Jacob Kiplimo: The making of a legend

Author, Mr Moses Banturaki. PHOTO/FILE.

What you need to know:

  • Half-Marathon world record shows Kiplimo has come of age.

No talk about Athletics in Uganda is complete without mentioning the name Joshua Chepetgai.

This is expected because he has dominated middle distance running recently that the Kenyans have quickly moved from mocking him to declaring him part of their lost tribes. When he isn’t picking up Olympic medals, the man is breaking world records and currently owns the 5000m, 10000m and 5k road race world records.

Close by, perhaps too close, is Jacob Kiplimo. Those two have been the dynamic duo of Uganda middle distance running, a two-man act that is the envy of the global middle-distance circuit.

Often switching podium places, Kiplimo has beaten Cheptegei a couple of times and even managed to squeeze in alongside him on the Olympic podium in Tokyo earlier this year. But all this time, if Cheptegei is the master, Kiplimo who is four years younger is the apprentice. Well until a few days ago at least.

By breaking the World Half Marathon record in Lisbon, Jacob Kiplimo came of age. From now on he races as his own man. He is powerless to stay in Cheptegei’s shadow even if he wanted to.

And judging from his career projection, it was only a matter of time. Some say he has been ready for a while. Rumors have lingered since Tokyo that he could have taken the 10,000m gold but team protocol and personal persuasion meant he had to ‘wait’ for an out of sorts Cheptegei and that eventually let through Ethiopian Selemon Barega. Good enough the Ugandan duo offset that by collecting gold and bronze in 5000m a couple of days later.

You know that Olympic 10,000m story might be loose talk but what isn’t is that before Sunday’s world record, Kiplimo who is only 21 years old had an Olympic medal and is in the top 15 all-time fastest in the 3,000, 5,000 and 10,00m meters. Also had it not been for the down-hill nature of the Madrid course which meant his timing wasn’t officially recognized by IAAF, he would have ‘broken’ the 10k record two years before Rhonex Kipruto did.

Now, I know the word legend is used loosely, but it is not far-fetched to say Jacob Kiplimo is one in the making. I also know such presumptions are an encouragement to get into numbers and peer comparisons, all of which eventually leads us down the slippery path of debates on who is eligible. And I do have a problem with quantitative comparisons because they water down the greatness of men to a level that adds up and is basic. They place Cristiano Ronaldo above Diego Maradona, Floyd Mayweather above Muhammed Ali, and LeBron James above Michael Jordan, and I have a serious problem with that.

However, I will make exceptions here and say this of Jacob Kiplimo; no one in the middle-distance field has his consistent rise. Not even Cheptegei who never won Gold at juniors and only came to light as a 20-year-old. Kiplimo on the other hand at 15 was, and still is Uganda’s youngest ever Olympian.

But like I said, no one, not even Kiplimo is safe from raw numbers. Kenenisa Bekele for instance is second to none in the middle distances - 3 Olympic Golds and 5 consecutive World championships over the 10,000m. But tell you what, Jacob Kiplimo has age on his side and all the time to equal or surpass this aristocrat of the sport.

So, even if he went on to achieve half of what Kenenisa Bekele did or Joshua Cheptegei is doing, we shall say that a legend was born before our eyes. We saw it coming folks.

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Twitter: @MBanturaki