Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Uganda’s long-distance runner, Joshua Kiprui Cheptegei will tonight kick off his 2023 outdoor track season when he enters the 5,000 meters race at the Rome Diamond League.
It has been nearly a year since Cheptegei last competed on the track, where he finished ninth in the 5,000m final at the Oregon World Championships. Cheptegei who had entered the race with a hamstring struggled throughout the race and eventually commanded the ninth position.
He was ruled out of the 2022 Commonwealth Games. However, he has since used the time to relax and train as he builds up to compete in the Budapest World Athletics Championships that will take place later in August.
In the Rome Diamond League race, Cheptegei will face a formidable group of elite athletes, but he remains the favorite due to his world record time of 12:35.36 over the 5000-meter distance.
However, the spotlight is on his rivalry with Ethiopian star Selemon Barega, who has emerged as Cheptegei’s long-standing competitor.
Their rival started way back but came to the limelight during the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games when against all odds, Barega snatched a 10,000m gold medal from Cheptegei who had long-anticipated to bag a double at the world’s biggest Athletics event back in Tokyo.
Other top athletes include Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha, and Berihu Aregawi, Kenya’s Jacob Kiprop who is the world 5000m silver medalist among others.
In an interview with URN earlier, Cheptegei expressed confidence in his improved fitness level compared to his previous preparations for the New York City Marathon. “My body has responded positively to the training schedule designed by Coach Ruiter, and I am now ready,” says Cheptegei.
Unlike most of the times when Cheptegei teams up with colleagues from Kapchorwa, he will enter tonight’s race as a sole racer after his colleague Jacob Kiplimo withdrew from the Rome Diamond League, just two weeks before the race.
Kiplimo explained that he was not prepared for it, although his management had registered him for the event. He added that he is now focusing on, the Oslo Diamond League which will take place on June 15, in Norway.
Also in an unfortunate development, 5,000-meter Commonwealth bronze medalist, Oscar Chelimo was forced to withdraw just two days before the highly anticipated event after he sustained an ankle injury during his final track session, specifically when he unintentionally stepped on a stone and the resulting pain in his right ankle hindered his ability to participate in the league.