Uganda: Cheptegei V Kiplimo - an Emerging Battle for Supremacy

28 October 2020

Jacob Kiplimo has now beaten Joshua Cheptegei three times in their last seven competitive meetings. The most recent one being at the world half marathon championship in Gdynia, Poland on October 17.

Kiplimo won the 21km race in 58 minutes and 49 seconds while Cheptegei finished fourth, 32 seconds later at 59:21. That was 10 days after Cheptegei had set a new 10,000 metres world record in Valencia of 26:11.00. Although Cheptegei's performance in Poland secured team Uganda a bronze medal, some observers feel that Cheptegei should never have taken part in the world half marathon, because it watered down his latest record.

However, to others, it brought a new reality, that a rivalry between Cheptegei and Kiplimo is simmering, and Ugandans must brace themselves for it. Going into the world half marathon, Cheptegei was favourite, carrying a 4-2 upper-hand on Kiplimo.

Yet, with Kiplimo's recent success, closing the gap to 4-3, means he has put pressure on Cheptegei. If it were a football match, the one closing the gap would have the momentum, probably a reason for Cheptegei to look over his shoulder with concern.

But Namayo Mawerere, the Uganda Athletics Federation (UAF) spokesman, does not see it that way: "These are athletes from the same country, and I believe they can only form a healthy competition, because they are friends. That said, having the two of them at the peak of their powers is a good sign for Uganda's prospects on the world athletics scene."

Perhaps Mawerere could not be more right. After Cheptegei set a world record in the 5, 000 metres in August, during the Wanda Diamond League in Monaco of 12:35.36, Kiplimo competed in a similar race at the Ostrava Golden Spike Championship, Czech Republic, winning it in 12:48.63. Kiplimo finished 13 seconds behind the world record.

But at 19, Kiplimo has all the time to challenge his 24-year-old compatriot. In fact, in an interview with Cheptegei last month, he acknowledged what a great talent Kiplimo was. He added how having many good athletes was going to benefit the country, to try and dominate international races in the future.

Being that both Kiplimo and Cheptegei run almost the same races: the cross-country, the road races, the 5, 000 and 10, 000 metres, there is every believe that a similar scenario like the Jamaica one of Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell, stars of the 100 and 200 metres between 2010 and 2016, is coming to Uganda.

Timothy Masaba, an administrator at UAF, sees this as most friendly fire here, and nothing more. While that may be the case, competition brings out a whole new attitude between individuals. The will to win over-rides many things, including friendship.

Godwin Byamukama, an athletics coach at Tartan Burners Athletics Club, provided some perspective: "You see, while many people see both Kiplimo and Cheptegei in the lens of being team Uganda runners, they are now professional athletes attached to different clubs and managers. Cheptegei's club is in the Netherlands while Kiplimo is managed by an Italian."

Byamukama added that even when it comes to converging for the national team, the Cheptegei and Kiplimo teams train their athletes separately to safeguard their tactics. They would not want the other camp to pick their ideas. In that case, while they have avoided meeting in events that are not associated with the national team, soon rather than later, in the Diamond league, it will be the Italian camp of Kiplimo slugging it out with the Netherlands team of Cheptegei.

Nonetheless, Stephen Kiprotich, Uganda's 2012 London Olympics marathon winner, told The Observer that he feels Kiplimo is more suited to the road races, as Cheptegei is to truck races. But Byamukama thinks Kiplimo has a better sprint of the two, although he acknowledges, Cheptegei has more endurance.

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