OREGON, EUGENE: Tonight is the most crucial day of the year for Joshua Cheptegei. Last year, the 25-year-old Uganda Athletee labeled this date after winning 10000m silver and 5000m gold medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Japan.
Cheptegei will go to the Hayward Field track in front of a familiar crowd to defend his world 10000m championship at the World Athletics Championships on the west coast.
“It’s time for Oregon,” Cheptegei said on Instagram only hours before flying in Eugene on Thursday.
Months after winning the World across-country title in Aarhus, Denmark, Cheptegei lived up to the race favourite moniker and won the 25-lap final in Doha, Qatar on September 7, 2019.
That victory came after considerable pressure from Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha, who clung to Cheptegei like glue until the last 60m at Khalifa Stadium.
Cheptegei, a tall figure with a red bib among teens, crushed the field to win the 10000m gold at the World Junior Championships in Hayward, California, on July 22, 2014.
Eugene is as precious to him as Mecca is to Muslims or Las Vegas is to partygoers. He has since returned to this holy ground six times for the Eugene Diamond League (DL), winning races on three of those occasions.
Cheptegei won the two-mile race here to set up the triumph in Doha, and even if Selemon Barega wins the 10000m Olympic title in the Japanese capital on July 30, 2021, Cheptegei will beat the Ethiopian on their second encounter over two miles here on August 21.
On May 27, Cheptegei attempted but failed to break his own 5000m world record time of 12:35.36. Despite this, he impressed the Hayward audience by winning in 12:57.99 in his lone track race this year.
On his return to the site, Cheptegei is out to avenge his loss in Tokyo and has no mercy for the 27-man field of 15 nations, which includes his compatriots Stephen Kissa and world half-marathon champion Jacob Kiplimo.
“That one, no nonsense, this is real business,” he said in a previous conversation, indicating how important Eugene is to him.
Cheptegei faces a difficult job as he attempts to become the fourth man in history to win back-to-back 10000m world titles. “I foresee a fast race, which is also helping Joshua,” said his coach, Addy Ruiter.
In order to return to Tokyo, Cheptegei deviated from the plan, opting not to drag the field towards his pseudo-pacemaker Kissa.
Kissa led for 15 laps, mostly alone, but all work was wasted because the pack never responded. The race was obviously slow, giving seven men a chance for glory at the bell, and Barega won in 27:43.22.
In Doha, Cheptegei depended on Abdallah Mande, who led for around 13 laps until engaging gears with seven laps remaining to win in 26:48.36.
Will he revert to current marathon national record holder Kissa? “We didn’t talk about it until now. “It’s up to Kissa,” Ruiter pointed out. It also can’t be Kiplimo.
The 21-year-old is running at the Worlds for the first time since London 2017, and he has purposefully chosen to run only the 10000m, allowing his half-brother Oscar Chelimo to race in the 5000m.
Kiplimo, like Tokyo, aspires to be on the podium. “I wanted to assess my speed and I am alright, everything is normal,” he stated after losing to Dominic Lobalu in the 3000m, his lone track event this year, at the Stockholm DL on June 30.
In Tokyo, Barega won with a 59.3-second last lap, and on June 5, he won the Ethiopian Trials with a time of 26:44.73 in Hengelo, Netherlands. The 22-year-old struggled in the 5000m at the DL meets in Eugene and Rome, but he won the Paris leg on June 18.
Barega, the reigning world 3000m indoor champion, will be joined by world U20 3000m champion Tadese Worku and Berihu Aregawi, who beat Cheptegei’s 5km world record on New Year’s Eve in Barcelona, Spain.
There is also Kenyan Ronald Kwemoi, who finished fourth in Doha, and Canadian Commonwealth double silver medalist Mohammed Ahmed, but the fastest this year is home boy Grant Fisher with a time of 26:33.84.
The marathon trio of Fred Musobo, Filex Chemonges, and Jackson Kiprop will race quickly, with the latter benefiting from his previous Worlds appearance in Beijing in 2015. Geoffrey Kamworor, 29, of Kenya, is the favorite.
A GLANCE AT CHEPTEGEI
Birthday: September 12, 1996
Major Distances: 5000m and 10000m
Personal bests in the 5000m (12:35.36) and 10000m (26:11.00)
Addy Ruiter is the coach.
Jurrie van der Velden is the manager.
Nike is the kit sponsor.
CAST OF WORLD CHAMPIONS MEN’S 10000M
Joshua Cheptegei, Doha 2019 (UGA)
Mo Farah in London in 2017 (GBR)
Mo Farah in Beijing in 2015 (GBR)
Mo Farah in Moscow in 2013 (GBR)
Ibrahim Jeilan in Daegu in 2011. (ETH)
Kenenisa Bekele visits Berlin in 2009. (ETH)
Kenenisa Bekele in Osaka, 2007. (ETH)