Kampala- In sport like in most spheres of life, being first is sometimes more significant than finishing number one.
Many outstanding athletes become number one. But not all champions can enjoy the distinguished honour of being first. On Saturday, Joshua Cheptegei emulated the likes of John Akii-Bua and Stephen Kiprotich when he became the first Ugandan ever to win the IAAF Senior World Athletics Championship in Aarhus, Denmark.
Whatever becomes of his career going forward - and the safe bet is on him enriching his medallion cabinet, Cheptegei will forever enjoy the honour of being the first Ugandan to have won gold in the Senior Cross-Country race. The memory of his spectacular capitulation at Kololo this month two years ago is now a distant, hazy picture that is fading fast with every triumph from the Kapchorwa superstar.
Just last year, Cheptegei won Commonwealth gold in the 5000 and 10000m at the Gold Coast, Australia. But while it was a marvellous achievement, he was only emulating Moses Kipsiro’s double gold from New Delhi, India in 2010. There was always, you suspect, an air of ‘great-but-you-aren’t-the-first’ feeling. Certainly the pride in Kipsiro would have felt that way.
Cheptegei was robbed the chance to become the first Ugandan to win Senior Cross-Country before President Yoweri Museveni and tens of thousands of Ugandans when he kicked early and burnt out long before the home straight. Rather than dwell on his lowest moment, he has done a tremendous job of using it to push himself to scale new heights.
His star can only grow.
The IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar beckon. He will surely start as 10,000m favourite on the back of his 2017 silver to the now retired Mo Farah. Next year will be the Olympics in Tokyo for him to join Akii-Bua and Kiprotich. Cheptegei’s own chapter of greatness will, barring injury, rival any sporting career from this or any other era in the country.