Ugandan long-distancen star Joshua Cheptegei holds a bounty of delight in his heart after a rather successful year on track and road.
“2020 has been a very phenomenal year for me,” he told this paper in an exclusive interview to Daily Monitor upon returning home after a fortnight in Europe.
His initial ultimate plan was to run the 21km race in Gdynia on March 29 and then pursue the 10,000m gold at the Tokyo Olympics in July but the coronavirus pandemic disrupted it all.
But the 24-year-old’s stellar year has had three straight world records (WR) over the 5km on February 16, 5000m on August 14 and 10000m on October 7.
And on Saturday, Cheptegei finished fourth but got a team bronze medal at the World Half-Marathon Championships in Gdynia, Poland. “I was not expecting the year to go this way. I am thankful to God that he has brought me this far. I know that so many things ahead of me are going to happen.”
Cheptegei has run five WRs in his career stretching back to the 15km world best in Nijmegen, Netherlands in 2018.
And four more have come in the past 10 months but which one has stood out for him? “I have done four WRs but 10,000m was special, and the 5,000m because most of the people were believing it was not going to happen,” said Cheptegei.
“98 per cent of the people were saying: ‘He is not close to the WR. He is 20 seconds away from the WR, how is he going to do it?’ So that was really special.”
Cheptegei currently holds the World Cross-country, 5000m Diamond League title, Commonwealth double and world 10000m title. He has nearly won it all except an Olympic medal.
He is however still in the shadow of legends John Akii-Bua and Stephen Kiprotich who won 400m hurdles gold at 1972 Munich Games and the marathon gold at the 2012 London Games.
But the man from Kapchorwa anticipates perfection in his pursuit for Olympic gold over the long-distance double in Tokyo next July.
“I believe I had an exciting season and it is now time for me to break off and rest for a month and then later, I can build on for the Olympic Games next year and make history for the country.”
And will he become Uganda’s G.O.A.T (Greatest of All Time)? “Of course, there is no debate about that. It is just a matter of time,” he added.
In Gdynia, his younger counterpart Jacob Kiplimo won the race in a championship record of 58 minutes and 49 seconds, spurring Uganda to their best finish.
“Whenever we go, we always make history. We make records like you saw in 2019, the World Cross-country, we made history by winning the gold medal.”
“Uganda is not even at the peak of its athletics achievements. The achievements by Jacob and my achievements is just a reflection of what we can do and so many athletes in the Sebei region and all over the country. It tells you that there is a lot of talent that needs to be maximised and utilised.”
By teenager Kiplimo also claiming the 5000m win at the Ostrava Golden Spike in Czech Republic and the 3000m victory at the Rome Diamond League in Italy last month, Cheptegei believes divided attention is key.
“I think when you are in top sport, you cannot always avoid meeting your countryman. The beauty about it is that most of the pressure is actually taken from me because I am not going to be focused on a lot,” said Cheptegei.
So it gives a task to other competitors from different countries like Ethiopia, Kenya. They will not focus on me alone, they will focus on Jacob, perhaps me and maybe somebody in the future is coming.”