The 17th staging of the World Athletics Championships got underway in the Qatari capital of Doha on Friday. Technically, the spoils of victory for Uganda will fall squarely on the shoulders of 22 athletes. While the weight of numbers - or rather lack of - suggests that this not a team fearsomely built to enforce, hope still springs eternal.
If, in purely gambling parlance, Team Uganda is to go in on a pair of eights and come out with aces full, distance runners will undoubtedly have to come to the party. The obvious name on every Ugandan’s lips is, you’ve guessed right, Joshua Cheptegei.
A 10,000m silver medalist at the last staging of the Worlds in London, the 23-year-old’s appetite for success in the post-Mo Farah era appears insatiable. A torrent of ecstatic reviews greeted his gold medal-winning shift at this year’s World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark.
And rightly so given his stunning implosion on home soil in the same event four years ago.
If the win in Aarhus showed that Cheptegei hasn’t been overcome with the 2015 spectacular meltdown, then a recent conquest in a Zurich Diamond League meet squeezed out something different. That something different has since added another draw to Cheptegei’s burgeoning roster of attractions. Front running has always been the centrepiece of his style. When the distance runner burnt his fingers in Kololo, he unsurprisingly had a change of heart.
In Zurich, we saw the Cheptegei of old. He put in an audacious front-running display en route to taking a wire-to-wire win.
But Cheptegei is not the only reason the men’s 10,000m final in Doha will be loaded with possibilities for Team Uganda. Although at times he deliberately seeks reckless valour, teen sensation Jacob Kiplimo has found comfort competing in senior ranks. He too will fancy his chances, whetting the appetite of many Ugandans in the process. Yet it seems hard to imagine that Ugandans looked forward to the women’s 10,000m final (it took place yesterday) as they will the men’s 25-lap distance due next Sunday.
The men’s marathon final pencilled in for next Saturday at midnight local time is also eagerly awaited if anything because Stephen Kiprotich’s pedigree can disturb the equilibrium of the event in unforeseen ways.
Although there has been something very restrained about his and Solomon Munyo Mutai’s preparations, the dearth of the seemingly superhuman city marathoners (Eliud Kipchoge and company) could tip the scales in Uganda’s favour. But if one is to be candid to the point of being mean, success in this event will be a tall order.
Tall but not impossible
Nothing best captures impossible than the task that awaits Leni Shida. It’s not that the sprinter is barely known and what little Ugandans know about her they don’t much like. Far from it. Shida has broken the women’s national 400m record almost as often as we change our undergarments. Doha 2019 should, however, be a steep learning curve.
Shida is as widely expected to make up the numbers in the lap event as Shaunae Miller-Uibo is expected to dominate it from gun to tape.
If not much is expected of Uganda’s lone sprinter in Doha, the same cannot be said of the middle distance runners. Ronald Musagala and Winnie Nanyondo have earned their stripes whilst figuring in IAAF Diamond League events. Even Halima Nakaayi’s performances have been anything but an outrage that deserve to be condemned. She for one left the recent African Games with a bronze medal to show for her efforts. But it is Musagala who has been all the rage.
As well as registering wins in Birmingham and Paris, the 26-year-old has set three national 1500m records since linking up with Cheptegei’s Dutch coach, Addy Ruiter. A lot has been made about the heat and humidity in Doha, Team Uganda will be desperate that Ruiter’s charges have ice in their veins and fire in the spikes. If this comes to pass, there will be a couple or so of medals to toast to.