Less than a fortnight since he broke the 10000m world record (WR), Ugandan long-distance runner Joshua Cheptegei is in the spotlight again. By virtue of his form, Cheptegei will be the main attraction when 157 runners from 52 nations line-up for the men’s race at the World Half-Marathon Championships in Polish city of Gdynia tomorrow.
This will be Cheptegei’s competitive debut over the 21km race. “The preparations were good, now it’s time,” in part, the 24-year-old said in a post via Instagram this week before flying from Madrid to Poland via Amsterdam.
Cheptegei has had a stellar 2020 highlighted by three straight WRs over the 5km on February 16 and 5000m on August 14 in Monaco before that of the 25-lap race in Valencia, Spain on October 7.
His form is enviable. The man from Kapchorwa has produced four WRs in a row if you add that of 10km in Valencia last December and just before, Cheptegei had won the World Cross-country gong, 5000m Diamond League trophy and the world 10,000m title.
In late 2018, he also set the world’s best time over the 15km at the Seven Hills Run in Nijmegen, Netherlands. And adding the World Half-Marathon title could land Cheptegei an iconic place in history.
He will become the second man after Moroccan Khalid Skah to win global titles on the track, road and cross-country in the modern era.
But with the biennial event switched from March 29 because of the coronavirus pandemic, this is also Cheptegei’s 21km debut and more importantly, it comes just 10 days since he posted 26 minutes and 11 seconds to break Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele’s 10000m WR in Valencia. “When it was in March, the winner would have been clear for me (Cheptegei),” said coach Addy Ruiter.
And now? “Joshua is not perfectly prepared for a half marathon but we will see,” he said.
Uganda has just one medal from this championship - a men’s team bronze spurred by Wilson Busienei’s fourth place at Debrecen 2006 edition.
And interestingly, Skah is the last man to win this event on his debut in Oslo, Norway back on September 24, 1994.
“He (Cheptegei) can win this one also but it is also possible that he is going home without a medal. But he is not afraid and will give it a go. He is not avoiding the fight,” added Dutchman Ruiter, a former triathlete and cyclist.
Cheptegei is also up for a test against a pretty strong field that includes his compatriot Jacob Kiplimo, also debuting. But world leader Kenyan Kibiwott Kandie, 2014 bronze medallist Guye Adola and European record-holder Swiss Julien Wanders are up for the task.
WORLD HALF (21KM) MARATHON CHAMPS
2020 Edition: 24th
New Date: October 17
Host City: Gdynia, Poland
Race length: 21.0975 km
Best Ugandan Finisher: Wilson Busienei (4th at Debrecen 2006)