What you need to know:
- His fresh time of 12:35.36 at the Stade Louis II was an improvement of 1.99 seconds on Bekele’s 12:37.35.
- Cheptegei shifts gears and will make his 21-kilometre debut, taking the battle to his Kenyan arch-rivals at Saturday’s World Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia, Poland.
- He maintained he has proven himself on the track and in cross country running, and wanted to end the season on a high, hoping the roads of Gdynia will treat him “kindly.”
Even in a bizarre, coronavirus-affected season, Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei has toyed around with distance running statistics, breaking world records at will.
Just like a Kapchorwa herds-boy would play around with family goats on the slopes of Mt Elgon, the Inspector in the Uganda Police Force has arrested three world records this season alone, starting off by improving the five kilometre mark on the road.
The 24-year-old Ugandan clocked 12 minutes and 51 seconds on the streets of Monaco in February, beating Kenyan Rhonex Kipruto’s previous best of 13:18 set in Valencia on January 12.
Then the indefatigable policeman was back in the principality, shattering Kenenisa Bekele’s 16-year-old 5,000 metres track world record at the Hercules Diamond League meeting in the Monegasque capital in August.
His fresh time of 12:35.36 at the Stade Louis II was an improvement of 1.99 seconds on Bekele’s 12:37.35.
And he wasn’t done yet.
Paced by “Wavelight” technology, Cheptegei last week broke another Bekele record in a bespoke Valencia run, this time in the 10,000m, clocking 26:11.00 which was an improvement on Bekele’s previous record of 26:17.53 set in Brussels in 2005.
And this weekend, Cheptegei shifts gears and will make his 21-kilometre debut, taking the battle to his Kenyan arch-rivals at Saturday’s World Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia, Poland.
At the pre-competition press conference on Friday in the Polish port city, Cheptegei, who is also the world cross country champion, deflected the question of being underdog, being a 21km debutant.
He maintained he has proven himself on the track and in cross country running, and wanted to end the season on a high, hoping the roads of Gdynia will treat him “kindly.”
“Of course everybody is entitled to his or her own opinion,” he responded to thoughts that his Kenyan rivals could be underestimating him on the roads while focusing on the Ethiopians.
“To me it’s a different approach… It’s the first time that we are running the half marathon distance, but if you look at my history, I’ve been running 15 kilometres, 10 miles and tomorrow is not the last day that we are going to run…
“You don’t have to hang yourself. It’s about having the best experience in racing and if you are comfortable, you can go for the title.”
Indeed, the policeman is no stranger to road running, having tackled the famous Dutch “Zevenheuvelenloop” (Seven Hills 15km Road Race) no less than four times.
The race is organised annually in Nijmegen, home of Cheptegei’s management company, Global Sports Communication, headed by Dutch distance running legend Jos Hermens.
“It’s been my dream to make a debut in the half marathon, but it was already planned last year that I do the half marathon as a preparation towards the (Tokyo) Olympic Games,” Cheptegei explained.
“Me and my coach and, of course, Global Sports Communication, sat down and said the World Half Marathon Championships was the best preparation towards the Olympic Games.
“But we were faced with adversity, with Covid-19, and there was a twist of events and things changed.
“We sat down and got the option of running in the Diamond League and trying to attach a couple of world records which I have achieved.
“I’ve been training well for my track events, like the 5,000m and 10,000m, but here’s another obstacle (the half marathon) which has come a few days after the (10,000m) world record, but I believe I’m a person of high talent and it will be a nice challenge for me.”
Cheptegei noted that his 15km road race world record (41:05 in 2018) at the Zevenheuvelenloop was enough proof that he could cause an upset in Saturday’s Gdynia race.
“The longest distance I ever achieved was 10 miles in Holland, but I’ve also had several wins in the 15 kilometres, like running at the Seven Hills for four years in a row and winning it, also coming short of the world record by three seconds in 2017, and, of course, breaking the world record over 15 kilometres in 2018.
“That tells you that it (Saturday’s race) won’t be something so disastrous to me and I hope the roads will treat me well.”
Cheptegei noted that he feels no pressure despite his record-breaking track season, and that having teammates of substance in the “Cranes” squad, like Jacob Kiplimo – the 2017 World Cross Country Championships junior gold medalist – helped deflect the pressure off him.
“It’s a nice feeling (having strong teammates). If it was only Cheptegei, I would have been having a lot of the pressure.
“It’s good to see other athletes in the field taking part of the pressure which makes it more exciting and easier for us to work together as a team and probably go for the title.”
The Ugandan has already had a feel of the Gdynia course and is happy with it.
“This (Friday) morning I did a small jogging session on the course... It’s a good one and also a tough one. It has hills and slopes but for me it’s not a problem and I will enjoy.”
He hopes to close the difficult season in style: “This is going to be a very special title for me. I’ve shone in cross country, I’ve shone on the track, I’ve also shone when it comes to attacking records, so the only thing is to win a special title on the road… that would be something special, and classic.”