Musagala upstages Cheptegei

Monday April 26 2021

His turf. Musagala crosses the finish line as Cheptegei comes in third behind him during the Sixth UAF Trial at Namboole on Saturday. PHOTO | ISMAIL KEZAAALA

By Allan Darren Kyeyune

The sixth Uganda Athletics Federation (UAF) Trials lived up to the billing when middle-distance runner Ronald Musagala upstaged world 10000m champion Joshua Cheptegei in 1500m at Namboole stadium on Saturday.

For what had been a day where a handful of spectators, journalists, officials and athletes slowly got the feel of being inside Namboole for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic struck last year, the moment came long into the day at 4pm.

When it appeared there was no much to write home as heat shimmered off the brown tartan, Musagala rose to provide the highlight of the day by beating a 14-man field of Heat 2 in 3min, 36.63 sec.

“I feel good,” said Musagala amid palpable emotion from the wowed handful after the race. 

The feat was reminiscent of his introduction to athletics when he stunned Moses Kipsiro to take the 1500m national title here in 2013.

“I’ve never run a 3:36 here. It’s been long since I ran like this in Namboole,” said the 2018 Africa bronze medallist.


Cheptegei focus

The race gathered attention when the stadium announcer introduced 5000m and 10000m world record holder Cheptegei, who was running on Namboole track for the time in five years.

Much as Cheptegei’s focus was on improving his speed ahead of the 10000m final at the Tokyo Olympics due July 24, he knew the threat that Musagala posed here, after all the pair train together under coach Addy Ruiter in Kapchorwa and Kween.

Upon the gun, Cheptegei thrust forward, leading through 800m and by this stage, Kenyan Kamar Etiang and Musagala were closely following behind.

When the bell went, the drama began to unfold as Musagala charged out in the second lane. And in a flash, he and Etiang had gone past Cheptegei with about 150 metres to go. 

Etiang briefly led in the corner but when they turned to face the tape, Musagala’s experience over the distance showed as he took over inside 80 metres to power to a stellar finish.

Etiang settled for second in 3min, 36.80sec, while Cheptegei posted a personal best of 3min, 37.36sec  from his first 1500m race since Johannesburg Athletix Grand Prix in South Africa on March 1, 2018.

Cheptegei remained relaxed as he still managed to exchange pleasantries, more so with his other training partner Boniface Sikowo and coach Benjamin Njia.

“It was good. I enjoyed it. It was a very good experience,” said Cheptegei. 

This is the first time Cheptegei had lost a local track race since 2013.

 “Conditions were not so easy but it was a good test for both,” said Dutchman Ruiter. “The speed is really necessary for Joshua, especially for the 5000m in Tokyo.”

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