It is the 5000m finals inside Japan National Stadium in Kasumigaoka, Shinjuku. Ugandans Joshua Cheptegei, Jacob Kiplimo and Moses Kibet position themselves for the bell, pulling clear of a pair each of Ethiopians and Kenyans.
The bell goes and it is clearly a Ugandan one-two with a possibility of 1-2-3 in the picture if the third runner in the famous gold and red strip can hold off the charging Kenyans and Ethiopians.
Such is the scenario Ugandans have watched for decades only that it has always happened for the other two countries for whom distance running is a staple food.
Kiplimo and Cheptegei look primed to shower such joy on Ugandans but they can only complement each other when they line up for the same event, distance running coach Peter Chelangat has said.
Chelangat, who trains wunderkind Kiplimo – as well as half a dozen other distance runners – said the teenager would be one of the best team mates double world record holder in 5000m and 10000m Cheptegei can have in a championship event like the forthcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“Likely they will be competing together and this will be so good for Uganda for both of them are great athletes,” said Chelangat, who trains the teenage great alongside Italian coach Iacopo Brasi.
While Kiplimo’s records show he is better suited for road running, his stunning vanquishing of Ethiopian world silver medalist Selemon Barega in the 5000m at the Ostrava Golden Spike Meet in September could as well pass for a “notice of intent.”
The 19-year-old squared up to Barega in a fierce home straight brawl to win in 12min, 48.63sec. His time would have been a national record but for Cheptegei’s stunning 12min, 35.36sec world record set a month earlier.
The odds are now high that Uganda will unleash a ferocious double act on the athletics world when the delayed Olympic Games open in July next year.
However, rivalry is the last thing coach Chelangat thinks can happen between the two greats from eastern Uganda.
“What I would say is that both of them are capable of winning each other,” he said. “I have a lot of reservations for the two golden athletes and great sons of Uganda.”
Understandably, Cheptegei and Kiplimo get upset when talks of rivalry are brought up.
“Jacob and I are close family,” Cheptegei told Daily Monitor.
“People should not track us into such talk, we’re too different athletes with special capabilities that the country should pride in, not making comparisons that doesn’t matter.”
Cheptegei is a double world champion from the Doha World Championships in 2019 and would have probably claimed his first or two Olympic golds had the coronavirus not happened on the global sports calendar.
Instead, the 24-year-old now sees the hand of sweet fate in the postponement of the Japan Games by a year. Had the Olympics taken place last year, Kiplimo, who was out for over two years with injury, would have certainly followed the events on television.
But the teenager from Kween District is on course to doubling up the act, the expectations and the aspirations of the country.
Olympics, like the Worlds, is a championship event at which pacesetters (rabbits) are not permitted. On-track neon lights are also not used. Athletes can only deploy own tactics and raw talent to vie for the medals.
Countries that have perennially fielded a strong team of runners make the most of such advantage. The athletes communicate among themselves and deploy various tactics to fetch those medals for their country.
It is not uncommon to see a Kenyan or Ethiopian kick ahead to give the impression to the rest that they are falling too far behind. But the pacesetter’s team mates would be aware of what is at play. A panicked adversary is good fodder for defeat.
The psychic tactic is a luxury only countries with a strong contingent of runners can afford to tinker with.
Kiplimo’s rise ahead of the Tokyo Games is certainly a boon for the country’s medal prospects and, with Ugandans already taking things for granted, it could as well be a claim for dominance.
“Jacob is now good enough for any competition and all I can see is that he is heading for greatness because he is that kind of athlete who never misses training,” Chelangat said.
Kiplimo, the world’s fastest teenager over the 3000m distance and World Half-Marathon champion, is not a wunderkind for nothing. At age 32, Haile Gebrselassie in 2006 became the first man to ever run under 7:30 over 3000m, 13:00 over 5000m and 59:00 in the half-marathon. The Ethiopian legend accomplished this in 23 months.
But Kiplimo, aged 19, became the second man to ever accomplish that feat, doing so with all of his three races in 2020, within a space of 39 days.
However, his rise has also given Ugandans the idea that the duo could be destined for rivalry reminiscent of Ethiopian distance track queens Tirunesh Dibaba and Maseret Defar.
The two traded intense moments on the track, swapping world records in 5000m and at one point avoiding eye contact during a post-race news conference. The Ethiopian federation would later separate them in events.
Such rivalry is not one Kiplimo would want to hear of. By his upbringing, it is like that sweet line in Culture Club’s hit, Kharma Chameleon: ‘We’re lovers, we’re not rivals.’
“Nothing can split Joshua and I. We’re even relatives, we train together sometimes and go into races as a team,” he said.
He urged Ugandans not to be carried away into creating imaginary rivalry by “lighting up flames where there is none.”
“I don’t think the public in Sebei is even thinking of a rivalry between us.”
Cheptegei added: “The best that we can all do is to embrace and celebrate, pray and support to reach the highest level. It’s not yet time to talk such divisive matters.”