Can Uganda Finally Dethrone Kenya In Distance Running? – New Vision

Can Uganda Finally Dethrone Kenya In Distance Running?  New Vision

Forget Kenya and long-distance running, Joshua Cheptegei became the face of global athletics in 2020

Team Uganda comprised of Jacob Kiplimo, Joshua Cheptegei, Victor Kiplangat, Stephen Kissa, Moses Kiber after finishing third at the 2020 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia, Poland, on Saturday. AFP Photo

Forget Kenya and long-distance running, Joshua Cheptegei became the face of global athletics in 2020

When Stephen Kiprotich won gold in the 2012 Olympic men’s marathon, Uganda welcomed the shock victory with all the relief and jocund due to the greatest jinx in national sport finally falling after 40 years.

Kenya, equally shocked by the result, were also relieved, but for terribly different reasons. 

Kenya might have failed to prevent Kiprotich from encroaching on their turf at the London Olympics but they had no doubt normal service would be restored at the earliest opportunity. Except Kiprotich returned to take gold in the same event at the 2013 IAAF World Athletics Championships in Russia!

Stephen Kiprotich got the ball rolling with his stunning victory at the 2012 Olympics in London.

Seven years later, Uganda are holders of the men’s World Cross Country men’s individual gold and silver medals as well as the team gold in the same event, the 10,000m World Championships gold,  the 5000m and 10,000m records, the 5k and 15k records and as of Saturday, the new World half marathon men’s individual gold and team bronze.

Seven years ago, Kiprotich was a solo and soon-to-fade bearer of Uganda’ athletics hopes but now the charge is spearheaded by a young and astoundingly talented two-pronged assault that goes beyond anything that could have been imagined. In Jacob Kiplimo and especially Joshua Cheptegei, Uganda has placed onto the global stage of long-distance athletics, the ultimate performers. 

In fact, What Kiplimo and particularly Cheptegei have accomplished over the last three years is enough to conclude upon a sizeable shift in the balance of power in long-distance athletics from Kenya ─ and for that matter Ethiopia ─ to Uganda. Kenya and Ethiopia may boast much bigger bases across the genders but at the top of the pyramid, it’s Uganda’s Cheptegei and Kiplimo. This, of all years, has confirmed it. 

Joshua Cheptegei is in the form of his life.

Cheptegei, who won the world cross country men’s gold, 10,000m World Championships gold, 5000m Diamond League trophy as well as breaking the 10k and 5km records in 2019, has separated himself from not just the long-distance competition, but really the rest of athletics in 2020. His three records in nine months, with the ones in the 5000m and 10,000m coming within two months, is unprecedented.

Forget Kenya and long-distance running, Cheptegei became the face of global athletics in 2020, his record runs watched in reverence by billions around the world. Records are complicated feats, hence Kenenisa Bekele’s 5000m and 10,000m standing for 16 and 15 years respectively. And yet Cheptegei broke them in almost routine fashion, this year three of his four races producing a world record.

Kiplimo has not set any world records yet, but surely it’s just a matter of time. Even then, his winning time of 58:49 in Saturday’s World half marathon at Gydnia was a championship record and yet the feeling is he had a lot left in the tank at the end of the race.

Jacob Kiplimo has emerged as a force to be reckoned with.

Kiplimo’s performance in Gydnia made him just the second man after Ethiopia’s Haile Gebreselassie to break 7:30 in the 3k, 13:00 in the 5k, and 59m in the half marathon. And he did it all in a span of 39 days.

Kiplimo, who won the junior gold at the 2017 World Cross Country Championships and silver in the senior race two years later, has been one of the most consistent road runners in the world over the last three years and as Gydnia showed, he’s already at the top of his craft despite his tender age. 

With Cheptegei still in his prime, Kiplimo a few years behind his yet good enough to win gold medals now, and other Ugandan athletes, like Halima Nakaayi, similarly capable of big-time success, Kenya’s dominance over Uganda has never looked weaker.

Whether Uganda can go on to complete the overthrow, however, remains to be seen.