Long — distance running sensation Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei should have opted out of the World Half-Marathon Championships but he chose to run in Gdynia, Poland on Saturday to give back to his country.
"Going to Poland was not actually in my plans but I went there because of the team spirit," the global icon told Daily Monitor in an exclusive interview upon return at Entebbe Airport yesterday.
"Sometimes we do our races but we also need to represent our country because there are Ugandans praying for us. The only way you can appreciate them is to be in the championship, give your best and be happy," he said.
The in-form Cheptegei did not win as expected by many but finished his debut 21km race at the Baltic Sea in a respectable fourth place in 59min and 21 sec.
His younger compatriot Jacob Kiplimo won the title in a course record time of 58min and 49sec ahead of Kenyan Kandie Kibiwott and Ethiopian Amedework Walelegn.
The race in Poland came 10 days after Cheptegei had broken the 10000m world record (WR) at the NN Running World Record Day in Valencia, Spain.
This became the 24-year-old's fourth WR in ten months. Cheptegei's coach Addy Ruiter had earlier said his runner was outright favourite had the World Half-Marathon Championships stayed for March 29, only for the coronavirus pandemic to happen.
"I share the same sentiments with my coach because this year, after the pandemic, when the World Half-Marathon was shifted to October, my focus was just to break the WRs on track," Cheptegei remarked.
"And you know typically, the WRs are too demanding, especially the preparation, the time and the strength. And look, I'm very grateful I achieved my target.
"So going to Poland was to represent the country, I knew I wasn't going to be the winner because my dream was to break the WRs on track so I did not have any ideal preparation, ideal training and there was no recovery," he added.
Cheptegei returned home after a fortnight away, and was on the same flight with Stephen Kissa and Victor Kiplangat. The trio was part of the team that won the men's bronze in Gdynia with Kiplangat coming 16th while Kissa was 21st.
"It has now become the norm that Uganda will bring medals and will always bring medals from these championships by God's grace," said Commissioner for Physical Education in the Ministry of Education and Sports, Omara Apita.
But the rest of Team Uganda is still in Poland and only return tomorrow because of delays in Covid-19 test results.
"After everybody is back in the country that is when we shall be able to organise the official function to welcome the team," said National Council of Sports assistant general secretary David Katende.