Year in review: King Cheptegei, Queen Chemutai!

Big Surprise. Chemutai’s gold medal was unexpected. PHOTO/AFP

What you need to know:

Memorable. Chemutai, Cheptegei and Kiplimo were warmly received back home, with Museveni rewarding each with a car. 

To sum it up quick, 2021 marked a year never seen before in Uganda’s sporting history. And not that there was too much that was taken home, no.
The athletics contingent to the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics only matched their billing to deliver Uganda’s best performance ever in the Games’ history. The Pearl of Africa scooped four medals, all off the brown tartan track of the National Stadium in the Japanese capital thanks to Peruth Chemutai, Joshua Cheptegei and Jacob Kiplimo
Cheptegei yet again rose above everyone else to affirm the status as the current world’s best track long-distance runner when he bagged 5000m gold only days after settling for 10000m silver.

Surprise queen Chemutai
Kiplimo too made it to the podium for the 25-lap final with a bronze but it is Chemutai’s gold over the 3000m steeplechase final, which was least expected. Whereas she comfortably won in 9:43.80, Ruiter’s concerns lingered around her comfort in her new spikes. So even respective eighth and fifth place finishes at the Doha Diamond League (DL) in Qatar on May 28 and the FBK Hengelo Games in the Netherlands on June 8 still didn’t cast her among the favourites come Tokyo.

At the time then, Kenyans Norah Jeruto and Hyvin Kiyeng had appeared in best shape after dominating the DL circuit.
 But, in the early hours of the Monday of August 1, Chemutai sent out an early warning when she easily came through Olympics’ Heat 1 of the water-jump race with a fast 9:12.72.
 
Delight in hot conditions
Having watched her enjoy running under those beaming temperatures, just like at the Doha World Championships two years prior where she came fifth, the 22-year-old had something big in offing.
 In the final on August 4, Chemutai broke the chains, beating a stellar 16-lady field to not only win Uganda’s first gold medal in the Japanese capital but also become the country’s first-ever female Olympic champion. This will take many years to sink in for the ever-jolly Chemutai!
She led the pack early, checking their mettle after 600m before keeping in the top three. When 1200m were left, American Courtney Frerichs charged up and that pulled six others including Chemutai away from the rest of the field.
By the end of the penultimate lap, Chemutai had a vividly sizable gap over Kiyeng who was in third and upon the bell, she overtook Frerichs in the first corner, running her name into history. 

Cheptegei mishap
The gold had come as a surprise but also as a relief to the country, which had seen Cheptegei painfully accept silver after the 10000m final on July 30.
The world record holder had appeared to give much respect to the humid weather and had chosen not to pull the field closer to his pseudo-pacemaker Stephen Kissa who led for 16 laps.
The race eventually turned out relatively slow, that attracting many for the juicy final lap. Cheptegei needed to surge from sixth to rescue a silver in a time of 27:43.63 behind Ethiopian Selemon Barega.
Barega won gold in 27:43.22 and Kiplimo, who had spurred Cheptegei to that superb final kick, got bronze in 27:43.88.
 No mistakes, gold!

Cheptegei sealed his status as the greatest athlete that Uganda has ever produced - eclipsing Stephen Kiprotich and John Akii-Bua among others. PHOTOS/AFP

In the final 5000m final on August 6, Cheptegei made no mistakes. 
He had the company of brothers Oscar Chelimo and Kiplimo who down the broke field before he rose to win the gold in a stellar 12:58.15.
That achievement meant Cheptegei became the first man from Uganda to win more than a medal at an edition of the Olympics. Cheptegei would later revenge the defeat to Barega by winning the two-mile run at the Eugene DL in USA with a world leading time of 8:09.55.
Whereas Uganda returned home with four medals, its biggest harvest in history, the pundits still felt world 800m champion Halimah Nakaayi should at least, have made the two-lap final. 

But she had struggled with an injury in late April, and a subsequent recovery saw her break the two-minute barrier pretty late in the season (July) before the body again struggled in the semifinal Heats.
Then Uganda presented its first sprinter at the Olympics - Shida Leni - since Justine Bayigga at the Beijing 2008 Games. Leni ran alongside the great American Allyson Felix in the round 1 Heat 1. 

Historic Kiplimo
Chemutai, Cheptegei and Kiplimo were warmly received back home, with President Yoweri Museveni rewarding each with a car. Kiplimo’s climax to the year stood out most. 
He ran the second half of the Lisbon Half-Marathon in Portugal solo before winning it in a WR time of 57 minutes and 31 seconds on November 21.
He erased the previous WR mark, set by Kenyan Kandie Kibiwott, by a second and Kiplimo became the third Ugandan in history after Cheptegei and John Akii-Bua to hold a WR in global athletics.

Talent on the rise
Definitely, Kiplimo will be one of the biggest subject matters when Cheptegei crosses to the road after the Paris 2024 Games and there is a bunch of talent rising such as Victor Kiplangat who won his debut 42km race at the Istanbul Marathon in Turkey on November 7.
At the World U20 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya, Uganda won a bronze medal after Prisca Chesang came third in the 5000m final at Kasarani Stadium, making it the country’s overall 14th medal in the event’s history.

Chesang, who was Uganda’s youngest competitor in athletics at the Tokyo Olympics, had earlier missed the podium with fourth place in the 3000m final.
 Sprinter Tarsis Orogot was hurt most after missing the 100m final by a slot and then came fourth in the 200m final. 
The entire contingent in Nairobi made top-10 positions across different race and a little more exposure could turn them into world beaters.
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