ruiter
Manager: Jurrie van der Velden
Kit Sponsor: Nike
CHEPTEGEI’S 2019 HONOURS: World Cross-country Gold, 5000m Diamond League Trophy and World 10000m Gold