Moments after taking the silver medal over 10,000m at the IAAF World Championships London 2017, Joshua Cheptegei smiled in the mixed zone and asked the assembled media: “you remember what happened in Kampala?”
As if we could ever forget.
Back in March, the Ugandan 20-year-old hit the highest point imaginable for an athlete, leading a global championship on home turf, having built an almost unassailable advantage in the men’s race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Kampala. With one lap to run, Cheptegei had a 12-second advantage over Kenya’s Geoffrey Kamworor, with bedlam breaking out in the packed stands as Ugandans heralded their champion-in-waiting. Even with one kilometre to run, he was slowing but still held a seven-second lead.
But then it all went wrong, fatigue taking a vice-like grip of the youngster’s body, his stride eventually shortening to a drunken stutter over the final half mile. He crossed the line delirious and dejected in 30th place, having lost almost two minutes to his rivals in the final kilometre.
The days after were no easier.
“It took me some weeks to get over,” says Cheptegei. “When I met people they felt sorry for me, but when they asked me I would feel bad because they made me remember what happened. I had to just stay at home, not go around because I didn’t want to meet people. My wife was there, my family, my manager, and they were encouraging me, saying: ‘you can make it.’”