Joshua Cheptegei is one of the biggest sports personalities in the world presently. He is expected to win every race he competes in.
While finishing second in yesterday’s 10,000m final delivered Uganda’s first medal at the ongoing Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the long-distance runner is not satisfied.
Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega upset the world champion and world record holder Cheptegei to claim 10,000m gold in Tokyo’s first athletics final.
World 5,000m silver medalist Barega surged clear on the final lap’s back straight and refused to be reeled in, winning in 27 minutes 43.22 seconds at the empty Olympic Stadium. Cheptegei responded sluggishly to Barega’s initial break, but finished second, 0.41 seconds back. Jacob Kiplimo took the bronze as Uganda managed a 2-3 finish.
As he reflected on the race, Cheptegei laid bare his aspirations for Gold. Speaking after the race, Cheptegei said: “I have two feelings. One is that I’m very happy to have won an Olympic silver medal today and I would say that this is really special for me as a world-record holder and as a world champion.
“But the other side of me is really not satisfied with the result because I came here expecting to win gold, but you never know how someone has prepared and you just have to be grateful and thankful to God that you had the best opportunity of being on the podium.”
Did the pressure and expectation also affect his race? “I had a little pressure because I’d never won an Olympic medal,” Cheptegei said.
“I’ve been having some challenges mentally, some challenges injury-wise. At one point I thought maybe I needed to refresh my mind and stay with family and wait until the next season. But if I had, I would not have the Olympic (silver) medal.”
His mixed feelings are a stark contrast to those of the race winner – Barega. The 21-year-old 5,000m world silver medalist champion had held back for much of the 25-lap race before he kicked for home on the last bend, overtaking Cheptegei, to cross the line first at the Olympic Stadium.
It was an all-African podium finish. “I was able to achieve the gold medal because I was not participating in other competitions, and I was able to focus on achieving the gold medal in this Olympics,” said a delighted Barega after the race.
He added that he would now consider running in the 5,000m final: “I’m very ready to run but I’m not sure about what the Olympics and the Federation will say, but if they allow me, I am really ready to compete.”
It had looked for much of the race like Cheptegei was likely to cross the line first. He had help from his teammate Stephen Kissa, 25, who, acting as pacemaker, set a blistering opening few laps and soon had a 100m lead.
There was a further 100m gap with the rest of the field but by the eighth lap Cheptegei began to edge forward and by the half-way point he was in fourth place behind Kissa.
With just four laps to go he was in the lead, but the rest of the pack were by now close behind.
Kenya’s Rodgers Kwemomi, 24, overtook him, but he fought back and with three laps to go he was back in control at the front of the pack.
But with other athletes jostling for position Canada’s Ahmed Mohammed, 30, who finished sixth, made a late charge followed by Barega who managed to push through the formidable field for a sensational late surge to cross the line first.
The first 11 athletes of the 23 that finished the race, all crossed the line in under 28 minutes. In fourth place was Ethiopia’s Berihu Aregawi, 20, on 27:46.16, followed by USA’s Grant Fisher, 24, on 27:46.39.
CAST OF 10000M OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS
TOKYO 2020 Selemon Barega (ETH)
RIO 2016 Mo Farah (GBR)
LONDON 2012 Mo Farah (GBR)
BEIJING 2008 Kenenisa Bekele (ETH)
Athens 2004 Kenenisa Bekele (ETH)
Sydney 2008 Haile Gebrselassie (ETH)
Atlanta 1996 Haile Gebrselassie (ETH)
Barcelona 1992 Khalid Skah (MAR)
Seoul 1988 Brahim Boutayeb (MAR)
Los Angeles 1984 Alberto Cova (ITA)
Moscow 1980 Miruts Yifter (ETH)