Men’s 5000: Cheptegei Gets his Olympic Gold, Chelimo Dives for Bronze, Ahmed Silver

August 6, 2021

TOKYO — Double world record holder Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda has his gold medal.

Cheptegei was forced to settle for silver in the 10,000m last week, after Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega closed in 53.94, but tonight he controlled the men’s 5000 final during the final 500m, before pulling away over the final 100m for gold in 12:58.15. Canada’s Moh Ahmed came up for the silver in 12:58.61, as America’s Paul Chelimo dove at the line and edged Nicholas Kimeli for the bronze in 12:59.05.

Embed from Getty Images

Cheptegei and teammate Jacob Kiplimo established an honest pace that ultimately delivered Uganda’s first-ever medal in the 5,000. Cheptegei closed in 55.10 to polish off the field and win, just half a second off of Kenenisa Bekele’s Olympic record from 2008.

Ahmed’s silver was Canada’s first medal in this event. Chelimo’s move for bronze was somewhat similar to his victory at the US Trials as he finished in lane three and Kimeli out in lane four.

Ahmed and Chelimo ran the fastest silver and bronze medal-winning times in Olympic history and Chelimo was less than two seconds off of his personal best, running 12:59.05, on a night where it was 84 degrees with 75% humidity. Kiplimo faded to fifth in 13:02.40 and Spaniard Mohamed Katir, the 3:28/12:50 man, was surprisingly not a factor on the final lap, finishing 6th in 13:06.60.

The Race

Embed from Getty Images

Despite the heat, the Ugandans made it clear that it would be an honest pace. Cheptegei went directly to the front and ran the first 200 in 31 and first lap in 63 seconds, stringing out the field quickly.

Article continues below player.

Kiplimo took over after 650 meters and Cheptegei settled back into the line of men and allowed his compatriot to do the work.

Kiplimo did not allow it to lag, moving through 1600 meters in 4:11. Chelimo was directly behind him and the remainder of the field was nearly single-file but intact.

Two laps later, Kiplimo went out to lane two as if requesting for someone to take the lead. Chelimo did not oblige, so Cheptegei did.

The third kilometer of 2:40.3 was the slowest of the race and the field went through 3k in 7:55.25. Kimeli was the first non-Ugandan to take the lead, taking over just before 4 laps remained (8:58.5), Chelimo on his shoulder.

Embed from Getty Images

Kimeli upped the pace slightly, dropping a 62.07 on the third-to-last lap and finally causing the field to break apart slightly. There were 10 men in the lead pack with 800 to go, as Katir and American Grant Fisher struggled to hold on.

The pace was seriously quickening, and Milkesa Mengesha of Ethiopia took the lead with 600 to go, but it did not last long. Cheptegei advanced to the front on the third-to-last turn and Chelimo attempted to cover the move.

Cheptegei hit the bell in 12:03.05 (59.42 penultimate lap) and had a small two-meter lead.

When he hit 300 to go, the lead group was down to six, with Bahrain’s Birhanu Balew hanging on for dear life.

By 200 to go, it was down to five men fighting for three medals: Cheptegei, Kimeli, Chelimo, Kiplimo, and Ahmed, in that order.

Cheptegei found another gear with 120 to go and would never relinquish his lead. 

Kimeli drifted out to lane two coming off the turn, allowing both Chelimo and Ahmed to advance on the inside. Chelimo also drifted out and Ahmed passed on the inside again, kicking into silver position and closing the gap toward Cheptegei, but only slightly.

For 55 of the final 60 meters, Chelimo and Kimeli ran side by side, with both men straining and drifting further toward the outside as they pursued the final medal. With five meters to go, Chelimo threw himself forward, allowing his momentum to carry himself over the line and onto the track.

Embed from Getty Images

Analysis and athlete comments below results

1UGAJoshua CHEPTEGEI12:58.15
2CANMohammed AHMED12:58.61
3USAPaul CHELIMO12:59.05 SB
4KENNicholas Kipkorir KIMELI12:59.17 SB
5UGAJacob KIPLIMO13:02.40
6BRNBirhanu BALEW13:03.20
7CANJustyn KNIGHT13:04.38
8ESPMohamed KATIR13:06.60
9USAGrant FISHER13:08.40
10ETHMilkesa MENGESHA13:08.50
11GBRAndrew BUTCHART13:09.97 SB
12GUALuis GRIJALVA13:10.09 NR
13FRAJimmy GRESSIER13:11.33
14USAWilliam KINCAID13:17.20 SB
15BRNDawit FIKADU13:20.24 SB
16UGAOscar CHELIMO13:44.45

Cheptegei grinds his way to Olympic gold with 3:58.6 final 1600

Joshua Cheptegei had done just about everything in the sport (break world records, win world championships on the track and cross country) except win an Olympic gold medal.

