Here is why marathons shall take on a lot more significance for Ugandans

Author: Robert Madoi is a sports journalist and analyst. PHOTO/FILE/NMG.

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This, if it must be underscored, is no mean feat. Medals at the global showpiece had previously been few and far between, with the last coming at Osaka 2007 courtesy Moses Kipsiro.

Things have unfolded gracefully for Uganda since Stephen Kiprotich matched Gezahegne Abera's extraordinary feat of heaping a world championship marathon gold medal on the back of an Olympic marathon gold medal. Remarkably, from the aforesaid 2015 Worlds in Moscow to the latest staging in Budapest, Team Uganda has managed to figure on the medal table in consecutive championships. 

This, if it must be underscored, is no mean feat. Medals at the global showpiece had previously been few and far between, with the last coming at Osaka 2007 courtesy Moses Kipsiro. Small wonder, critics needed little invitation to hammer into Uganda Athletics Federation (UAF) officials a debilitating guilt for their negligence.

Nowadays, Team Uganda comfortably outperforms many participating nations thanks in no small measure to being close to peerless at the distance. Led by the irrepressible Joshua Cheptegei, who recently won his third straight world title in Budapest, Ugandans have grown accustomed to watching their distance runners fight back ferociously both on the track and road. 

Last Sunday, the barrel-chested Victor Kiplangat took a world championship marathon gold medal (to add to his Commonwealth title from last year) that affirms Uganda's single-minded obsession with distance events. And if the women's marathon final on the streets of Budapest is to be told with ferocious vigour and unsparing brutality, the conclusion should be that two top 20 finishes for Team Uganda's flag bearers have a promising edge to them.

Yet, even as Ugandans, who had despaired of a medal-less streak at the Worlds, celebrate a turn in fortunes, the cataclysmic winds of change are far from done. Pardon your columnist for being possessed of a cheerful, slightly scary frankness. Even as Sebastian Coe continues to exude a careful, coaxing charm about distance running, the World Athletics president has made no secret of his wish to make the influence of shorter athletics events more brazen and expansive. 

Despite trying as best he can to maintain a gentle, rotating sense of sympathy for distance runners, Coe has previously attributed the privileging of shorter athletic events to the short attention span of the contemporary audience. It was therefore anything but surprising when the Englishman singled out sprinters Noah Lyles and Sha’Carri Richardson for praise. They were, he added after the curtain came down on the 2023 Worlds, “absolute rock stars.”

And indeed they are. But so too is Cheptegei who defended his world title in his favourite 25-lap event for a, wait for it, record-equalling third time. But it turns out the contemporary audience takes a decidedly dimmer view of paying ardent attention to 25 laps. All thanks to their short attention span. 

This, perhaps, explains why Cheptegei was overlooked for the World Athlete of the Year award despite breaking Kenenisa Bekele's long-standing 5000m and 10,000m records in 2020.

To put it bluntly, as shown by the Diamond League’s schedule, distance events long lost their lustre. They are anything but sexy. With the red carpet being rolled out for other rock stars, distance runners have had to grapple with a loss of volition and dignity. Many have found refuge on the road. 

Is it any wonder then that we now have youngsters like Kiplangat, 23, who are entirely devoted to running marathons? Cheptegei, who is only 26, runs his first marathon later this year as he looks to gradually say his goodbyes to the tartan track. Jacob Kiplimo, 22, has previously made no secret of the fact that he is most comfortable whilst working up a sweat on the road. 

Evidently, marathons are what Ugandan running enthusiasts should put much stock in regardless of whatever attention span. We simply have no choice.