By Mable Nakibuuka
Celebrated athlete Joshua Cheptegei has once again uplifted Uganda’s flag after he shattered the much-vaunted 16-year-old 5,000m world record at the Monaco Diamond League on Friday.
Cheptegei thrilled athletics enthusiasts with his astonishing performance, thereby making giving spectators a dramatic welcome-back for the sports season which had almost been wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic.
He competed together with fellow world champions Noah Lyles and Karsten Warholm who also shone on the track.
Lyles had worn a black glove on his right hand and raised his fist at the start of the 200m to show his support for recent anti-racism protests.
Although many did not expect his performance, Cheptegei clocked 12min 35.36sec to shatter Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele’s previous best of 12:37.35, set in 2004.
“I’ve tried to improve on my speed,” smiled Cheptegei when asked what he had been working on since his world gold medal victory in the 10,000m in Doha in September.
“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,” he added.
Cheptegei also said that; “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.”
Following exhibition events in Oslo and Zurich in June and July, the Diamond League meeting in Monaco marked the start of the competitive season.
Meetings in Eugene, London, Paris, Rabat, Gateshead and Shanghai have all cancelled because of coronavirus.
Running in front of a reduced capacity of 5,000 masked spectators in line with COVID-19 restrictions, music blared out as World Athletics debuted a “bespoke atmosphere creation system” to enhance the experience for the athletes, the spectators and the broadcast audience in the absence of a full crowd.
Warholm showed no sign of coronavirus-induced rustiness as he led from gun to tape to clock a meet record of 47.10sec in the men’s 400m hurdles, the first time he has run the event since he won his second world title in Doha.
Joshua Kiprui Cheptegei is a Ugandan long-distance runner. In 2017, he became the silver medalist in the 10,000 meters run at the World Championship in London. In 2018, he set a world record for the 15 km road race and became the World Cross Country champion in 2019 in Doha, Qatar.