What you need to know:
At the age of 26, he entered the record books as the fourth man to claim a hat-trick of world 10,000m titles, following in the spikemarks of the Ethiopian greats Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele, who both won four, and Britain’s supreme championship performer, Mo Farah.
As in Oregon last year, and as in Doha in 2019, there was no stopping Joshua Cheptegei when it came to the crunch in a World Championships 10,000m final.
The fastest man in history over 5000m and 10,000m might have been outfought by Selemon Barega on the final lap of the Olympic final in Tokyo two years ago, but when the bell sounded in Budapest Uganda’s golden boy found his Midas touch to land the decisive blow in a gripping East African slugfest.
Cheptegei had already made what proved to be the decisive move by then, overtaking the Ethiopian wind-up merchant Berihu Aregawi with 600 metres to go.
Aregawi, who finished one place ahead of him as the silver medallist at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships in Bathurst in February, had upped the pace with a succession of 64-second laps from six laps out but was burned off when Cheptegei launched his pre-emptive strike.
In Oregon he struck at the bell and stayed there, resisting a challenge from Barega, who ultimately faded to fifth. This time the Olympic champion was his prime chaser again, closing down the back straight and cutting the gap to a metre with 200 metres left.
Gritting his teeth as he rounded the final turn, the Ethiopian prepared to launch a grandstand finish but Cheptegei pulled clear up the home straight, crossing the line a clear winner in 27:51.42.
Such was Barega’s sense of deflation, the wind evacuated his sails. Easing down as the line approached, he was pipped for second place by Daniel Ebenyo, the Kenyan claiming a silver to match his Commonwealth runners-up prize of last year in 27:52.60.
Barega took bronze in 27:52.72, followed home by compatriot Aregawi, fourth in 27:55.71, and Kenyan Benard Kibet, fifth in 27:56.27. Canada’s Mo Ahmed came next in 27:56.43, a lifetime best.
For Cheptegei, who closed with a 53.46-second final lap – near identical to his Eugene split of 53.42 – it was as momentous as any of his growing number of victories. At the age of 26, he entered the record books as the fourth man to claim a hat-trick of world 10,000m titles, following in the spikemarks of the Ethiopian greats Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele, who both won four, and Britain’s supreme championship performer, Mo Farah.
“I am very excited and proud that I have succeed in winning my third world title in a row, “said Cheptegei, who has had to contend with injury since his Oregon victory. “This was the best possible way to end the season.
“This might be my last championships on the track. That's why this gold medal means even more.”
With a marathon debut to come in December in Valencia, the city where he set his 10,000m world record three years ago, who knows what the future might hold for the man who has broken the traditional East African distance running stranglehold of the Ethiopians and Kenyans?
For the time being, he can content himself on a job well done in a curious race that was clearly dictated by clammy, humid conditions reminiscent of Osaka in 2007.
Cheptegei and the rest of the leading lights kept their powder dry as his Ugandan teammate Joel Ayeko set off on his lonesome in the phoney war of the opening 3km.
Passing 400m in 62.86 and 1km in 2:46.69, the 30-year-old was more than five seconds clear at one stage before Cheptegei steadily whittled it down, with Ebenyo and Kibet in his slipstream.
Kibet and Aregawi traded places at the front before 5km was reached in a pedestrian 14:21.75. The cat-and-mouse continued, Kibet also taking a turn in pole position.
All the while, Cheptegei kept his cool, literally and metaphorically. Having run out of gas at the end of the World Athletics Cross Country Championships on home ground in the humidity of Kampala back in 2017, he veered out to collect a sponge at a water station – then bided his time when Aregawi started injecting some meaningful pace.
In the end, it was his class that told. Once again. In three seasons, he has run just three 10,00m races. He has won Olympic silver and two more world golds.