The Tokyo Olympics are within sight. This edition of the quadrennial Games means everything to Joshua Cheptegei.
The global long-distance icon can seal his legacy as the country’s greatest athlete ever in case he wins the 10000m gold medal in Japan on July 30.
Preparations for that have been long, since winning the world 10000m title at the 2019 Doha World Championships in Qatar.
Cheptegei has one more competitive race in his final stages before Tokyo and that comes up tonight when he lines-up for the 5000m race during the Rome Diamond League in Florence, Italy.
“It’s the last race for Joshua before Tokyo,” said his coach Addy Ruiter.
Cheptegei has this season focused on speed by running the 1500m at the sixth National Trials in Namboole on April 24 before he missed the 3000m world record at the Ostrava Golden Spike Meeting in Czech Republic on May 19.
The race at the Stadio Luigi Ridolfi tonight offers Cheptegei a chance to test his mettle over the 12-and-a-half-lap distance ahead of his long-distance double attempt in Tokyo.
And, for a man who has Commonwealth titles and world records over the 5000m and 10000m, the world cross-country gong and the world title over the 25-lap race, Cheptegei has no room for error.
The 24-year-old has raised his profile so high over the last three years that if he doesn’t win in Florence, it could send a message of encouragement to his foes before Tokyo.
“He will face some of his competitors for the Olympics so it will be interesting to see where everyone is in his preparation and how Joshua’s preparation stages are progressing,” said his manager Jurrie van der Velden.
The field in Florence is tough with 18 other men, including the stubborn Ethiopian trio of world champion Edris Muktar, Hagos Gebrhiwet and promising Haile Bekele.
Commonwealth silver medallist Canadian Mohammed Ahmed, the Norwegian Ingebrigtsen brothers Henrik and Jakob as well as consistent Australian pairing of Matthew Ramsden and Stewart McSweyn also shape up Cheptegei’s last mock examination.
“The field is very strong, I expect it will be a fast race and then we will see if Joshua is strong enough to keep everybody behind him,” added Ruiter.
Besides Cheptegei, Winnie Nanyondo too has a thorough test to come over the 1500m with former 10000m world record holder Dutch Sifan Hassan and Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon among other big names in the fray.
Then Albert Chemutai will do the 3000m steeplechase as he shapes up for Tokyo.
Cheptegei's personal bests
1500m: 3:37.36 (2021) PB
3000m: 7:33.24 (2021) PB
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