Uganda is overly delighted with Peruth Chemutai.
The 22-year-old, who hails from the little-known Tulel sub-county of Bukwo District became the country’s first ever Olympic champion after she stunned a strong field to grab the women’s 3000m steeplechase gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Japan yesterday.
Not many could have given her the chance against the highly-billed 16-man field but, Chemutai produced a champion’s class to win the water-jump race final in a time of nine minutes and 1.45 seconds.
“I am so happy,” a visibly tired Chemutai said moments later her best-ever steeplechase performance. “I feel so good,” she said.
All Uganda’s previous nine Olympics medals had come from men.
But, when Uganda named more females (13) than males (12) to the quadrennial Games for the first time ever, that gave a sensor that maybe something was in offing.
Third Olympic champion
And after her exquisite progress over the barriers, Chemutai became the country’s only third Olympic gold medallist after John Akii-Bua’s 1972 400m hurdles perfection and Stephen Kiprotich’s 2012 marathon delight.
“I am happy to be the champion,” the humble runner noted after picking her medal off the blue podium that presented by Kenyan legend and IOC member Paul Tergat.
Half-an-hour after her triumph inside an empty National Stadium, Uganda’s flag went up to the Tokyo night skies as the national anthem played, like it were on September 2, 1972 in Munich and on August 12, 2012 in London.
Yet, her winning time not only became her new personal best but also, the new national record (NR). To rubber-stamp that, Chemutai ran the eighth fastest steeplechase race ever.
“The best race of her life,” said her coach Addy Ruiter. “Same tactic like in the Heats but only faster.
“And I’m so proud of her how she was racing here, very professional and stick perfect to the plan,” the happy Dutch man stated.
Less than an hour after Winnie Nanyondo had qualified for the 1500m final, Chemutai comfortably led the field comprising world record holder Kenyan Beatrice Chepkoech and her in-form counterpart Hyvin Kiyeng after 600m.
65-year jinx ended
With three laps left, American Courtney Frerichs took over and her pace pulled six others away from the rest of the field. Frerichs led into the last 500m but by here, Chemutai in second had built a sizable gap over Kiyeng and, she was sure of a medal.
That inevitably began to evoke the memories of Ugandan Dorcus Inzikuru when she won the first-ever steeplechase world title amid a downpour inside the Olympic Stadium at the Helsinki World Championships in Finland on August 8, 2005.
And 80m into the final lap in Tokyo, Chemutai charged to overtake the American before landing the country’s first Olympic medal by a lady after 65 years of wait.
“I went up to four laps, the American girl passed me but I said I would not give up, up to the end,” added Chemutai.
Ironically, Chemutai’s performances earlier in the season had not been impressive but in Tokyo, she turned on the style. “She had a lot of ups and downs living like an elite athlete and to be in the camp always was not easy for her,” said Ruiter.
“But with the support of the athletes in the camp and I, she is now mature and stable. “She practices a lot on the hurdles and that is paying off,” added Ruiter, who is credited to have modelled her career since 2017.
Chemutai first broke out in 2015 when she won 1500m and 3000m silver medals at the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Games in Apia, Samoa. It is from here that the late Godfrey Nuwagaba connected her to her present manager Jurrie van der Velden of the Dutch management Global Sports Communication (GSC). Chemutai has steadily progressed with different NR marks but the highlight was a silver medal at the 2018 World Junior Championships in Tampere, Finland before twice finishing fifth at the World Cross-country in Denmark and the Doha World Championships in Qatar in 2019.
“I think, in all honesty, in 2019, she had a breakthrough year,” stated Jurrie, “We always knew she was capable. Coach Ruiter has worked hard on her weak points which really have improved. Combined with following the strategy set out, today (yesterday) was a great day,” he added.
Steeplechase queen Chemutai’s gold plus Joshua Cheptegei’s 10000m silver and Jacob Kiplimo’s bronze in Tokyo and the country is slept ranked 45th overall, on-level with Belgium and Ethiopia.
FATHER PAYS TRIBUTE TO DAUGHTER
Chemutai has inked her name in Ugandan sporting folklore forever.
Her father Moses Isaiah was left a thrilled a man after he watched his daughter power to victory in style on television at a hangout spot in Kiriki Trading Centre in Kween District.
“I am very happy. We thank God for what he has done for her,” the 48-year-old told Daily Monitor through his younger sister Eveline Yapsoyekwo in a chat yesterday.
Chemutai was born to Isaiah and Sophy Chebet in Tulel sub-county, Bukwo District and the parents still live there as peasant farmers.
Chebet however didn’t watch her daughter as she had no access to television.
ATHLETICS - DAY SIX RESULTS
WOMEN’S STEEPLECHASE FINAL
1. Peruth Chemutai (UGA) 9:01.45
2. Courtney Frerichs (USA) 9:04.79
3. Hyvin Kiyeng (KEN) 9:05.39
WOMEN’S 1500M SEMI HEAT 2
1. Sifan Hassan (NED) 4:00.23
2. Laura Muir (GBR) 4:00.73
3. Linden Hall (AUS) 4:01.37
4. Winnie Nanyondo (UGA) 4:01.64
CHEMUTAI IN FINALS AT EVENTS
WOMEN’S STEEPLECHASE FINAL
2019 Doha Worlds: 5th, 9:11.08
2018 Tampere Worlds Juniors:
2016 Bydgoszcz World Juniors:
2020 Tokyo Olympics: 1st, 9:01.45
STEEPLECHASE CHAMPS CAST
Peruth Chemutai (UGA), 9:01.45
Ruth Jebet (BAH) 8:59.75
Habiba Ghribi (TUN) 9:08.37
G.Samitova-Galkina (RUS) 8:58.81
UGANDA’S MEDALS AT THE OLYMPICS SO FAR
1968 Mexico City: Eridadi Mukwanga (Bantamweight Silver)
1968 Mexico City: Leo Rwabwogo (Flyweight Bronze)
1972 Munich: John Akii-Bua
(400m Hurdles Gold)
1972 Munich: Leo Rwabwogo
1980 Moscow: John Mugabi
1996 Atlanta: Davis Kamoga
2012 London: Stephen Kiprotich (Marathon Gold)
2020 Tokyo: Joshua Cheptegei (10000m Silver)
2020 Tokyo: Jacob Kiplimo
2020 Tokyo: Peruth Chemutai (3000m Women Steeplechase)