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    Cheptegei and Kiplimo on rivalry and ‘brotherhood’ that surpasses competition

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    Uganda's Joshua Cheptegei (left) embraces countryman Jacob Kiplimo (right) after the Kiplimo won the men's senior race of the 2023 World Cross Country Championships at Mount Panorama in Bathurst, Australia, on February 18, 2023
    Former champion Joshua Cheptegei (left) was still happy to embrace Jacob Kiplimo (right) at the finish line after his fellow Ugandan took his title at February’s World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, Australia

    Joshua Cheptegei has been the face of Ugandan athletics since winning a silver medal in the 10,000m at the 2017 World Championships in London.

    Having upgraded to gold at the 2019 and 2021 World Championships, he’s also become a double Commonwealth champion, world record holder and Olympic 5000m gold medallist – making him the most successful Ugandan athlete of all time.

    But having enjoyed unrivalled admiration at home for several years, the 26-year-old is happier now a young compatriot, Jacob Kiplimo, 22, is pushing to steal the limelight.

    “I was always travelling for competitions alone, fighting alone to represent and win for the country,” Cheptegei told BBC Sport Africa.

    “But when Jacob came in, I think the pressure on my shoulders was reduced because it’s not good for a country to only look up to one person.”

    Cheptegei has admitted to living in fear of Uganda missing out on a major competition podium should he get injured – something that came to pass when he was forced to withdraw from last year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

    To his delight, Kiplimo rose to the occasion, claiming an historic double in the 5000m and 10,000m.

    “It was very beautiful to see what he achieved for Uganda. I was so proud of him.”

    Birmingham not only presented Kiplimo with an opportunity to win his first senior track titles but also to defend on behalf of Uganda the accolades won four years before by Cheptegei, who Kiplimo describes as “my mentor of many years.”

    “Joshua has been giving me a lot of advice the last four years, a lot of encouragement,” he explained.

    “He cares about me very much and tells me what to do to be successful. He has been a good friend to me, we really complement each other.”

    Jacob Kiplimo holds aloft a Ugandan flag after winning the 2023 NYC Half Marathon
    Jacob Kiplimo, who beat Joshua Cheptegei in Sunday’s New York City Half Marathon, is hoping the pair’s success can inspire other Ugandan athletes

    The friendly rivals

    The pair’s friendship has been clear for all to see when celebrating each other’s successes at major events, often sharing podiums.

    And recently, it seems the student might be getting the upper hand on the master, with Kiplimo crowned champion at February’s World Cross Country Championships, where Cheptegei finished third, while the junior partner also defeated his mentor in Sunday’s New York City Half Marathon.

    “At the end of the day, we have to accept that one of us will emerge better than the other,” Cheptegei told the BBC ahead of that race.

    “We both have our individual goals and visions, but after the race we will celebrate whoever wins.”

    “It’s a new territory for me (the half marathon). I see it as a good time for me to learn how to run the long distances because I know that, in future, I will need to leave the track.”

    Cheptegei took to social media after the race in the Big Apple – not only to reveal that he was pleased with his performance, but also to offer his congratulations to Kiplimo on the win.

    Building an ‘athletics powerhouse’

    The importance of Cheptegei and Kiplimo to sport in Uganda shouldn’t be underestimated.

    Before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Uganda had won a total of just seven medals across all previous games. In Japan, Cheptegei and Kiplimo added half as many again, winning three medals between them (Cheptegei claiming gold in the 5000m and silver in the 10,000m while Kiplimo took bronze in the 10,000m).

    Team mate Peruth Chemutai made it an historic Olympics when she became the first female Ugandan to win a medal by taking first place in the 3000m steeplechase.

    Joshua Cheptegei (left), Jacob Kiplimo (right) and Selemon Barega (centre) on the 10,000m podium at the Tokyo Olympics
    Joshua Cheptegei (left) and Jacob Kiplimo (right) claimed silver and bronze respectively for Uganda in the 10,000m at the Tokyo Olympics, with Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega (centre) winning gold

    Kiplimo wants those performances – and his bond with Cheptegei – to galvanise others, having stated that the focus is “how our unity can help inspire more athletes to join the sport and ensure Uganda becomes an athletics powerhouse.”

    “We are working hard to put Uganda on the global running map,” he continued.

    “And we can only achieve that by paving the way for those coming behind us.”

    But away from the track, just how close are the two friends and rivals? For Kiplimo, the answer comes without much hesitation.

    “Joshua is like a dad or an uncle to me,” revealed the half marathon world record holder.

    From Cheptegei the answer is similar, even if he can’t help revealing one possible fracture in the relationship.

    “He is family. In fact, our families meet to celebrate Christmas together.

    “We have a lot in common, although he is an Arsenal supporter while I am proudly Manchester United.”

    Putting football aside, this is a sporting rivalry that appears unlikely to become bad natured any time soon.

    “The important aspect is keeping that sense of belonging because we will be retiring after some years, but we will still remain relatives,” concluded Cheptegei.

    “The brotherhood and the relationship we have as a family is bigger than running.”

    Joshua Cheptegei and Jacob Kiplimo were talking to BBC Sport Africa ahead of the New York City Half Marathon which was won by Kiplimo ahead of Cheptegei on 19 March 2023.





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