Embed from Getty Images

Many assumed his best chance for gold was in the 10,000m in Tokyo, where he wound up with the silver, but he proved the doubters wrong tonight. Would he have the finishing speed to kick away from the field? The answer was yes because he was the strongest guy in the field. 

On the surface as some have pointed out, the final lap tonight (55.1) was not super quick, but overall the race was fast considering the conditions and Cheptegei just wore down the field the final 2 laps. The winning time tonight (12:58.15) was very close to the winning time at the 2019 Worlds (12:58.85) and so were the times of the final laps. At the last Olympcis in 2016, Mo Farah closed in 52.7 to win a 13:03 race, but the final 1600m was not as fast as tonight and the race was run with temperatures in the 70s. 

A better comparison is the 2019 Worlds. At the 2019 Worlds won by Muktar Edris, the last 3 leader-to-leader laps were 60.84, 58.99 and 55.07. Tonight they were 62.07, 59.42, and 55.10. 

Tonight Cheptegei ran 3:58.6 for his final 1600, in 2019 the leader-to-leader final 4 laps were 3:59.6. So super similar. But the difference was the weather. Doha was run in an outdoor stadium but with air conditioning. From the best we can tell it was 92 degrees in Doha for the 5k final but that doesn’t account for the air conditioning. There’s a reason Cheptegei had a gap on the field at the bell, no one had the strength to stay with him.

Joshua Cheptegei: “I represent the gorillas, the silverback. The silverback is an alpha male of a gorilla.”

Cheptegei was the most animated on the medal stand of any gold medallist in Tokyo. Part of that was joy for winning the race, and part was relief. He did not want a reputation of being able to run fast times but not deliver when it counted at the Olympics.

“You know you cannot run the world record and fail to win a gold medal,” Cheptegei said.

He said that his podium celebration, in which he rapidly pounded his chest with his fists, channeled the silverback gorilla, a symbol of Uganda.

“I represent the gorillas, the silverback,” Cheptegei said. “The silverback is an alpha male of a gorilla.”

As world record holder and Olympic champion, Cheptegei is now the alpha male of the 5,000 meters.

Cheptegei did not have the smoothest path to gold. He battled a heel injury this year and was only 6th in his only 5k this year before Worlds in Florence on June 10. Cheptegei said that defeat served to refocus him.

“I had to go back to the drawing board and see what I used to do before, and I had to put in a lot of more effort because my coach wasn’t afraid to tell me that if you don’t do this, you’re not gonna win a gold,” Cheptegei said (by the way, it’s been a great meet for his coach Addy Ruiter, who now has two Olympic champions as Peruth Chemutai also won the women’s steeple).

In terms of race strategy, Cheptegei said that he wanted a sub-13:00 race, because a kick in a fast race favors him more than a kick in a slow race. He also said that he agreed to work together with his countryman Jacob Kiplimo to push the pace because they decided “we have to bring the gold [to Uganda] no matter what.”

Five years after finishing 4th, Mo Ahmed gets his Olympic medal 

The 30-year old Canadian was obviously thrilled to have medalled. He also was thrilled that the race started fast as he wanted a fast honest race.

“I wanted to rip it, I wanted to rip it from, like, far way out.  I anticipated the race to be pretty slow, and I didn’t want the kickers to have a chance,” said Ahmed. “… I just wanted to push the race at some point, go to the front and rip it. [So] when Joshua went to the front and it was an aggressive move, going through 200 in 29 (it was actually like 31 flat), I was like all right, ‘It is on.’”

Ahmed, who also won WC bronze in 2019, noted afterwards that he has dedicated more than half his life to running. How will he celebrate? Ahmed, who has never had a sip of alcohol, said he’ll get on the phone tonight with his loved ones.

Paul Chelimo was happy to have medalled for a second straight Olympics but felt if the pace was slower, the gold would have been his.

“Honestly, like if they brought the pace like 13:10 – 13:20 I would get that gold for sure,” said Chelimo, who realized very early the pace was going to be pretty hot. Chelimo was able to stick with it and he ended up breaking 13:00 for just the 2nd time in his career and the first in nearly 3 years (he ran 12:57.55 for 6th in Brussels on August 31, 2018).

“Coming in and breaking 13 minutes is no joke. And you know, like, Paul Chelimo is the name, running is the game. So I’m just going to show up. Paul is going to medal, don’t count me out. So that’s just me. So yeah, the goal was just to get the medal and do it for the United States,” said Chelimo who dedicated the bronze to his brother who died at the end of March.

Chelimo said he thought with a couple laps left, he was going to be the winner.

“Actually [with] three laps to go to I thought I had it. But then when Joshua showed up and he takes the lead, he was just cranking, cranking, cranking, cranking, cranking,” Chelimo said.

