By Spy Uganda Correspondent
Monaco: Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei produced an astonishing run in Monaco to break the 16-year-old 5,000m world record by almost two seconds.
The 23-year-old, who won the 10,000m world title in Doha last year, had promised he would take a shot at the time but success seemed unlikely.
In perfect conditions, with little wind and temperatures of 27 degrees Celsius (81F), Cheptegei clocked 12min 35.36sec to shatter Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele’s previous best of 12:37.35, set in 2004.
Cheptegei has been in fine form since clinching 10000m gold at last year’s World Championships.
The world champion said he was going for the record and midway the race, Cheptegei was running at record threatening pace and on the final two laps, it was apparent Bekele’s 12:37.35 would be shuttered.
Right from the start of the race, Cheptegei got his cards right, steadily improving lap after lap. Pacesetter and compatriot Stephen Kissa led by the 3-mile mark before he dropped off for Cheptegei to take over.
Monaco has been a special place for runners as several World records have been set in recent years. And that is one of the reasons why Cheptegei chose the Louis II Stadium to attack Bekele’s legendary record.
“I think Monaco is a special place,” said the new record holder. “It took a lot of mind setting to keep motivated this year.
“I pushed myself, I had the right staff with me, the right coach. I’m usually based in Europe but being based in Uganda with my family was actually great,” Cheptegei added.
Meanwhile, Halima Nakaayi finished 5th in the 1000M women race won by Kenya’s Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon.
Cheptegei’s astonishing display capped a warm welcome back for track and field for a season almost wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic, with fellow world champions Noah Lyles and Karsten Warholm also shining on the track.
Lyles had worn a black glove on his right hand and raised his fist at the start of the 200m to show his support for recent anti-racism protests.
“I’ve tried to improve on my speed,” smiled Cheptegei when asked what he had been working on since his world gold medal showing in the 10,000m in Doha in September.
“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.”
The Ugandan added: “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.”
Following exhibition events in Oslo and Zurich in June and July, the Diamond League meeting in Monaco marked the start of the competitive season.
Meetings in Eugene, London, Paris, Rabat, Gateshead and Shanghai have all cancelled because of coronavirus.
Running in front of a reduced capacity of 5,000 masked spectators in line with COVID-19 restrictions, music blared out as World Athletics debuted a “bespoke atmosphere creation system” to enhance the experience for the athletes, the spectators and the broadcast audience in the absence of a full crowd.
Warholm showed no sign of coronavirus-induced rustiness as he led from gun to tape to clock a meet record of 47.10sec in the men’s 400m hurdles, the first time he has run the event since he won his second world title in Doha.
“It’s a great start,” said the Norwegian. “I’m happy to be back. It’s great seeing some audience… competitors at my side.”