Uganda's Victor Kiplangat wears two hats, a pastor and athletic champion. 
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Olympics: Why a Ugandan pastor is giving Kenyan marathoners sleepless nights

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Uganda's Victor Kiplangat wears two hats, a pastor and athletic champion. 
Photo credit: AFP| POOL

Thirty-four days to go before the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, a Ugandan pastor is giving Kenyan marathoners sleepless nights.

On Sunday morning, we set out to find out why. We arrive at Kapchorwa, a serene town nestled in the Eastern part of Uganda renowned for its concentration of world-class athletes.

Our mission here is to meet World and Commonwealth Games marathon champion Victor Kiplangat in training as he prepares for the 2024 Olympic Games which will run from July 26 to August 11 in Paris.

In Paris, he will come face to face with the Kenyan contingent of men’s marathon defending champion Eliud Kipchoge, Tokyo Marathon champion Benson Kipruto and London Marathon champion Alexander Mutiso. The Kenyan trio is also training, getting ready for the big moment. He appears from a distance, jogging majestically.

From left, Job Chepkwurui, Victor Kiplangat, Joshua Cheptegei and Nicholas Cheptoyek warming up before training at the Sebei College Tegeres in Kapchorwa, Uganda on June 10, 2024. pool

He is clad in a tracksuit bearing the label of Dutch professional running team ‘NN Running’ which is based in the Netherlands. It is clear to us that he is a man on a mission to add the Olympic gold medal to his collection of trophies. Kipchoge currently holds that title.

Kiplangat, 24, is an assistant pastor at Temple of the Most High God Ministries in Kapchorwa and, through discipline and dedication, he has managed to strike a fine balance between his role as a priest, and his career as a world-class athlete.

His commitment to his priestly duties in his community is unwavering as is his pursuit of athletics excellence. He splits his time between delivering sermons on the pulpit and sticking to a rigorous training regime.

On this day, he is doing an easy 25km run under the watchful eyes of his coach Benjamin Njia along the Kapchorwa-Suam road which is a common training section for athletes due to its undulating terrain.

After the morning run, Kiplangat heads back to the Global Sports Communication Camp where, on this day, he takes total rest. He will be in church in the afternoon, and it is a routine he sticks to when preparing for a major race.

Victor Kiplangat, the World and Commonwealth Games marathon champion ministering at the Temple of the Most High God Ministries in Kapchorwa, Uganda on June 9, 2024. POol

Later in the afternoon, we join him in church. Upon arrival, the other pastors usher him in. Prophet Joel Yeko is busy praying for people with various needs, including the sick.

“Welcome, man of God,” the pastors tell Kiplangat as we follow him from behind. He is soon invited to greet the congregation. He spends about 20 minutes encouraging the faithful in the journey of life and also asks them to continue praying for him as he heads to the Olympics, where the big task of making his country proud awaits him.

“I have a big task that’s awaiting me and that is why I went to training early today before taking enough rest,” he announces amid cheers.

He tells us that before races, he recites the Biblical verse Philippians 4:13 which says “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Kiplangat surprised the world when he won the men’s marathon at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in a time of two hours,10 minutes and 55 seconds. A year later, he went on to win gold in the men’s marathon at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary in 2:08:53.

Kiplangat said that his training has been injury-free.

“I’m almost finalizing my training programme as I wait for the big day in Paris. I’m targeting a podium finish despite the stiff competition that is always associated with the prestigious games which happens every four years,” Kiplangat, who trains under Global Communications stable, said.

He reckons that with good preparation, hewill be ready to go toe to toe with the Kenyan contingent of defending champion Eliud Kipchoge, Tokyo Marathon champion Benson Kipruto and London Marathon champion Alexander Mutiso.

Uganda's Victor Kiplangat and Ethiopia's Leul Gebresilase compete in the men's marathon final during the World Athletics Championships in Budapest on August 27, 2023. AFP

The Ethiopian contingent of Kenenisa Bekele who was second in the London Marathon, Boston Marathon champion Sisay Lemma, and Seville Marathon champion Deresa Geleta will also be in the mix.

Kiplangat tells us that he first met Kipchoge in March at the Tokyo Marathon. Both did not perform well.

“I competed with Kipchoge in Tokyo Marathon and it wasn’t our day because he came in 10th position while was 15th but I believe something special awaits us in Paris,” he said.

Kiplangat reckons his performances have inspired upcoming athletes, with many joining him in long runs.

“God chose me and being a leader in church has motivated me to be a role model. I really thank God for putting me in the church and for the last nine years, I have grown and set a good example to the upcoming athletes,” he says.

Kiplangat, who was raised in Kween District in eastern Uganda was inspired to take up athletics by 2012 Olympics marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich who also later won the world title in 2013 in Moscow.

He started running the 100m races before graduating to long-distance event, occasionally doing mountain running and cross country. In 2016, he represented Uganda at the World Athletics Junior Championships in Poland, finishing 18th in the 5,000m race. He came 19th at the 2017 World Cross Country Championships in Kampala, where his stepbrother Jacob Kiplimo won. Later that year, he led his compatriots in a clean sweep at the World Mountain Running Championships in Italy.

“Training with Joshua Cheptegei has given me more reason to work hard because we always encourage one another even while at the camp,” he adds as we wind up the interview. It is soon time to leave for Nairobi.