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After World 5000m Record, Cheptegei Is On Track To Achieve Global Domination

Joshua Cheptegei had a simple plan.

Sixteen months ago, beside the picturesque cross country course in Aarhus, Denmark, where he had just won his first senior world title, the then 22-year-old Ugandan laid out his strategy for world domination.

With his first global triumph secure, the next object of his desire was to succeed Mo Farah as the 10,000m title-holder at the World Championships in Doha.

And then?

“My ambition is to dominate the track for the next five or six years,” Cheptegei said.

The audacity was startling, but no more than the delivery has been since. So far it is happening as if it was ordained.

Just look at his last five races, which include three consecutive world records in a year of unparalleled achievement:

 On 29 August, last year, he won the 5000m at the Diamond League final in Zurich.

 On 6 October, he won the 10,000m at the World Championships in Doha.

 On 1 December, he set a world 10km record of 26:38 in Valencia, Spain.

 On 16 February, he set a world 5km record of 12:51 in Monaco.

 On 14 August, he set a world 5000m record of 12:35.36 in Monaco.

Between February and August this year the world changed as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, but Cheptegei did not miss a beat.

He spent lockdown with his Dutch coach Addy Ruiter in his hometown of Kapchorwa, which sits at 1800m altitude in the rolling Uganda’s eastern region.

When he wasn’t training, he took on family and community duties.

“It was both good and bad,” he said. “It allowed me to spend more time with my family, but at the same time we are missing the sport so much.

“I did some gardening at my grandparents’ house. But mainly, I worked at my school in town. It’s a primary school, and I worked on some renovations there, like painting the walls.”

With relatively few cases of Covid-19 in Uganda, the lockdown was relaxed two months ago and Cheptegei returned to a more normal regime with his training partners.

“I honestly really missed competing,” he said. “It’s something I love doing, it’s in my blood.”

He targeted the Monaco meeting and made no secret of his desire to take down the great Kenenisa Bekele’s monumental 5000m world record of 12:37.35, set more than 16 years ago in Hengelo, Netherlands.

Profile

Joshua Cheptegei
Born: 12 September 1996. Coach: Addy Ruiter.

Few took note of Joshua Cheptegi when he made his international championships debut.

Competing on home soil in Uganda’s capital, he finished seventh in the U20 race at the 2014 African Cross Country Championships in Kampala, 42 seconds behind Kenyan winner Moses Mukono.

But just six days later, Cheptegei was back in action for the World University Cross Country Championships – which, fortunately for him, were also held in Uganda, in the city of Entebbe. And this time he made a much bigger splash.

Pulling away from Kenya’s Daniel Muindi on the penultimate lap, the 17-year-old Cheptegei went on to win by six seconds.

Dutch manager Jurrie van der Velden spotted the teenager’s talent and, keen to test him at the top level, he brought Cheptegei to race Geoffrey Kamworor at the TCS World 10K in Bangalore in May that year.

Cheptegei finished second to Kamworor, who just seven weeks prior had won the world half marathon title. “We realised then he was special,” says Van der Velden.

Later that year Cheptegei took gold over 10,000m at the World U20 Championships in Eugene, and eight months later he won the African U20 title over the same distance. But his ascent to the top of his sport at senior level would take time.

In 2015 he moved to Kaptagat, Kenya, to train with the best, running daily with Kamworor and greats like Eliud Kipchoge under the guidance of coach Patrick Sang.

His running went from strength to strength, and he finished ninth in the 10,000m on his senior championships debut at the World Championships in Beijing that year, but he missed his family and his home too much to ever truly stick it out.

Later that year he returned to Uganda, with his manager working to build a group around him under the guidance of Dutch coach Addy Ruiter.

His improvement continued and in his first year as a senior athlete he finished eighth in the 5000m and sixth in the 10,000m at the Olympic Games.

He also impressed on the roads, winning prestigious races such as the Carlsbad 5000 and the Zevenheuvelenloop.

Ahead of the World Cross Country Championships in Kampala at the start of 2017, both Ruiter and Cheptegei felt confident that he would deliver gold for Uganda.

For much of the race he looked to be on course for gold as he built a huge lead, but then the wheels came off in spectacular fashion, Cheptegei’s body shutting down in hot and humid conditions as he jogged across the line in 30th place.

The experience had a profound effect on Cheptegei and he was reluctant to leave his house for weeks afterwards.

Once he overcame the disappointment, his memories of the event helped to fuel his motivation for his next championship appearances.

