WATCH: Is Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei the athlete to watch in 2021?
JOHANNESBURG - If last year was anything to go by as he set three different world records, Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei will be the athlete to watch in 2021.
Cheptegei set a world 5km road record in his first race of 2020 back in February in Monaco, and that set the tone for a phenomenal year for the 24-year-old.
The Ugandan went on to break two more world records in 2020, setting new standards for the 5000m and 10,000m, before rounding out his season with a 59:21 clocking at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships Gdynia 2020 in his debut at the distance.
Despite his record-breaking exploits, Cheptegei did not win the World Athletics Male Athlete of the Year. That accolade went to Swedish pole vaulter Mondo Duplantis.
Duplantis, meanwhile, set an indoor world record of 6.18m at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow in February.
Once again it will be Cheptegei up against Duplantis for the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year award in May. For the Laureus awards, not only will Cheptegei be up against Duplantis again but also four other nominees. Britain’s Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton, American basketball player LeBron James, Polish footballer Robert Lewandowski and Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal will all be battling for the top award.
If Cheptegei wins the award it will be just recognition for his performances in 2020, but if he doesn’t - what then?
Losing out in a vote again may just spur Cheptegei on to even greater heights. With the rescheduled Olympics set for Tokyo in July and August - Cheptegei will be the favourite in both the men’s 5000m and 10 000m.
That will be in stark contrast to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games - when Cheptegei was relatively unknown but still produced admirable results as a teenager. In Rio he finished eighth in the 5000m and sixth in the 10 000m.
If Cheptegei were to collect his first Olympic medals in both events, quite possibly gold in hue, it would mean he has double world records, double Olympic gold to go with his 2019 10 000m World Championship victory.
That may mean Cheptegei would be free to commit to the half marathon or full marathon in the latter part of the year. Having already finished in fourth place at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships last year - in his first attempt in the event - Cheptegei may well be tempted to see what he can achieve over 21.1km.
African News Agency