Joshua Cheptegei had the athletics world eating at his heels but is he a legend already?

Saturday October 24 2020
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Joshua Cheptegei

By Moses Banturaki

It’s who we talk about these days – Joshua Cheptegei. And it appears Television won’t show us anything else either. And so, it was last Saturday that we watched the World Half Marathon from Poland during which it was obvious that if it was entirely up to the commentators love for drama, Joshua Cheptegei would have won or perhaps broken another world record. 

As it turned out it was a race too soon, coming on the heels of the 10000m world record he had obliterated 10 days prior. And so, he came in at a respectable fourth behind eventual winner and the fast-rising star, Jacob Kiplimo. 
It was the first time though that I had seen the cameras follow a contestant who was not leading until the last few meters of the race. Such is the intensity of the spotlight on our Joshua Cheptegei these days. 

To put it in context not even the great Eluid Kipchoge was afforded such preferential treatment at this years’ London Marathon where the camera’s abandoned him to the commentary as soon as it became obvious that he wasn’t going to keep up with the leading pack.
Now, I know the word legend is used loosely especially these days, but it is not far-fetched to say Joshua Cheptegei is already one. I also know such presumptions are an open invitation to get into numbers and peer comparisons, all of which eventually leads us down the slippery path of debates on who does and doesn’t qualify to be called a legend.

But I do have a problem with quantitate comparisons. They put Cristiano Ronaldo above Diego Maradona, Floyd Mayweather above Muhammed Ali, and LeBron James above Michael Jordan. To that extent they seem to water down the greatness of men to a level that adds up and is basic.
So, if it were down to raw numbers not even Joshua Cheptegei would measure up. He has the World records over the 5000m, 10000m and 5k road-race to his name. But in the history of the 5000m and 10000m only 20 men have been able to run below 12min and 50sec and 26min and 49,sec respectively. 

The legendary (that word again) Kenenisa Bekele, and the man Joshua Cheptegei dethroned, did that on five occasions for each of those distances. He is also owner of three Olympic Golds and five consecutive World Championships over the 10000m. And when he switched to the marathon, he in 2019 came within two seconds of breaking Eluid Kipchoge’s marathon world record.

Now, Joshua Cheptegei has age and time on his side, but even if he went on to achieve half of what Kenenisa Bekele did, which would be to do very well, and while numbers may be a reliable way to measure and compare, I think what a true legend brings to the game must be intangible, intuitive and must never add up. 

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Another man of no smaller status, Diego Maradona, once said that he could never repeat the things he did with a ball at his feet (sometimes hand), even if he wanted. True greatness must be the reason why many people today call Lionel Messi an alien. 
It is Michael Jordan redefining the rules of gravity. It can’t be about how many Bentleys you buy out of the game, it is about floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. 

It is about Joshua Cheptegei bouncing back two years after almost dying on track at Kololo. It is breaking two world records eight weeks apart and finishing those races with a smile that suggests this is just the beginning. Not even the great Kenenisa Bekele did that.
Email: banturakim@gmail.com
Twitter: @MBanturaki

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