Joshua Cheptegei. Yes, that man! He is the man on the lips of the world’s athletics audience after a stellar surge and grip of honours in global long distance running.
That is highlighted by now three straight world records (WRs) over the 10km, 5km and 5000m over the past over 303 days.
Just to add, he is the reigning World Cross-country, double Commonwealth, 5000m Diamond League (DL) and world 10000m champion. Pretty odd for a Ugandan, to be honest!
Had it not been the coronavirus pandemic, Cheptegei would probably also be the 10000m Olympic champion now.
Regardless, the Ugandan star can still scale new heights when the world turns eyes on him tonight in Valencia, Spain.
Ever ready Chep
Cheptegei is hoping to break the WR over the 25-lap race at the special NN Running World Record Day event under the Turia Stadium lights. “I am ready for NN Valencia World Record Day. Are you?” read part of Cheptegei’s tweet after a final warm-up session last evening. The event comes 54 days after he first broke Kenenisa Bekele’s 16-year-old 5000m WR mark by almost two seconds to 12 minutes and 35.36 seconds at the Monaco DL in France on August 14.
Cheptegei is back at it again for another WR held by the Ethiopian great. That August feat is fuelling positive vibes before the 24-year-old steps onto the track tonight. Bekele’s 10000m WR has stood for 15 years since he posted 26:17.53 in Brussels, Belgium on August 26, 2005.
Many top long distance runners have since come to the stage but only Kenyan Micah Kemboi has come closest to that time with 26:35.63 at the same event - Boudewijnstadion - a year later on August 25, 2006. “Don’t forget that almost nobody thought that it was possible for Joshua to beat Bekele’s 5000m WR,” Cheptegei’s coach Addy Ruiter told this paper before flying to Valencia. “For a lot of athletics fans, Bekele is the greatest long distance runner in history,” he said.
But Cheptegei, who won the world title in Qatari capital Doha with the ninth fastest time since Bekele’s WR of 26:48.36, is a man full of confidence after all this is his favourite race. That performance in Doha is not only Cheptegei’s PB but also the second fastest time by a Ugandan over the distance. The national record is held by Boniface Kiprop who came second to Bekele that day in Brussels with 26:39.77.
It means Cheptegei’s PB is 30.83 seconds behind the WR but Ruiter knows history to be rewritten. “In Monaco, he improved his personal best over 5000m with 22 seconds. Doha was a tactical race and Joshua had to save energy for the last 1200m,” he said.
And Cheptegei’s manager Jurrie van der Velden of Global Sports Communication (GSC) chose Valencia over Dutch city Rotterdam for this event with key reasons.
“You need a good venue, good weather, a good organisation you trust and have a connection with,” the Dutchman explained. Cheptegei set the 10km WR in Valencia last December.
“If you put all these things together and add on top of that, that Joshua is comfortable in Valencia and feels welcome, it all makes sense to go back,” Jurrie added.
With Cheptegei already a finer athlete over the past year, he will have support from two pace setting groups. They are sextet comprising Dutchman Roy Hoornweg, Australian Matthew Ramsden and Kenyan Nicholas Kipkorir.
Spaniard Abderrahman El Khayami, Australian pair Ryan Gregson and Stewart McSweyn complete the second group. Cheptegei’s country-mates Victor Kiplangat and Stephen Kissa are in the fray too.
“Everything went perfect again (in training)!” stated Ruiter, and expectations? “World record,” he added.
Cheptegei has Bekele’s blessing too. “I was delighted that the record went to Joshua, one of my NN Running Team mates. He is an outstanding talent, who is clearly in great form and I wish him all the best in pursuit of the 10,000m world record in Valencia,” he told the race organizers.
At the same event, NN Running Team, handled by GSC, has also organised a 5000m WR for Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey who is plotting to lower Tirunesh Dibaba’s 5000m WR of 14:11.15 set on June 6, 2008 in Oslo, Norway. Gidey will face Ugandan Winnie Nanyondo over the 12-and-a-half-lap race.