August 4, 2017
LONDON — If you weren’t familiar Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei, the guy pushing Mo Farah during the final 100m of his impressive 10,000m victory tonight, it’s time to get acquainted with him as Cheptegei is primed to be Farah’s successor at 10,000m.
The last time Cheptegei competed on the world stage it was at this year’s World Cross Country Championships in his native Uganda. Cheptegei broke clear of the field, which included Geoffrey Kamworor of Kenya, and appeared on his way to victory before the raucous home crowd. That is before Cheptegei completely lost it during the final 800m of the race, losing the ability to run in a straight line, and staggering home in oppressive heat in 30th place. If you haven’t seen it and aren’t squeamish, it’s worth a watch:
It was gut-wrenching to see, but if you witnessed it firsthand like us, you left super impressed by Cheptegei’s guts and toughness.
Cheptegei clearly had the talent to be a potential world beater. The question tonight was how would he respond to such a huge mental and physical setback?
Perfectly fine is the answer. He earned the silver medal in a big personal best of 26:49.94. After tonight’s race, Cheptegei said that after World XC he had to retreat into private mode because people were feeling sorry for him. He said, “Kampala was not my day. I really was in my shape….It took me some weeks [to recover]… When I met people they’d feel sorry for me, when they’d ask me, I felt bad. So I had to stay at home… stay alone. My wife would stay with me…[My wife and manager supported me and] that’s why I’m here. I was never broken. I woke up and I said I’m still going far.”
Cheptegei definitely went far today and at 20 (he said he’s 21, but he doesn’t officially turn 21 until later this year) he is, on paper, the man most primed to be Farah’s successor with Farah retiring from track after this year. When asked about the prospect of succeeding Farah, Cheptegei said, “Haile (Gebrselassie) came and then he heft, then Kenenisa (Bekele) came [and he left], and now Mo Farah [came] and is almost leaving. Everyone has his time. Maybe my time will come.”
“The next edition [of Worlds] I really think it is going to be something different.”
Before then, Cheptegei will get one more crack at Farah in next week’s 5,000.
A Raw Talent
Cheptegei said he only took up the sport at the end of high school four years ago. He had instant success winning World Juniors in the 10,000m in Eugene in 2014, the first year he has any results in the All-Athletics.com database. Signed by Global Sports, at one point he trained under the guidance of coach Patrick Sang in Kenya (coach of marathon great Eliud Kipchoge), but now Cheptegei trains in his native Uganda in the Kapchorwa region under the guidance of Dutch coach Addy Rueter.
Cheptegei feels an obligation to train in Uganda to inspire the next generation of Uganda runners. “I need to do my training from home to inspire the young ones,” he said.
Cheptegei Part of the Stephen Kiprotich Effect
Cheptegei is so young the last time the athletics world gathered in London for a global championships, at the 2012 Olympics, Kiprotich wasn’t even in the sport internationally. That is when the unheralded Stephen Kiprotich won the Olympic marathon, lighting a fire in a young high school student Cheptegei.
“I was just a high school student when Stephen won in 2012. I was inspired by him, I said, one day I want to become a champion. In the next future, it (Uganda) will be a powerhouse for long distance. Absolutely I have no doubt about that. We have support from the federation, from the president, so we really believe things are going to be different.”
3 Post-Race Clips with Cheptegei:
#1 Talks About Race and Overcoming World XC
#2: Training in Uganda and Starting Sport after High School
#3: The Future of Uganda as a Power