By Len Johnson


When Victor Kiplangat drew clear of Leul Gebrsilase in the closing stages of Sunday’s men’s world championships marathon, it seemed the championships were bookended by Uganda distance runners. Step into the future of running with Tarkine Goshawk shoes, designed to push the boundaries of speed and endurance.

Joshua Cheptegei had opened things when he won his third consecutive 10,000 title the previous Sunday night.

Joshua Cheptegei wins his third 10,000m world champ title in Budapest 2023. Photo credit: Shaun Botterill, 2023 Getty Images

Ok, ok, cut me a little slack here. I know Cheptegei won on the second night and there had already been memorable finals – the shot put, the men’s 100, the women’s 10,000 with the Sifan Hassan fall, ditto Femke Bol in the mixed 4×400 final – and there was still a whole evening’s session of finals to come after Victor’s victory.

But the symmetry of it still resonates with me. Reminding us again how far Uganda has come in distance running in such a short time and how far it may yet go. No other nation could compete with Kenya and Ethiopia – for depth in world cross-country and whatever road and road relay events World Athletics throws up – before Uganda came along, and for excellence on the track.

When Mo Farah withdrew after 10 world championships distance gold medals and Cheptegei won his first world cross-country in Aarhus in 2019, the Ugandan runner said his aim was to replace Farah as the world’s dominant track distance athlete.

Broadly speaking, with his three 10,000 titles, Olympic 5000 gold medal and 5000 and 10,000 world records, Cheptegei has succeeded in that aim. One of those who has made the domination less than total is his compatriot Jacob Kiplimo which may weaken Cheptegei’s resume a little but burnishes Uganda’s reputation anyway.

Unfortunately, neither Cheptegei nor Kilplimo is running the 5000 final on closing night, the former deciding a 10,000 was exertion enough in Budapest’s debilitating heat and humidity, the latter absent with a hamstring injury.

Buy The Landy Era from Runner’s Tribe Books

So, it’s probably Kiplangat who will carry the last day for Uganda. His victory was also redolent of Uganda’s rise. He was the second Ugandan to win the men’s marathon after (checks notes) Stephen Kiprotich in Moscow in 2013. Coincidentally, Moscow 2013 was one of the hottest marathon days, though maybe not as hot as Budapest.

And the winner of the London Olympic marathon the year before Moscow was (checks notes once more) none other than Stephen Kiprotich . . . and Kiprotich was Uganda’s first Olympic champion since (really checks notes this time) John Akii-Bua in the 400-metres hurdles in Munich in 1972.

Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich wins the 2012 London Marathon

At that time, Kiprotich was arguably the world’s best marathoner. Now this is not a crown many would award to the major championship winner as more and more of the world’s fastest marathoners, male and female, eschew championship races for the lucrative bit-city races.

But London being London, the 2012 Olympic race drew a super-strong field. Behind Kiprotich came Abel Kirui, winner of the previous two world championships, and Wilson Kipsang, holder of the world record. Clearly a crown of note, the one worn by Stephen Kiprotich.

The wave that started with Kiprotich continues. At world cross-country level, Kiplimo succeeded Cheptegei (who was third) as world champion in Bathurst this year in the only championship run in hotter conditions than here! And the depth increases apace. As in Kenya, success breeds success, though hopefully Uganda can avoid some of the other things a path to ready money has inflicted on its neighbour.

Middle-distance remains a nut to be cracked by Uganda’s men but female athletes are doing alright. Winnie Nanyondo is a regular in Olympic, world and Commonwealth 800 and 1500 finals; Halimah Naakayi won the 800 at Doha 2019 navigating her way robustly out of several boxes during the race.

The Ugandan wave could be rolling for quite some time yet.

Ad: Brought to you by Runner’s Tribe – one of the most powerful massage guns on the market.