At home in Eugene : Hayward Field, its fans always remain special to me – Cheptegei

Joshua Cheptegei (centre) after wining a gold medal in 10,000m during the World Junior Athletics Championships in  Oregon, US, in 2014. PHOTO/AFP

What you need to know:

Cheptegei’s first international race, then at the age of  17, started in the US, a memorable home to the champion

On the morning of July 22, 2014, Joshua Cheptegei was at the Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon without any attention. 
He was just one of the 38 runners who lined up for the 10,000 metre race, the World Junior Athletics Championships, on the opening day of the event. 
Most of the teenagers had unknown quantities at that stage. That was one of Cheptegei’s first international races, then a 17-year-old. 
Cheptegei won the World Junior 10,000m in 28 minutes, 32.86 seconds, defeating a pair of Kenyan runners - Elvis Kipchoge Cheboi and Nicholas Mboroto Kosimbei . 
“I really have good memories of that,” Cheptegei told this publication. 
“It was my first time in the USA as well. It was the start of, so far, a successful career and, therefore, Hayward Field and its fans always remain special to me.” 
Three days later, Cheptegei finished fourth in the 5,000m in what was then a personal best of 13:32.84. Ethiopia’s Yomif Kejelcha won in 13:25.19. 

Regular in Eugene 
Since 2015, Cheptegei has participated in every Prefontaine Classic except for 2018. 
The Prefontaine Classic, an Oregon Track Club event, is one of the premier track and field meets. 
Steven Prefontaine was a University of Oregon distance runner and Olympian Steve who died in an automobile accident on May 30, 1975 at the age of 24. 
Every year, the event named after him draws a world calibre field to compete at Hayward Field on the campus of the University of Oregon. 
Previously one of the IAAF Grand Prix events, it is now part of the Diamond League.  When the Prefontaine Classic was moved to Stanford University in 2019 when Hayward Field was being rebuilt, Cheptegei won the 2-mile race there. 
Last year, three weeks after the Tokyo Olympics, he again won the 2-mile at the Pre Classic. 
This season, in his only 5,000m race, he won the Friday night session of the Pre Classic in 12 minutes, 57.99 seconds, which has him ranked eighth in the world this season.  “So far I have been in Hayward Field many times,” Cheptegei said this week, “and it really feels like coming home to me, it’s a special place with knowledgeable fans and now a fantastic new stadium. I am really happy we can battle for gold in Hayward Field this year.”
None of those races carries the same weight as his 10,000 metre victory at the ongoing World Athletics Championships at the Hayward Field on Sunday. 
There was another subtle difference as the 25-lap event built up to just as thrilling a crescendo as the women’s final the previous day. 

In Tokyo, the slender Ethiopian Selemon Barega refused to budge from the front, keeping ahead of Cheptegei with a 53.9 final lap.
In Eugene, having controlled most of the race from halfway, Cheptegei hit the front again at the sound of the bell and stayed there. 
The fastest man in history at 5000m and 10,000m was not going to relinquish the title he toiled to gain in Doha three years ago.
In doing so, Cheptegei became only the fourth man to win back to back 10,000m world titles, following in the footsteps of Ethiopians Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele and Britain’s Mo Farah. His final lap was faster than Barega’s in Tokyo: 53.42.
“I knew that if I could get into the last fight, I could control it and I could speed it up,” said Cheptegei. 
“It was very emotional for me to come back to the USA where I started my international career in 2014. Now, I want to continue my dominance in long distance running and I hope I will manage it.”

Uganda’s bronze, too 
The surprise silver medal winner, in 27:27.90, was Stanley Mburu. The world U20 silver medallist at 5,000m in 2018, the 22-year-old Kenyan had quickly regained his composure after falling on the opening lap.
As in the Olympic final, Jacob Kiplimo took the bronze medal, Cheptegei’s compatriot clocking 27:27.97 to resist the challenge of home favourite Grant Fisher. 
The spirited US challenger had to settle for fourth in 27: 28.14, with Barega fifth in 27:28.39.
There were Ugandan flags fluttering in the stands as the 24 runners took their place on the start line, the loudest cheer coming for Fisher, who settled into second as Spain’s Carlos Mayo led through 400m in 66.70. Regardless, this is Eugene. Home to Cheptegei. 


2014 – 10,000m final (Junior) 

1. Joshua Kiprui Cheptegei (Uganda) 28:32.86
2. Elvis Kipchoge Cheboi (Kenya) 28:35.20
3. Nicholas Mboroto Kosimbei (Kenya) 28:38.68
2014 – 5,000m final (Junior)

1. Yomif Kejelcha (Ethiopia) 13:25.19
2. Yasin Haji (Ethiopia) 13:26.21        
3. Moses Letoyie (Kenya) 13:28.11     
4. Joshua Kiprui Cheptegei (Uganda) 13:32.84     
2022 – 5,000m race 

1. Joshua Kirui Cheptegei (Uganda) 12:57:99 
2. Milkesa Mengesha (Ethiopia) 13:01.11
3. Daniel Ebenyo (Kenya) 13:10.61

2022 – 10,000m final 

1. Joshua Kirui Cheptegei (Uganda) 27:27.43 
2. Stanley Waithaka Mburu (Kenya) 27:27.90 
3. Jacob Kiplimo (Uganda) 27:27.97