Teenager Jacob Kiplimo opened a new conversation about prospects of Uganda’s dominance in long-distance running after he defeated world silver medallist Ethiopian Selemon Barega in the 5000m race at the Ostrava Golden Spike Meeting in Czech Republic eight days ago.
That feat of 12 minutes and 48.63 seconds marked the second-best time Ugandan over the distance, exactly 25 days since his compatriot Joshua Cheptegei broke the distance’s world record (WR) to 12:35.36 at the Monaco Diamond League (DL) in France.
In truth, something unusual yet special is happening for the East African nation.
And Uganda’s supremacy in the Kenya and Ethiopia-dominated arena could rise further after Uganda Athletics Federation (UAF) yesterday named Cheptegei and Kiplimo for next month’s World Half-Marathon Championships in Poland.
With each in some fine shape, the duo will debut over the 21km distance with eyes targeting glory in the northern Polish Baltic coast city of Gdynia on October 17.
The event had been earlier scheduled for March 29 but it was changed because of coronavirus disruptions.
And the delay has inevitably played into the hands of the Ugandan pair. Cheptegei has now broken three straight WR in a row while Kiplimo is back in shape following a troublesome muscular problem last year.
“It means that a record might be broken on that day if the conditions are favourable,” opines Team Uganda coach Benjamin Njia who has been conducting sessions with six runners of his nine-man unit.
This will be the fourth time that Cheptegei and Kiplimo will face-off again at a major championship.
When they last faced off, Cheptegei conquered the tough course in Aarhus, Denmark to take gold while Kiplimo, who had led in the early stages, scooped silver in the senior men’s 10km race at the World Cross-country Championships last year.
During the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, it was Kiplimo and Timothy Toroitich who broke down the 10000m field at the Carrara Stadium for Cheptegei to seal the long distance double. Kiplimo settled for fourth place.
They first met in Heat 1 of the 5000m at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Then a 15-year-old Kiplimo who had won 10000m junior bronze in Bydgoszcz, Poland a month prior, finished 11th but Cheptegei came fourth to qualify for the final.
In Gdynia, they will run with a combined 12 championship medals (a third for Kiplimo) but this is their first attempt at the 21km distance.
And, the more senior Cheptegei faces a distraction - the 10000m WR attempt in Valencia, Spain ten days prior.
“From 10000m to half-marathon is much more difficult,” Cheptegei’s coach Addy Ruiter told this paper early this month.
“That’s the reason that we are saying that Joshua now is not prepared like he was in March when they postponed the half-marathon in Poland,” the Dutchman added.
Njia is however optimistic their combo with seasoned Moses Kibet, rising Stephen Kissa and national champion Abel Chebet can deliver Uganda’s first medal at the championships.
No Ugandan has finished better than Wilson Busienei’s fourth place at the 2006 edition in Debrecen, Hungary.
The women’s team comprises Zurich-Seville Marathon champion Juliet Chekwel and Rachael Zena Chebet who are in Kenya while the Doreen’s national champion Chesang and Chemutai complete the list.
“We have no camping. But we have been training together except Jacob who will join us as soon as he returns from Europe,” added Njia.
Uganda’s teams finished fifth (men) and 16th (women) overall at the previous edition in Valencia two years ago. A better finish will be sought.
WORLD HALF (21KM) MARATHON CHAMPS
2020 Edition: 24th
Initial Date: March 29
New Date: October 17
Host City: Gdynia, Poland
Race length: 21.0975 km
Best Ugandan Finisher: Wilson Busienei (4th at Debrecen 2006)
TEAM UGANDA TO GDYNIA, POLAND
MEN: Joshua Cheptegei, Jacob Kiplimo, Moses Kibet, Stephen Kissa, Abel Chebet
WOMEN: Juliet Chekwel, Doreen Chesang, Doreen Chemutai, Rachael Zena Chebet
COACH: Benjamin Njia