Usually, the human mind struggles with convincing itself of two contradicting ideas at the same time.
However, if Joshua Cheptegei called the curtains on his career today, he would go an unsatisfied man despite not only being Uganda’s best Olympian – owing to his 5000m gold and 10,000m silver at the recently concluded Tokyo 2020 Games – but also its greatest athlete ever.
Cheptegei is a world champion and record holder in both distances too.
“Yes, the dream was to win Olympic gold and that was finally fulfilled but that goes without saying that I did not deliver it in my best event and that hurts me,” a relaxed but reflecting Cheptegei told Nation Media Group in an interview last Thursday after launching a 100 days fundraising campaign to complete works at his training centre in Kapchorwa.
“That now is the unfinished business and I pray for good health and life to be able to deliver that at Paris 2024.”
The distance runner looks forward to start working on that at next year’s World Athletics Championships “where it all started for me as a junior champion in Oregon (USA) in 2014.”
Kissa played team
Despite a track designed to aid fast running in Tokyo, the humid conditions made for a slower race in the 10,000m final on July 31 at the Olympic Stadium.
“You see, when you are going to war, you plan but you cannot know what your opponent will have in store for you. Normally for us, we run a faster race and by the time it is ending, no one can catch us. But the conditions played in their (opponents) favour,” Cheptegei said.
“First, I was in good condition but I think we took long to adjust to the time zones. Personally, I was sleeping at around 3am but also on the day of the race, it was very humid so we could not run as fast.”
Cheptegei was joined by compatriot Jacob Kiplimo on the podium for bronze.
But then Stephen Kissa, Uganda’s third member in the race who exited after 16 laps, did start fast.
“I want to assure you that Kissa played to team instructions. We were trying to find out who among the Ethiopians and Kenyans was more aggressive or stronger. And you saw Barega and the Kenyans follow him,” Cheptegei said.
His decision to extend the Shs25m reward from MTN to Kiplimo so the latter could extend his Shs10m to Kissa is testament to this team play.
Back in Tokyo, the antagonists seemed to realise what was going on and checked their pace. The Ugandans duo fell for their own bait instead.
“What I should have done is attack the race in the last quarter – breakaway in the last 2000m. That would have made it hard for anyone to follow me.
“But I hesitated and instead decided to go for it in the last 400m and as it turned out, that was too late,” Cheptegei added.
Only aggression could do
Cheptegei said he was lost in thought – perhaps regret – till he logged onto his Twitter and turned on his WhatsApp, where he was greeted to outpouring love from Ugandans, who believed he could do the job in the 5000m.
“So we sat in a meeting with my brother Kiplimo and coach Benjamin Njia and decided that to be at peace in that race, I had to be aggressive,” he said.
“I was pushed by your (Ugandans) messages on social media. I started to ask myself how the fastest man in the world in these two events could return home without at least one gold. Cheptegei does not like to give up and that is the right mindset that I want Ugandans to have.”
His message will first go to himself to finish the business and Paris 2024 and maybe even at Los Angeles 2028. Then he will extend it to the rest of his teammates.