Little more than four months later at the World Championships in London, there were no such problems.

It was a cool, breezy night in the Olympic Stadium, and though the 60,000 fans who packed the stands expected victory to be virtually handed to Mo Farah, Cheptegei had other ideas.

Cheptegei and his Ugandan teammates, together with the Kenyan contingent, unleashed a stop-start series of surges, trying their best to break Farah in his final 10,000m on the track.

The Briton eventually seized command with two laps to run and held everyone off to take gold in 26:49.51. Charging down the outside, meanwhile, was Cheptegei to take the silver medal.

It capped a rollercoaster journey over the last four months, one which included the birth of his son just five weeks prior to the World Championships.

A knee injury cut short his 2018 campaign, but he still managed to win the 5000m and 10,000m double at the Commonwealth Games earlier in the year.

He returned to full fitness towards the end of the year and put together a string of victories in international road races, setting a world 15km best of 41:05 in Nijmegen.

Cheptegei used that momentum as he headed into the cross-country season at the start of 2019, and he returned to the World Cross Country a far stronger athlete – mentally and physically. Cheptegei was one of the few elite athletes to travel to Aarhus long before the event, so on the weekend itself nothing about its absurdly steep inclines took him by surprise.

Cheptegei came home four seconds clear of compatriot Jacob Kiplimo to strike gold, becoming the first Ugandan man to win a senior global title in athletics.

Later that year he competed sparingly on the track but showed an impressive turn of speed to defeat a quality field over two miles in Stanford. Two months later, he won the Diamond League title over 5000m in his final tune-up before the World Championships.

In Doha he again exhibited astute racing smarts at the World Championships, expending his energies with expert precision to out-gun Ethiopia’s Yomif Kejelcha and Kenya’s Rhonex Kipruto and win 10,000m gold in 26:48.36, having covered the last lap in 55.39.

His work for the year wasn’t quite done, though, and he ended his momentous 2019 campaign with a world 10km record of 26:38 in Valencia.

Cheptegei started 2020 where he left off and scorched to a world 5km record of 12:51 in Monaco. Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, he had planned to make his 13.1-mile debut at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia before turning his attention to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

But once major events were hit by postponements and cancellations, Cheptegei started to focus on a new target: breaking the world 5000m record. And he achieved that goal in his first track race of the year, clocking a stunning 12:35.36 at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Monaco.

Having won world titles on the track and cross-country, and now with a world record under his belt, Cheptegei – still aged just 23 – is well on his way to becoming the next global running icon.


Stats

Cheptegei’s personal bests
1500m: 3:37.82 (2016)
3000m: 7:33.26 (2019)
Two miles: 8:07.54 (2019) NR
5000m: 12:35.36 (2020) WR
10,000m: 26:48.36 (2019)
5km: 12:51 (2020) WR
10km: 26:38 (2019) NR
15km: 41:05 (2018) WB
10M: 45:15 (2018) NR

5000m world record progression
13:00.40 Said Aouita (MAR) Oslo 1985
12:58.39 Said Aouita (MAR) Rome 1987
12:56.96 Haile Gebrselassie (ETH) Hengelo 1994
12:55.30 Moses Kiptanui (KEN) Rome 1995
12:44.39 Haile Gebrselassie (ETH) Zurich 1995
12:41.86 Haile Gebrselassie (ETH) Zurich 1997
12:39.74 Daniel Komen (KEN) Brussels 1997
12:39.36 Haile Gebrselassie (ETH) Helsinki 1998
12:37.35 Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) Hengelo 2004
12:35.36 Joshua Cheptegei (UGA) Monaco 2020

World all-time 5000m list
12:35.36 Joshua Cheptegei (UGA) Monaco 2020
12:37.35 Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) Hengelo 2004
12:39.36 Haile Gebrselassie (ETH) Helsinki 1998
12:39.74 Daniel Komen (KEN) Brussels 1997
12:43.02 Selemon Barega (ETH) Brussels 2018
12:45.82 Hagos Gebrhiwet (ETH) Brussels 2018
12:46.53 Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) Rome 2004
12:46.79 Yomif Kejelcha (ETH) Brussels 2018
12:46.81 Dejen Gebremeskel (ETH) Paris 2012
12:47.04 Sileshi Sihine (ETH) Rome 2004

Comparison of kilometre splits for the six fastest 5000m times in history

Comparison of kilometre splits for the six fastest 5000m times in history

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