Joshua Cheptegei Runs 12:35.36 To Break 5,000-Meter World Record in Monaco

August 14, 2020

Move over, Kenenisa Bekele.

After 16 years, two months, and 14 days, Bekele’s reign as the 5,000-meter world record holder is over as Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei ran 12:35.36 at the Herculis Diamond League meeting in Monaco today to take almost two seconds off Bekele’s 12:37.35 record. No man in history had held the world record for as long as Bekele, but Cheptegei, the world champion in cross country and over 10,000 meters last year, is your new king.

Needing to average 60.59 seconds per lap, 2:31.47 per km and 4:02.36 per 1600 to get the WR,  Cheptegei reeled off low-60-second laps with metronomic consistency despite being on his own for the second half of the race. Slightly behind world record pace at 3,000m (7:35.14, WR pace is 7:34.41), he picked it up and consistently ran a few strides ahead of the pace illuminated by the Wavelight pacing technology on the inside of the track for the final mile. 

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Cheptegei’s lap splits were a thing of beauty: 60.70, 61.70, 60.64, 60.41, 61.25, 60.91, 60.03, 60.10, 60.18, 60.33, 59.97, and 59.64 (the 12 splits are starting after the first 200 and are for the leader so the first few are for the rabbit).

The Race

With a temperature of 79 degrees and dewpoint of 69, conditions were significantly warmer than ideal — the temperature was around 60 degrees for the last two 5,000m world records — but Cheptegei proved up to the task.

Cheptegei had some help early from pacers Roy Hoornweg, Stephen Kissa, and Matthew Ramsden, but had to grind out the second half on his own. That was no problem for the 23-year-old Ugandan. He won last year’s Diamond League 5,000m final by taking off with six laps to go and grinding out a 4:03 final 1600, and earlier this year ran a world record of 12:51 on the roads in February in Monaco without a pacemaker. Slightly behind pace at 3k, Cheptegei slowly caught, then passed the lights indicating world record pace on the inside of the track and would stay ahead of it all the way to the finish line.

Cheptegei scarcely could have paced himself better: none of his final six laps differed by more than half a second. Though he did “kick” for the record, his last lap (59.64, his fastest of the race) was less than a second off his average pace (60.43). It was an exercise in precision a watchmaker would have been proud of.

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Pretty amazing for a guy who comes from a country with only one 400m tartan track in it.

Though the pace was unrelenting, Cheptegei did not seem to tire until the final meters, when a grimace finally crossed his face. For the vast majority of the race, he had looked like a man doing exactly what his body was designed to do: run as fast as possible as efficiently as possible. As he crossed the finish line, a smile briefly escaped his lips. It quickly disappeared; he had forgotten to stop his watch, which he dutifully clicked (a few seconds late on the last lap) to preserve a historic effort.

Then, it was time to celebrate: first with a shrug to the sparse, bemasked crowd, then two thumbs up, a double fist pump, and hands on his head as the fatigue hit his body. A monumental performance was complete.

Post-race, Cheptegei said, “I think Monaco is a special place and it’s one of these places where I could break the world record. It took a lot of mind setting to keep being motivated this year because so many people are staying at home but you have to stay motivated. I pushed myself, I had the right staff with me, the right coach. I’m also usually based in Europe, but being based in Uganda with my family was actually great.”

Quick Take: Congratulations to Joshua Cheptegei

Bekele’s world record of 12:37.35 didn’t just stand for 16+ years; during that span, no one other than Bekele had come remotely close to it. Bekele himself ran 12:40.18 in Paris in 2005, but other than that, no one had come within five seconds; you’d have to go to Selemon Barega’s 12:43.02 in Brussels in 2018 for the next-closest effort. So for Cheptegei — a guy whose 5k track pb was 12:57 before today — to break it by almost two seconds is remarkable.

Well, remarkable to most people, anyway. Cheptegei and his camp made it very clear ahead of this race that they were targeting the world record, and when we spoke with his agent Jurrie van der Velden earlier this week, he felt confident Cheptegei had a good chance to break the mark. van der Velden pointed out that once the Olympics were postponed in March, Cheptegei quickly shifted his focus to the world record, and he had several things in his favor: several months to work, uninterrupted, toward a singular goal of running as fast as possible; his coach, Addy Ruiter, would be able to oversee his training in person (Ruiter usually splits time between the Netherlands and Uganda but opted to stay in Uganda once lockdowns were imposed); and, with most recreational activities in Uganda closed, Cheptegei could focus like never before.

Getting to Monaco for the record attempt was no easy — it required a 3.5-day journey, including a specially chartered flight out of Uganda by the president and a 22-hour layover in Istanbul — but once Cheptegei arrived, he made the most of the opportunity and delivered a performance for the ages.

Quick Take: Trying to put 12:35.36 in context

How fast is 12:35.36?

It’s 60.43 seconds per lap.

Or 4:03.07 per mile.

Or 7:33.21 for 3,000 meters (a time only five Americans have ever hit). Plus another 2,000 meters.

It’s insanely fast. Yet given the conditions that he ran this in, what we’re asking ourselves now is, “If the temperature was 20 or 25 degrees cooler, could Cheptegei possibly break 12:30?” That and, “What can he do for 10,000?” Remember, eight days after Bekele ran his 12:37.35 5000 WR, he ran his 26:17.53 10,000 WR.

Quick Take: The pacing was good but all the credit has to go to Cheptegei

Ugandan Stephen Kissa , who has a 13:10 pb, and Aussie Matt Ramsden, a 3:53 miler who has run 13:27 for 5000 this year, did a nice job pacing. Kissa led for 5 laps and Ramsden took it for the sixth, leading Cheptegei and Kenyan Nicholas Kimeli who ended up second in a big pb of 12:51.78 through 2400 in 6:04.6.  6:04.6 for six laps is pretty darn good and he did it very evenly. The problem is that’s more than second behind an even split world record (6:03.5 – but it’s faster than what Bekele split 3000 in (6:07 and change)).

Cheptegei hit halfway 100 meters later in almost exactly 6:20.0 meaning he ran his second half all by himself, only aided by Wavelight in 6:15.3.

Cheptegei vs. Bekele’s Splits Cheptegei Bekele
1k 2:32.3 2:33.2
2k 2:31.8  2:32.2
3k 2:31.1 2:31.8
4k 2:30.3  2:30.5
5k 2:29.9 2:29.4

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Talk about Cheptgei’s R and 2020 Monaco on our world famous fan forum / messageboard.

Read our pre-race analysis of Cheptegei’s WR chances.

The rest of the Monaco meet was pretty special as well: Rest of Monaco: A Crazy Fast 1500, Brazier & Hoppel 1-2 in 800, Kipyegon Scares WR, & Hassan Drops Out What a meet. A European record for Jakob Ingebrigtsen in the 1500, a near world record for Faith Kipyegon in the women’s 1k, a 1-2 finish by Americans Donavan Brazier and Bryce Hoppel in the 800, and much more.

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