The coronavirus pandemic did put a lid on many things across the life spectrum in 2020 but it did not silence Uganda’s athletics.
Yes, the much anticipated Tokyo Olympics where Joshua Cheptegei could have sealed his G.O.A.T (Greatest of All Time) status, the World Indoors, the World U20s among other events were all postponed.
But that calendar disruption did not stop Cheptegei and his younger compatriot Jacob Kiplimo from dominating the stage for long-distance running in a rather disrupted year.
Uganda’s athletics story for the year came to life proper after Cheptegei tightened the grip on long-distance, all christened by three world records (WRs).
Cheptegei's personal best
1500m: 3:37.82 (2016)
3000m: 7:33.26 (2019)
Two miles: 8:07.54 (2019) NR
5000m: 12:35.36 (2020) WR
10000m: 26:11.00 (2020) WR
5km: 12:51 (2020) WR
10km: 26:38 (2019) NR
15km: 41:05 (2018) WB
10M: 45:15 (2018) NR
21km: 59:21 (2020) PB
Perfect Monaco assault
The man from Kapchorwa produced meticulous displays to conquer straight WRs over the 5km, 5000m and 10000m.
If one checked the World Athletics record books, it is difficult to find an athlete who has produced three WRs in three straight races.
But his stellar 2020 chapter began on the bright Sunday morning of February 16 in the Principality of Monaco, France.
Preparing to debut at the World Half-Marathon Championships on the initial set date of March 29 in Gdynia, Poland, Cheptegei broke the 13-minute barrier in emphatic fashion in 12min and 51sec, much to the delight of the crowd on the Monaco streets.
His body felt so good that his coach Addy Ruiter intimated that he would conquer the show in Gdynia only for the pandemic to sweep the globe in early March.
When Uganda locked down on March 22, Ruiter was in Kapchorwa. Liaison with the Dutch management Global Sports Communication through Cheptegei’s manager Jurrie van der Velden, Ruiter and the runner continued.
And by the time restrictions around life began to ease around July, the trio had agreed to a plan to break
Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele’s 5000m WR of 12min, 37.35sec set back on May 31, 2004.
With travel still tricky then, President Museveni, through First Lady and Education and Sports minister Janet, offered Cheptegei, Winnie Nanyondo and Stephen Kissa a chartered flight to Nairobi en route to France for the Monaco Diamond League Meet on August 14.
Bekele’s WR double
He arrived days prior and with help of pacemakers Kissa, Dutchman Roy Hoornweg and Australian Matthew Ramsden, Cheptegei broke the longest-standing track WR by almost two seconds to 12min, 35.36sec at the Stade Louis II.
Three weeks later, Jurrie and Cheptegei announced that the star athlete would attempt to rewrite the 10000m WR on October 7.
And Cheptegei duly stripped his idol Bekele of the 15-year-old WR of 26min, 17.53sec, crossing the finish line in 26min, 11sec at the NN Running World Record Day in Turia Stadium.
By the time he lined up for the 21km race in Gdynia, the world 10000m champion Cheptegei was listed among the favourites. But instead, it is Kiplimo who stood on a colourful day for Uganda.
Kiplimo conquers Gdynia
Kiplimo, then 19, displayed maturity as he powered to his first senior global title by beating a field of 117 men over a 5km-looped course near the Baltic Sea with a championship and national record (NR) time of 58:49.
Cheptegei wasn’t far in fourth place after posting 59:21 and, Victor Kiplangat (16th) as well as Stephen Kissa (19th) led Uganda to a men’s team bronze.
The women quartet of Juliet Chekwel, Doreen Chemutai, Doreen Chesang and Rachael Chebet missed out on the podium for a team medal in fourth place.
Prior, Kiplimo, who had only returned on track after 26 months out, had won the 5000m race on September 8 at the Ostrava Golden Spike in Czech Republic in 12min, 48.63sec, the second fastest time by a Ugandan over the distance.
Nine days later, he would become the fastest teenager in history over the 3000m, beating Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge’s mark to 7min, 26.64sec at the Rome Diamond League in Italy.
Kiplimo, now 20, rewrote the 21km NR at the Valencia Trinidad Alfonso event on December 6 to 57:37. This came a day after Cheptegei had been pipped by Swede vaulter Armand Duplantis to the Male Athlete of the Year crown.