Performance boost through lockdown drives Cheptegei's world record
FRANKFURT - Joshua Cheptegei reached to his wrist to stop his watch at the end of his run on Friday - an action mirrored by millions of people across the globe every day.
But Cheptegei's run varied from every other in two ways.
Firstly the Diamond League meeting in Monaco would provide precise timing down to a hundredth of a second for the Ugandan and everyone else involved.
And secondly Cheptegei's had just broken the 5,000m world record of the legendary Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, whose mark had stood for an astonishing 16 years.
After stopping his timepiece, Cheptegei raised his hands in the air at the Stade Louis II stadium with the clock behind him showing 12 minutes 35.36 seconds, nearly 2 seconds better than Bekele's 12:37.35 minutes from 2004.
It was the first world record on the athletics track since the coronavirus shutdown earlier this year and the new star was hailed by only 5,000 socially distanced fans for his efforts.
"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," Cheptegei said.
"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."
Cheptegei, 23, was already the 10,000m world champion from Doha last year and also the world cross country title holder.
But he found himself helping out like everyone else during the lockdown.
"I did some gardening at my grandparents' house," he said. "But mainly, I worked at my school in town. It's a primary school, and I worked on some renovations there, like painting the walls."
Cheptegei required a specially chartered flight to get out of Uganda and his journey Monaco from his home district of Kapchorwa took some 80 hours.
The epic trip was worth it though as he followed the frantic start of his pacemakers and continued to churn out 400m laps at a fraction over 60 seconds a piece - roughly 4 minute mile pace - in the second half of the race when solo.
Cheptegei set the world record over 10 kilometres on the road in December last year and claimed the 5km mark in the streets of Monaco in February.
"I think Monaco is a special place and it's one of these places where I could break the world record," he said of the traditionally fast meeting.
"I honestly really missed competing. It's something I love doing, it's in my blood."
Cheptegei has endured setbacks in his young career with a collapse while leading the 2017 world cross country in Ugandan capital Kampala and a 2018 car crash overcome.
And in the near future he intends to rule on the track ahead of traditional powerhouses Kenya and Ethiopia with Bekele's 10,000m world record of 26:17.53 minutes next in his sights.
"My ambition is to dominate the track for the next five or six years," said Cheptegei.
The three-time Olympic and five-time world champion Bekele congratulated Cheptegei on his achievement but the veteran has now lost his chance to make a further piece of running history.
The successor to his compatriot Haile Gebrselassie had hoped to be the first to hold the world records in 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon simultaneously having previously fallen two seconds short of Eliud Kipchoge's best mark over 42.1km.
Bekele could yet claim the marathon record should he triumph in a duel over his Kenyan rival in London on October 4 - but at 38 years old and long moved on from the track, regaining his 5,000m blue riband is impossible.