Joshua Cheptegei, the athlete who feels blessed

If you can’t go on, go faster

Emil Zatopek


Joshua Cheptegei (24) remembers that day very well.

How to forget it?

The day he was flying to the world cross-country title.

What a disgust!

You could already see the man with the medal around his neck when he went down and went to collapse before his people.

That had happened in his capital, Kampala, in 2017.

There he was, now zigzagging on the grass circuit, a badly injured fawn hell-bent on reaching the finish line while his rivals, all those who had just been chasing him down hard, passed him in the last few meters. Sorry Uganda.

“We’re not going to talk about that any more, right?” –He proposes.

It gets serious.

He is not a man of many words.

And when he speaks, he prefers to focus on the good things.

Joshua Cheptegei, racing to his 10K world record, last year in Valencia (NN Running Team)

Okay: let’s skip his misadventures in Kampala 2017 and focus on the good.

Because there is, there is. And a lot.

In 2019, Joshua Cheptegei was proclaimed world champion of cross country and world champion of 10,000 m. And in this summer of 2020, Kenenisa Bekele snatched the world record of 5,000 m (12m35s36).

Poor Bekele, once untouchable athlete.

Now, Bekele grows dwarfs: tomorrow he will not be able to measure due to injury with the great Eliud Kipchoge in the London marathon. And on Wednesday he will see the wolf’s ears again. That day, on the slopes of the Turia River, in Valencia, Joshua Cheptegei intends to give the Ethiopian another fish: the Ugandan wants to take away the record of 10,000 m.

The challenge

Next Wednesday, Cheptegei seeks the world record of 10,000 m on the Turia slopes in Valencia

The 10,000 m challenge is huge. This is a legendary distance. The biggest have had that record: Nurmi, Zatopek, Ron Clarke, Henry Rono, Gebrselassie, Tergat, Bekele …

Valencia thinks about the challenge and it does not fit in itself.

He likes the idea so much that it takes weeks marketizando the history. In recent days a range of posters has appeared on the Turia riverbed: Valencia tells the Valencians that Cheptegei intends to offer them a gift.

“Do you want to check how fast Cheptegei runs?” they ask curious runners on the trails for signs. And then he reminds them that, on the day of the 5,000m record, the Ugandan signed every kilometer in 2m31s.

Various posters appear on the riverbed of the Turia, in Valencia, simulating its rhythm towards the 5K record

Various posters appear on the Turia riverbed, in Valencia, simulating its rhythm towards the 5K record (EP)

Come on, now try it for yourself.

You will see that this is not easy …

“God has blessed me,” Joshua Cheptegei tells me.

He attends me by videoconference, at an event organized by his club, the NN Running Team, the club that also sponsors Bekele and Kipchoge, the three legends of the current fund, now that Sir Mo Farah is losing his aura.

Mo Farah will never be a problem for Joshua Cheptegei again –Addy Ruiter, the Ugandan coach, told me at the end of 2019.

“God has blessed me and given me the opportunity to achieve all that very few can do,” Cheptegei says now. I think of Gebrselassie and Bekele, the greatest in history, and I say to myself: “I already have one of their records and now I’m going for the other and I just tell myself that, if I succeed, I too will be one of the greatest in history ”.

Kipchoge has always inspired me. I met him in 2015, when I was a junior. He told me: ‘You can be very good’ “

“And will that change your life?”

“My life has not changed.” I’m still the same. What may have changed is the consideration of others towards me.

“What about your consideration for others?”

“You mean my rivals?” Well, Kipchoge has always inspired me. I met him in 2015, when he was already a legend and I was just a junior. I went to see him at his training center. He turned to me and said: “You can be very good.”

-He was not mistaken …

–I like the feeling you feel when you face pain. When you try a record, pain appears, I assure you.

“Do you really enjoy it?”

-You must be patient. I use a thought. I tell myself: “You can make history. You only have to hold out for five more minutes”.

“And how do you believe in yourself?”

–I just follow what my coach tells me.

Joshua Cheptegei, during a training session in Kapchorwa

Joshua Cheptegei, during a training session in Kapchorwa (NN Running Team)

Addy Ruiter lives in Holland.

And from there, when he can’t peek into the Kapchorwa training woods, Ruiter sends the trainings to his pupil.

–Addy knows what I should do, he knows my body perfectly. I just obey. I am a policeman: I understand that you have to obey.

A joke, at last: Cheptegei smiles.

Then he tells me about the hardships of his childhood. He was the second of nine siblings. He looked after the cows, he was a shepherd. He moved them through the mountains. Sometimes thieves would come and steal his cows, and then his father would leave the farm and chase thieves.

Now Cheptegei has invested 30,000 euros to fix the Kapchorwa gravel track. He has put four lanes in it and has designed it carefully: it measures exactly 400 m.

Before, that was a potato. There he twisted his ankles, injured himself frequently.



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