KAMPALA- Athletics is one of the sports disciplines that have been hit most by the global Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. Before the disease had become a wild fire, World Athletics already had been pushed to postpone the World Indoor Championships earlier scheduled for March 21 in Nanjing, China to 2021.
Today, the global audience would have had a chance to watch Ugandan star Joshua Cheptegei debut over the 21km distance at the biennial World Half-Marathon Championships in Gdynia - Poland, but that can’t happen until at least October.
To add to the Africa Cross-country Championships (Lomé, Togo this month), World Junior Championships (Nairobi, Kenya in July) and a number of major marathons have as well either been called off or postponed.
The athletics calendar has been torn to shreds but Ugandan runners have been hurt most by the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to 2021.
“It breaks my heart,” said middle-distance runner Winnie Nanyondo. “But we have to just get going and go through this.”
Nanyondo particularly had wanted to make up for her medal miss over the 800m at the Doha World Championships in Qatar last September. She had aided her training partner Halimah Nakaayi to the gold in a national record time of 1:58.04 over the two-lap race but Nanyondo was beaten by American duo Raevyn Rogers and Wilson Ajee to the podium. “Now, we just have to wait and see. At least the Olympics were just postponed. Life is the most important thing.”
The 26-year-old had hoped to have a brighter year first at the World Indoors in Nanjing. She was due to link up for make final preparations for Nanjing with her coach Addy Ruiter but for the Covid-19 pandemic, Nanyondo’s plan hasn’t been spared.
“It is now a week since we went to Namboole to train. The stadium was closed after President Museveni’s first address about the virus. I miss running on the tartan and while I still do on the road, it wears you out,” she adds. Like Nanyondo, 1500m national record holder Ronald Musagala is the other runner disappointed by the ongoing events.
He ran the third world’s fastest time over that distance last year but he was left crestfallen in Doha when he failed to make the race final. Already among the 18 Ugandan runners with tickets to Tokyo, Musagala had hoped to come through with a bigger statement. “You see, that is what had taken me to Kapchorwa to try and prove to people that I am capable,” said Musagala before he left eastern Uganda to return home on Thursday.
The 2018 Africa 1,500m bronze medalist had already spent a month with Ruiter in Kapchorwa on an endurance program to prepare for Tokyo. “I am hurt because my mind was set,” Musagala said, “Everyone was getting set. But now we don’t know when the Games will exactly happen next year.”
Could he have stayed in Kapchorwa? “Very few people are training now. The big groups are not allowed to converge. There is however nothing to do. Where there is no life, you can’t do what you want.
“We still wanted to train and hoped that it would be contained. It’s now down to us as individuals to I will just be relaxing in my home because no one knows when it will stop,” Musagala added.
Cheptegei, who would have been Uganda’s biggest medal prospect in Tokyo, thinks Olympics’ postponement was a wise decision. “I know how athletes feel, it is sad but safety is paramount,” the man who has won five championship medals since 2017 told BBC Sport Africa.
“I would say: what is fame, what is money without health? What is it? What is the essence of existence when you are not healthy? Life is more important.”
With the Commonwealth double, Diamond League 5,000m title, World Cross-country crown and 10000m world title under his belt, Cheptegei will as well have to wait to seal his ‘undoubted’ status as the country’s G.O.A.T next year.