Joshua Cheptegei did Uganda proud again when he won gold in the men’s 10,000 metres at the 2022 World Athletics Championships on July 17, in Oregon, US.
It has been an impressive streak for the runner who hit the global athletics scene in 2018 when he won two gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres races.
In an international career of less than a decade, Cheptegei’s trophy cabinet includes a gold medal in the 10,000 metres race at the 2019 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, as well as gold and silver in the 5,000 and 10,000 metre races, respectively, at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
In addition, he broke Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele’s 5,000 and 10,000 world best time records.
Cheptegei is not the only Ugandan making waves on the global athletics scene. In the past decade, many other Ugandan athletes have given international athletes a run for the money.
Athletics in Uganda has been growing steadily compared with Ethiopia and Kenya, neighbouring countries that have been powerhouses in the past four decades.
“In the beginning athletes lacked proper guidance, counselling, advice and there was no proper management of the sport,” said Benjamin Njia, Uganda’s national athletics coach.
Njia holds a diploma in sports management from the Uganda Olympics Committee in Kampala, and a certificate in coaching from the Regional Athletics Centre in Nairobi.
As a former athlete, Njia credits Sam Cheptoris, Uganda’s Minister for Water and Environment, for prodding local athletes to move into the global spotlight.
“There was no consistency like is the case today,” he said.
In Oregon, Jacob Kiplimo, Cheptegei’s cousin, won bronze in the 10,000 metres race, a repeat of the duo’s exploits at the 2020 Tokyo Games held last year.
Fellow Ugandan athlete Mercyline Chelangat finished 14th in the women’s 10,000 metres final in Oregon.
The current crop of elite Ugandan runners are trained at the Uganda Police Athletics Club, a facility in Kapchorwa established in the early 2000s by President Yoweri Museveni. It currently has more than 300 professional athletes in its camp.
The Kapchorwa training camp built on Sebei College Tegeres' foundation that nurtured many of the early successful runners like Moses Kipsiro, Stephen Kiprotich, Peter Kibet, Moses Kurong, Nathan Ayeko, Jacob Araptany, Dickson Huru, Michael Cherop, Alex Cherop, Geoffrey Chelangat, Martin Musau, Sam Moi Cherop and Robert Chemonges.
Since the establishment of the Uganda Police Athletics Club, six athletics training camps have been set up in Kapchorwa by private individuals and government agencies such as the Uganda Wildlife Authority, said Njia.