Joshua Cheptegei. This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the athlete and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

The first major record in distance running amid the COVID-19 pandemic and despite it, happened on the night of August 14, 2020 with a new world record scripted in the men’s 5000 meters on track.

Six months after he set a world record in the 5-kilometers road race, Ugandan ace Joshua Cheptegei took down a 16 year old track record in the 5000m to blaze home in 12:35:36 at the Wanda Diamond League meet in Monaco. Cheptegei’s new world record (it is subject to the usual ratification procedure) improves upon the earlier mark set by Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele.

In its report, World Athletics described Cheptegei’s performance as “ the return of international athletics.’’ The COVID-19 pandemic has played havoc with the world of sports; the Tokyo Olympic Games had to be postponed and in athletics, many events and road races were cancelled. Worse, the advent of disease protocols, lockdown and training in the new normal had affected the regular regimens of athletes worldwide. Competitions started trickling back in very few numbers and to few spectators at stadiums, only in the past couple of months. “ 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. 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,’’ Cheptegei was quoted as saying in the report, available on the website of World Athletics.

The Ugandan athlete tackled the 5000m track event in style. On the eve of the competition he made it clear that he looked forward to setting a new world record – and he did just that. Weather conditions were not ideal.  “ The pace was so fierce that Cheptegei had run out of pacemakers by half way and the only other man in sight was Kenya’s Nicholas Kimeli. Within a lap the genial but ambitious Ugandan was alone in his quest for immortality, pressing on remorselessly with metronomic 61-second laps,’’ World Athletics said in its report. Cheptegei now holds the world record for the distance across both track and road.

On February 16, 2020, he had clocked 12 minutes 51 seconds at the Monaco Run 5km. He shaved 27 seconds from the previous record of 13:18 set by Kenya’s Rhonex Kipruto en route to his 10km world record in Valencia on January 12. Cheptegei was gold medalist in 10,000m at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar; he won silver in 10,000m at the 2017 World Championships in London and had placed first in 10km at the 2018 World Cross Country Championships held in Aarhus, Denmark.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, Is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)