On this past Sunday, Feb. 16, Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei annihilated the 5K world record by 27 seconds. With the four-minute mile being conquered and now the two-hour marathon record additionally being broken, one of the new major quests in running has been breaking the 13-minute 5K barrier. Cheptegei sought out to accomplish this feat in Monaco, cruising through the course at an average of 2:34 per kilometer, finishing the race in 12 minutes and 51 seconds.
The 23-year-old spent no time running among the crowd of competitors, jetting out to the front within the first 1000 meters. As he finished the first kilometer, only 2:31 had ticked off, creating an alarmingly unsustainable pace for even a trained athlete to keep over the whole course. Since he had over a five-second lead on the second placer, Cheptegei slowed down to a more reasonable pace for the next three kilometers running a 2:35, a 2:36 then another 2:35, all while still gaining time on his competitors with each passing marker. Cheptegei has a history of running the pace of the time he desires from the start and ignoring signals from his body that he needs to slow down; at the 2017 World Athletics Cross Country World Championship held in his home nation, Cheptegei led the race with 800 meters and hit his physical limit so abruptly that he lost pace, resulting in a 30th place finish out of 553 eligible runners. With one kilometer left in his current race, spectators and fans alike questioned Cheptegei’s longevity and stamina after maintaining such a fast pace. Though he already held a 30-second lead over his next closest competitor, Cheptegei kicked it into high gear, finishing his last kilometer in 2:32 to smash the world record.
“I had sub-13 minutes in my mind so when my legs felt good I decided to really go for it,” Cheptegei said in a post-race interview, visibly exhausted by the feat he had just accomplished.
The history behind this record is still quite fresh, as the 5K race was only recognized as an official race in 2017. Ever since then, every world record set has been beaten within weeks, granted only by fractions of a second at times, and many don’t stand for very long. With his time blowing the previous world record out of the water, Cheptegei is the first 5K world record holder that is suspected to hold the record for an extended period of time.
Cheptegei started his sports career playing soccer and participating in the long and triple jump. In primary school, he found that long-distance running was where he thrived. Cheptegei started vigorous daily training and his potential began to show. While continuing his career in running, Cheptegei studied languages in Kampala, Uganda for a few years, using the training to eventually secure himself a job at the Uganda National Police.
Cheptegei is a true legend to the sport of running as he is the current cross country world champion and 10,000-meter track world champion. Although he thrives in road racing, Cheptegei finished ninth in the 10K World Championship in Beijing at the age of 18. He then went on to participate in his first Olympics in 2016 where he finished eighth in the 5K race and sixth in the 10K race. In 2017, Cheptegei went to the 10K world championships in London where he had his biggest accomplishment yet, finishing second. On Dec. 1, 2019, Cheptegei set the world record for the 10K in a road race in Valencia, Spain, which secured him as a treasure to the sport of running. The record was then taken from him by Kenya’s Rhonex Kipruto. Kipruto was also the former world record holder for the 5K before Cheptegei beat it over the weekend. With Kipruto being only 20 years of age, and Cheptegei 24, the duo is likely to continue to clash for racing titles for years to come, giving fans of long-distance sports a rivalry to spectate.
For now, the world will have to wait and watch as Cheptegei prepares for the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo where he will try to win his first gold medal.