These days, Joshua Cheptegei enters races not just to win them, but break the status quo. His world record mark of 26min 11min in 10000m at the NN Running World Record Day in Valencia on Wednesday – fourth in 10 months – ended legend Kenenisa Bekele’s 16-year hold by 6.53 seconds.
The next assault is at his debut 21km race at the World Half-Marathon Championships in Gdynia, Poland, on Saturday.
The 10th man in history to hold the 10,000m and 5,000m world records concurrently has his stock rising like a wild fire that talk of Uganda’s Greatest of All Time (GOAT) is apparent again. In fact, Cheptegei has now forced himself into the same realm as long distance legends Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie, although he has some work to match these greats.
At home, it has got to be Stephen Kiprotich’s London 2012 marathon gold and John Akii-Bua’s 400m hurdles title at the 1972 Munich Olympics that still interrupt any GOAT advancements.
All the super greats have that Olympic gold question answered. It’s a box Cheptegei must tick, although it doesn’t downgrade his achievements at all.
Gebrselassie won two Olympic gold medals over 10000m while compatriot Bekele won titles in 5000m and 10000m at the 2008 Olympics, and 10000 gold and 5000 silver at the 2004 Olympics.
Back home, Kiprotich quenched the hunger at London 2012 since Akii-Bua became the first Ugandan to win an Olympic gold.
Cheptegei, the 10000m world champion, 2018 Commonwealth king in 10000m and 5000m, silver medalist in 10000m at the Worlds in London, and several others in between, is some special breed.
Six career gold and one silver medals at just 24 is itself monumental.
The postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics only served to delay, rather than stop his charge at the only missing dot in his already illustrious career.
That Cheptegei is already a great is not in question. But GOAT, home and away, surely has some way to go. Fortunately, 2021 Olympics provides that delayed platform to end any lingering hesitation about calling Cheptegei Uganda’s GOAT.