Uganda’s top medal hopefuls at Oregon 2022

Distance giants. Joshua Cheptegei (R) will attempt to the double while Jacob Kiplimo will run the 10000m.PHOTO/AFP

What you need to know:

  • On your marks... The World Championships start on Friday in Oregon, US, with Uganda’s biggest title hope in the spikes of Olympic and champion Joshua Cheptegei.

It is now almost a year since Uganda produced its best edition ever in the history of the Olympic Games.

Last August, the Pearl of Africa returned home with four medals all from athletics after the Tokyo 2020 Games in Japan.

Up to now, Peruth Chemutai’s 3000m steeplechase gold, Joshua Cheptegei’s 5000m gold and 10000m silver, and Jacob Kiplimo’s 10000m bronze still keep sports fanatics talking.

Dominant Athletes. (L-R) Chemutai, Cheptegei and Kiplimo picked up monumental awards for Uganda last year. PHOTOS/ISMAIL KEZAALA

Next week, the trio will lead Team Uganda’s contingent in the US for medals at the World Championships which run from next Friday to July 24 at the Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.

Oregon over Birmingham

The biennial Worlds are the biggest stage of athletics. The Oregon episode has been delayed by a year because of the ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic.

Inevitably, many competitors headed to Oregon including Ugandans will skip the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in the UK from July 28 - August 8 as the two competitions are too close to each other.

Cheptegei is currently the 5000m and 10000m world record holder, the world 10000m champion, as well as holding the 5000m Olympic title, the world cross-country title and the Commonwealth long-distance double.

His management Global Sports Communication (GSC) has been clear that he won’t defend his 5000m and 10000m Commonwealth titles which he won during the 2018 Gold Coast Games in Australia.

From the word go, the main target for Cheptegei is retaining his 10000m world title. That’s even if he is entered for the 5000m race too.

History in sight

Actually after Oregon, Cheptegei was last week announced that he will compete with Olympic 10000m champion Ethiopian Selemon Barega and Kiplimo in the elite men’s 21km at the Great North Run in North East England on September 11.

In Eugene, Cheptegei will bid to defend his title over the 25-lap at the Hayward Field. “I am heading to the Oregon Worlds in high spirit ready for the title,” his recent post read via Instagram.

He will bid to become the fourth man in history to defend this honour after Ethiopians Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele, and Briton Mo Farah.

Bar Edmonton 2001 and Daegu 2011 editions, those three men shared 11 titles between themselves from 1993 Stuttgart to London 2017.

Revenge against Barega

Last year, Cheptegei attempted to break the long-standing 3000m world record in Ostrava, Czech Republic, but he fell short and then lost a bit of momentum. 

The ripple effect had Cheptegei miss the 10000m gold during the Tokyo Olympics. This year, GSC has been intentional with Cheptegei. 

He ran the fastest 10km race of 26:49 minutes to win the Cannes 10K in France on March 6 and has run just once on track – attempting to beat his own 5000m WR time of 12:35.36 during the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene on May 17.

The conditions were not favourable but he won the race in 12:57.99, the eighth fastest time this year and it will come in handy when he linesup for the 12-and-a-half-lap Heats in the early hours of July 22.

For the 10000m final however, which comes on the night of July 17, Cheptegei will first attempt revenge against Barega who beat him in Tokyo. 

Barega is the third fastest over 10000m this year having won the Ethiopian Trials in Hengelo, Netherlands, with 26:44.73 on June 5. The 22-year-old also won the 3000m world indoor title in March and he will be in the company of world U20 3000m champion Tadese Worku and Berihu Aregawi.

Back to Kissa

Cheptegei will return to his pseudo-pace maker Stephen Kissa to break down the field over the first 15 laps or so. In Doha, Cheptegei relied on Abdallah Mande but he has since degenerated parting ways with GSC.

In Tokyo, Kissa aimlessly pulled the field for 16 laps and the pack didn’t react which didn’t work perfectly because Cheptegei was coy about the high temperatures in the Japanese capital.

Eugene is a sacred place for Cheptegei’s career and he will hope to exorcise those Tokyo demons. Besides the pair, youngster Kiplimo hasn’t entered for the double so he will as well aim to get a place on the podium in the 10000m.

The world half-marathon champion and record holder Kiplimo had done just one track race too, the 3000m where he came second at the Stockholm Diamond League in Sweden on June 30.

Uganda’s plot will be checked by Kenyan Rodgers Kwemoi, who came fourth in Doha, American Grant Fisher who is the fastest in the world with 26:33.84, as well as Canadian Mohammed Ahmed.

Cheptegei won the 5000m Olympic title without any big competition, especially because the Ethiopian athletics leadership chose to enter all their big names for the 10000m.
In Eugene, it is different. Cheptegei’s quest for double gold will face stronger Ethiopian opposition in world champion Edris Muktar, Berihu Aregawi, 10000m world silver medallist Yomif Kejelcha and Barega again who has replaced Telahun Bekele.

Kenya, too, is preparing Jacob Krop, Daniel Simiu and Nicholas Kimeli who was fourth in the 5000m final in Tokyo while Commonwealth silver medallist Ahmed is entered here too.

Without Kiplimo, Cheptegei has the less experienced Peter Maru and Kiplimo’s half-brother Oscar Chelimo for company, implying he will most likely have to do it all by himself in the 5000m final in the early hours of July 25.

