Joshua Cheptegei in the world half Marathon – Poland
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.