When the mask of neutral concentration slips off, competition is known to bring either the best or worst out of people. Those who have a fairly unimpeded view of Joshua Cheptegei say recent losses suffered in Seville and Tororo at the hands of Jacob Kiplimo never seem far from his mind. The government-owned New Vision newspaper for one reported this past week that — instead of provoking Cheptegei to raise his game — the results have had his camp and that of Kiplimo stand foursquare in the vortex of not just pressure but, wait for it, animosity.
Sadly, there appears to be more than a kernel of truth in New Vision’s assessment. It looks like Cheptegei doesn’t want to waste anytime in asserting himself. The focused expression on his face does not betray the burning desire to emerge from Kiplimo’s shadow. Elsewhere, Kiplimo’s unmistakable broad smile projects the image of someone in a good place. A place that has the teenager achingly close to getting under Cheptegei’s skin.
Observers known for the depth of their interpretations are, however, piercingly apt in questioning whether it’s judicious that competition between the two evokes animosity — clothed or unbridled. With the World Cross Country Championships on the horizon, Cheptegei and Kiplimo should be in lockstep if Uganda’s senior men intend to wrest the title from bitter rivals Kenya.
At the last staging of the championships in Kololo back in 2017, Cheptegei showed great team spirit by pushing his bent but not broken body however he could across the finish line. Many are quick to remember the 22-year-old’s spectacular implosion and not the fact that his persistence was not in vain. It helped Uganda win a bronze medal.
At times pride has to be cast aside in pursuit of the collective. Cheptegei showed that this is not too much to ask of him on that dark day back in 2017. True, playing second fiddle to an up and coming distance runner isn’t by any stretch of imagination comparable to the meltdown that took Cheptegei from first to 30th place in a matter of minutes at Kololo. It can, however, be what stands between a team gold and silver in Denmark later this month.
The implications could also be felt at this year’s World Athletics Championships. Mo Farah has strongly hinted at making a return to track, paving the way for defending his long distance titles at the Worlds. Cheptegei came off second best in a jostle with Farah in the 10,000m final of the 2017 Worlds.
While there was no shame — if anything redemption — in that silver medal-winning performance, times have well and truly changed. Cheptegei has started or was just about starting to grow into a new-found status of long distance top dog. What with the sensational double he effortlessly won in Gold Coast last year! That feat, though, was achieved in what could turn out to be a short-lived post Farah period.
With Farah threatening a track return, Cheptegei and Kiplimo should be on the same page now more than ever. They have a better chance at outwitting Farah on the track if they compare notes and stitch together some kind of master plan. The competition between the two exciting Ugandan hotshots should bring the best — and not worst — out of them.
Why getting basics right in sport is of the essence
After returning from the 2018 ICC World Cricket League Division Three tournament with a wooden spoon, Uganda can ill afford resisting siren calls to ring the changes. While a slew of countries playing associate cricket have made cunning use of mercenary players, a slapdash attempt by Uganda has inflicted the damage it is expected to.
The Uganda Sevens will have to do it the hard way if an abiding dream of becoming a core nation on the World Rugby Sevens Series is to come to fruition. The week that’s just ended brought with it news that Tolbert Onyango’s charges will go in a pool at next month’s qualifying event that includes perennial nemesis Germany, Chile and Cook Islands.
The form book suggests that this won’t be a cakewalk, and words from Onyango haven’t occluded any fears. But don’t expect the Uganda Sevens to shy away from what certainly looks like a daunting task. This has never been the style of either the team or indeed its players. Persistence is the byword, and no player typifies this better than James Ijongat.
A faithful lieutenant of Onyango’s since time immemorial, Ijongat ran into a perfect storm last year. He was eventually deemed surplus to requirements for the sevens rugby team that represented Uganda at the Commonwealth Games and World Cup. It was a bit of a kick in the teeth for a player who chose to tailor his game to the shorter variant of the sport even when opportunities beckoned in 15s Test rugby.
Few would have picked themselves out of such rubble as Ijongat has managed to do. There is a story to tell here, but maybe some other time. What occasioned Ijongat’s — if you will — fall from grace is what this column is interesting itself in today. The player’s decidedly abject defending is something of a public secret. Many people know that the defence or rather lack of it was what informed Onyango’s sensational snub last year. What is not widely known is how Ijongat ended up being so poor at defending.
Well, here’s why: he didn’t play tag rugby. Simple. High priests of rugby say this non-contact variant of the sport furnishes egg chasers with tangible skills that stand them in good stead going forward. From defending right through to learning how not to hog the ball, tag rugby has pretty much burned itself into the consciousness of those obsessed with detail.
There is a much bigger story to all of this. A story of how it is profoundly important to get the basics right when learning the ropes of a sport. Many Ugandan sports personalities — much unlike Ijongat — don’t grasp the basics. And this could be something as mundane as controlling a football. These flaws (poor first touch) are carried from formative years to what essentially should be a set-off stage in one’s career. Needless to say the end results are pretty catastrophic.
What we now know….
We now know that the senior national football team is headed to the Egyptian capital today.
We know that the Cranes will set stall in Cairo as they brace for their final 2019 Afcon qualifier against Tanzania. We know that Uganda, who have already through to the big time, will get a feel of conditions where African football’s showpiece tournament will be played later this year. Safe in the knowledge of this, it is easy to see why many Ugandans are looking at the training camp as something that is of great utility.