Ugandan runners’ quartet of Joshua Cheptegei, Halimah Nakaayi, Winnie Nanyondo and Stephen Kissa arrive in Monaco this morning ahead of the Wanda Diamond League leg set for Friday.
The athletes’ route to France had almost failed to materialise because of the prevailing coronavirus restrictions not until the government came in.
World champions Cheptegei (10000m) and Nakaayi (800m) were lined-up by event organisers for the forthcoming event but Uganda’s borders are still closed and Entebbe Airport is not officially open.
But intervention from the State Minister for Sports, Hamson Obua, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and later Ministry of Health aided the athletes to set-off on a chartered Uganda Airlines flight to Nairobi on Saturday.
They had prior been tipped during a flag-off by Education and Sports minister Janet Museveni at State House Nakasero in the company of Obua and Commissioner of Sports Omara Apita, among others.
“To the athletes, please take care to protect yourselves from Covid-19, remember that self-discipline is a big factor in the fight against this virus,” Mrs Museveni said.
“May you excel and make Uganda proud. God be with you.”
The government’s intervention comes as a huge relief for the runners’ manager Jurrie van der Velden who coordinated the process with authorities via telephone, for most of the time.
“It was hectic,” Jurrie told this paper. “We should be okay now with a book work of documents from different governments and departments to get athletes’ special entry to Europe so now everything goes according to plan.”
Upon arrival in Nairobi on Saturday night, the quartet linked up with Kenyan runners and flew to Istanbul, Turkey, where they had an overnight stay and it is where they will connect from to the French town of Nice.
From here, the group will travel for 20km for half an hour by car to Monaco. Cheptegei was in Monaco back in February where he re-wrote the 5km world record (WR).
He is back on a similar mission and with 2019 Seven Hills Run champion Kissa as a pace-setter, he bids to break the 5000m WR mark set by Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele which has stood for 16 years at 12mins 37.45secs.
The frustrations in travel, if anything, should provide mental fortitude for Cheptegei – who already holds the 5km WR, the Commonwealth double, 5000m DL trophy and the World Cross-country title.
“The trip for sure isn’t a great journey due to the virus situation. However, Joshua has matured a lot through the years and is on a different level both physically and mentally,” added Jurrie.
Training-partners-turned-sisters Nakaayi and Nanyondo will feature in the 1000m event.