Tough 800m title defence

Since he came to Uganda in 2017, Dutchman Ruiter has won an individual championship medal every year with seven medals coming from Cheptegei, three with Nakaayi, two from Chemutai, one each from Ronald Musagala and Prisca Chesang.

Those fast season bests from Yavi, Jeruto and Abebe will come under scrutiny in the water-jump race final set for Kampala breakfast time on July 25, about three days after the Heats.

Nakaayi won the two-lap race final after a blistering kick in the last 80m to beat Americans Raeyvn Rogers and Ajee Wilson at the Khalifa Stadium in Doha on September 30, 2019.

Uganda's Halima Nakaayi  competes in the women's 800m heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on July 30, 2021.

Then, title holder South African Caster Semenya and others like Kenyan Margaret Wambui, Burundian Francine Niyonsaba and Uganda Dorcus Ajok had succumbed to the new World Athletics’ testosterone rule.

The women’s 800m has since become one of the most competitive track races with several familiar names like Olympic champion American Athing Mu, fast-rising Kenyan Mary Moraa and Olympic silver medallist Briton Keely Hodgkinson.

The list goes on with South African Prudence Sekgodiso, Briton Jemma Reekie, Jamaican Natoya Goule, and Australian Catriona Bisset, Cuban Rose Mary Almanza, French Renelle Lamote, Ethiopians Habitam Alemu, Diribe Welteji and Hirut Meshesha.

Whereas Nakaayi won the 800m bronze medal at the World Indoors in Serbian capital Belgrade four months ago, the test is bigger in Eugene. She will need tactical smartness through the Heats after midnight on July 21 and the semi-final Heats a day later whilst conserving energy to produce her best in the final before Kampala dawn of July 25.

Nakaayi will surely need to beat her own personal best time of 1:58.03 by almost a second or better to make the podium on the championship’s last day.

Uganda has a team of 17 runners, five less from the group in Doha and here, exciting sprinter US-based Tarsis Orogot is in for the 200m.

Steeplechase gold in sight for Chemutai

Peruth Chemutai could be on the way to a unique Olympic and World Championship double over the women’s 3000m steeplechase.

Peruth Chemutai

Chemutai won the Olympic title with a national record time of 9:01.45 on August 4, 2021. And despite winning just one race since – the FBK Hengelo Games on June 6 – only three women have run faster than her this year.

Turning 23 tomorrow, Chemutai posted 9:05.54 in fourth place at the Eugene DL Meeting on May 28. Only Kenyan-born Bahraini Winfred Yavi (8:56.55), Kenyan-turned Kazakhstani Norah Jeruto (8:57.97) as well as Ethiopian Mekides Abebe (9:03.26) have run faster.

Despite being off-colour, the Kenyans, including defending champion Beatrice Chepkoech, Jackline Chepkoech, Celliphine Chespol and Purity Kirui, can’t be overlooked either in this seven-and-a-half-lap water jump do.

However, Chemutai, like Cheptegei and middle-distance runner Halimah Nakaayi, is backed by coach Addy Ruiter whose book is full of tactics for championship races.

Chemutai can also bank on the fact that she has beaten the fastest woman over the distance, Yavi, before – at the Olympic Games.

Team to Oregon Worlds

Halimah Nakaayi    800m
Winnie Nanyondo    1500m
Peruth Chemutai    3000m SCS
Esther Chebet     5000m
Mercyline Chelangat    10000m
Stella Chesang    10000m
Immaculate Chemutai    Marathon
Tarsis Orogot    200m
Ronald Musagala     1500m
Peter Maru     5000m
Oscar Chelimo     5000m
Jacob Kiplimo    10000m
Stephen Kissa    10000m
Joshua Cheptegei     5000m, 10000m
Filex Chemonges    Marathon 
Fred Musobo    Marathon 
Jackson Kiprop    Marathon

Team Uganda at Doha ‘19

1.Joshua Cheptegei    26:48.36
17.Abdallah Mande     28:31.49
1.Halimah Nakaayi    1:58.04
4.Winnie Nanyondo    1:59.18
5.Peruth Chemutai    9:11.08
11.Winnie Nanyondo    4:00.63
13.Fred Musobo        2:13:42
18.Stephen Kiprotich    2:15:04
– Solomon Mutai    DNF
16.Stella Chesang     32:15.20
18.Rachael Chebet     32:41.93
20.Juliet Chekwel    33:28.18
– Linet Chebet         DNF
9.Ronald Musagala    3:37.19
MEN’S 3000M ST. HEAT 2
5.Albert Chemutai     8:23.08
MEN’S 3000M ST. HEAT 2
6.Benjamin Kiplagat    8:24.44
10.Sarah Chelangat    15:19.90
10 Esther Chebet     4:08.89
MEN’S 5000M HEAT 2
10.Stephen Kissa    13:27.36
MEN’S 5000M HEAT 1
13.Oscar Chelimo    13:42.94
MEN’S 3000M ST. HEAT 1
12.Boniface Sikowo    8:27.96
6.Shida Leni        52.22
Athens 1997
Davis Kamoga    Silver    400m
Helsinki 2005
Dorcus Inzikuru     Gold    3000m SC
Osaka 2007
Moses Kipsiro    Bronze    5000m
Moscow 2013
Stephen Kiprotich    Gold    Marathon
Beijing 2015    
Solomon Mutai     Bronze    Marathon
London 2017
Joshua Cheptegei    Silver    10000m
Doha 2019
Halimah Nakaayi    Gold    800m
Doha 2019
Joshua Cheptegei    Gold    10000m