As the future, Chelimo plans on imitating Bernard Lagat.

“I’m coming back. 2024, 2028 LA.  I’m not done yet,” Chelimo said.

A reporter then asked, “2032?”

Chelimo replied, “2032, I’m gonna be racing with my daughter. I’m going to be in the 5k, she’s probably going to be in the 800 with Athing Mu.”

Kenya’s Kimeli was upset after the race and was adamant that Chelimo should be DQ’d, Chelimo said just the opposite

Chelimo ran into the back of Kimeli with a little more than 600 meters to go and stepped over the rail after doing so (but it was on the straight and not the curve) and then Chelimo ended up going way wide as he battled Kimeli to the line, finishing in lane three with Kimeli in lane four.

When he met with the media after the race, Kimeli was quite upset and flat-out said that Chelimo should be disqualified. 

“Chelimo stepped inside the track,” Kimeli said. “It was not fair for us.”

Kimeli said that he felt he was about to catch Cheptegei when Chelimo stepped inside the rail, and that when Chelimo made contact with him, he lost his acceleration and had to re-balance himself.

Chelimo and DQ controversies are nothing new. He was briefly DQ’d after winning Olympic silver in Rio, was DQ’d after finishing second in the wild Diamond League final in 2017, DQ’d again for stepping inside the rail at 2018 World Indoors, and finished USAs in lane 4 this year. When Chelimo is involved in tight races, there is usually a lot of contact, and sometimes his behavior crosses the line from sloppy to dirty.

Chelimo wasn’t having it.

“I should be disqualified when he elbowed me [with] three laps to go or four laps to go?” responded Chelimo when we told him about Kimeli’s comments.  “Bro. Hey, that was a clean race. That was a clean race….Anyways, I have nothing to say about that.”

Chelimo got a little angry that we even brought up the subject. “And, honestly, honestly, every year, every year, you’re gonna talk about disqualification. You got to be better than that too.”

Jacob Kiplimo didn’t get a 2nd medal but he doesn’t plan on leaving the track soon.

Kiplimo, the 10,000 bronze medallist who was 5th tonight, told us after the race that he plans on competing on the track through the 2024 Paris Olympics. That’s significant because Kiplimo is quite talented at the half marathon distance where he won Worlds last year and ran the 2nd fastest time in history 57:37.

Kiplimo also confirmed to us that Oscar Chelimo, the 19-year old Ugandan who finished last tonight 13:44, is his younger brother. When we asked him why he didn’t have Chelimo set the pace for him and Cheptegei since it was clear before the race that the 13:06 man wouldn’t be a factor, Kiplimo said that Chelimo is very young and this was his first global championship.

In our mind, that would have made him the perfect guy to rabbit but it’s clear that plan was never discussed between the two brothers who have different coaches.

Grant Fisher ran injured tonight but would give himself an A- grade for the Olympics overall

Fisher secured his second straight top-10 showing tonight as after finishing 5th in the 10,000, he was 9th in the 5000. He revealed that he strained his calf warming up for the 5,000 prelims and hadn’t run a step since qualifying for the final.

When we asked him how he’d rate his Olympics, he said A-.

Luis Grijalva might have had the best race of anyone in the field — he was the only man who PR’d tonight

Luirs Grijalva, the NCAA runner-up in the 5000 this year for NAU, only found out last Monday that the US State Department had granted him the waiver he needed as a DACA recipient to leave and return to the country so he could compete in the Olympics for Guatemala. Tonight, he made history as the first Guatemalan in an Olympic track final. But Grijalva didn’t just participate, he ran great. He was the only guy in the field to run a pb as he lowered his pb from 13:13.14 to 13:10.09 to finish 12th. How someone PRs in 80 degree temps with a dew point in the 70s is beyond us.

“I feel it’s a privilege and honor to represent Guatemala….It’s an an honor, but it’s also a privilege because I get to be a voice for over 600,000 Dreamers and other immigrants as well so I’m glad to be an inspiration to people,” said Grijalva.

Like this article? Become a Supporters Club member and get all the insights from Tokyo and the world of professional distance running. We are having daily video shows/podcasts from Tokyo, plus get exclusive content throughout the year, big savings on running shoes (if you buy one shoe that will more than pay for a month of your membership), and a free or 1:59:40 shirt if you join for a year. Join here.

Not yet ready to join? Follow us on twitter, instagram, subscribe to our free weekly podcast, or get our free newsletter.

Embed from Getty Images
Want More? Join The Supporters Club Today
Support independent journalism and get:
  • Exclusive Access to VIP Supporters Club Content
  • Bonus Podcasts Every Friday
  • Free Shirt (Annual Subscribers)
  • Exclusive Discounts
  • Enhanced Message Boards