But Cheptegei used the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in March to spend ample time to work with his coach Addy Ruiter in Kapchorwa after the international athletics calendar was also put on hold, writes Elvis Senono
Ugandan long distance star athletes Joshua Cheptegei and Jacob Kiplimo were at the start of November nominated and are favourites to top a 10-man shortlist for the Male World Athlete of the Year award ahead of the World Athletics Awards 2020 to be held virtually on Saturday 5 December.
The recognition followed a remarkable 10 months in which the pair have dragged the country from a fairly respected nation in the Athletics world to one of the favourites to win medals in the middle and long distance races ahead of the postponed 2020
Olympics in Tokyo next year
Looking at their competitors, few seem to have a chance against Cheptegei who this year alone broke world records at 5000m (12:35.36), 10,000m (26:11.00) and 5km on the roads (12:51).
Cheptegei initially raised eyebrows with his proclamation that he was targeting Bekele’s 16-year 5,000-meter track world record when he ran at the Monaco Diamond League back in August.
This was after managing a personal best of 12:57.41 on the track that was over 20 seconds behind the 12:37.45 set by the Ethiopian great on May 31, 2004 in Hengelo, Netherlands.
But Cheptegei used the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in March to spend ample time to work with his coach Addy Ruiter in Kapchorwa after the international athletics calendar was also put on hold.
“I’m not sure if we will ever be in a situation that a coach is able to be with Joshua for six months and working toward this goal for such a long time,” “…All of his sessions have been better than before…He’s sleeping more, he’s relaxing more…These guys are normally a little bit more on the road. They are not all Eliud Kipchoges who are pretty much 24-7 in a training camp relaxing…[With Covid-19], everybody had to stay at home, and everybody had to respect those rules, and it made them rest more, concentrate more on running rather than other things,” his manager Jurrie van der Velden told the LetsRun.com website in an interview before the race.
His dream hung in the balance though after the government maintained the ban on international commercial air travel.
After weeks of lobbying, the athletes together with several officials from the Sports Ministry, National Council of Sports and Uganda Olympic Committee held a meeting together with the First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports Janet Museveni at State House Nakasero.
This led to a change a week to the race with government softening its stance to allow Cheptegei, Halima Nakaayi, Winnie Nanyondo and Stephen Kissa travel to France for the Monaco Diamond League race held at the Stade Louis II track.
What followed was a sublime race particularly with Cheptegei being on his own for the second half of the race. He then ran a remarkable time of 12:35.36 at 60.43 seconds per lap and break the world record by almost two seconds.
“It took a lot of mind setting to keep being motivated this year because so many people are staying at home but you have to stay motivated. I pushed myself, I had the right staff with me, the right coach. I’m also usually based in Europe, but being based in Uganda with my family was actually great,” he told LetsRun.com after the race.
Cheptegei now boasts the world Cross-country gold, 5000m DL trophy and the 10000m title in addition to rewriting World Records in the 5km at the Monaco Herculis Run on February 16 and 10km race at the Valencia Alfonso 10K in Spain.
Buoyed by that 5000m success, Cheptegei then went after another Bekele record, smashing the Ethiopian’s 15-year old 10,000m world record in a time of 26 minutes 11.00 seconds in Valencia by more than six seconds on October 08.
Not to be outdone, teenager Kiplimo reminded the world of his prowess after a two-year absence on track by stunning world silver medalist Ethiopian Selemon Barega in the 5000m race at the 59th Ostrava Golden Spike Meeting in Czech Republic.
Kiplimo went into the lead with two laps remaining before Barega pulled almost level but the latter held on to win in a massive personal best of 12:48.63.
The time was a huge improvement on his best, previously 13:13.64 and meant he qualified for next year’s Tokyo Olympics. It is also the second fastest time by a Ugandan over the distance – after Cheptegei’s WR.
The 19-year old Kiplimo who is also a World Cross country silver medalist was also further rewarded with a national 3000-meter record after a tremendous final kick saw him defeat 1500m European champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen to win at the Rome’s Diamond League track and field meeting in September.
Kiplimo is now the 8th-fastest man in history. His 7:26.64 is also the fastest time recorded at 3000 in 13 years — since Kenenisa Bekele ran 7:25.70 in August 2007.
He then followed that up with his biggest achievement of his career thus far, winning world half marathon title in a championship record of 58:49 in the Polish city of Gdynia in October.
Kiplimo this time got the better of Kenyan Kibiwott Kandie who in January embarrassed him by nipping ahead after Kiplimo celebrated a win in Sao Paulo before reaching the finish line.
A clearly fatigued Cheptegei who had only 10 days earlier broken the 10,000m world record finished fourth. But there was no denying the Ugandan contingent their prize. They also scooped team bronze at the championship, had completed a remarkable year hugely disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.