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How golden boy Cheptegei outpaced poverty

By Charles Mutebi

Added 18th October 2019 12:58 PM

Cheptegei’s story is not merely a testament to his incredible ability but of the inspirational power of sport.

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Cheptegei’s story is not merely a testament to his incredible ability but of the inspirational power of sport.

 Cheptegei supervises construction work at his mansion in Kapchorwa, 289km east of Kampala. PHOTO: James Bakama
 
Joshua Cheptegei was born under an avocado tree in Cheptendan, Kapchorwa.
 
“The mothers those days were strong,” he jokes.
 
His favourite pastime growing up was swinging on the ropes of some “very big tree that was near our home. You could spend the whole day swinging.”
And his dream was to be a teacher, just like dad.
 
Talent, however, has a way of messing up things, of overturning plans, reshaping destinies. Cheptegei, a would-be literature teacher is now a multi-millionaire superstar world athlete, on track to being one of the greatest sportsmen Uganda has ever seen.
 

 Cheptegei (right) and family members and siblings back in the village where the story started. PHOTO: James Bakama

 Cheptegei enjoys a cup of tea with journalists at his home in Kapchorwa. PHOTO: James Bakama

Life is obviously the best imitation of art and Cheptegei’s story is scarcely believable even if its best chapters may be yet scripted. Cheptegei is a strong favourite to win the 5000m and 10,000m double at the World athletics championships in Doha next month, which would, arguably, be the greatest feat in the history of Ugandan sport.
 
This by a man who is already the reigning world cross country champion, and 5000m and 10,000m Commonwealth champion, 2017 IAAF World Athletics Championships silver medallist and the fastest man over 15km ever recorded.
 
“I dream of becoming a world record holder in the 5000m, 10,000m and later the half marathon and maybe also the full marathon,” he says.
 

 Cheptegei before he became a global star. File Photo

 
Can he do it? Perhaps the question is, who can bet against him?
 
Cheptegei’s story is not merely a testament to his incredible ability but of the inspirational power of sport.
 
One of nine children, Cheptegei was on the way to a normal, rain-soaked Sebei existence. With the modest earnings from his mother’s agriculture and the father’s teaching career, Cheptegei would have, in the best-case scenario, completed university and settled for a life as a Shakespeare expositor.
 
“My father wasn’t impressed when I first told him I wanted to become a professional athlete,” Cheptegei recalls.
 

Cheptegei leads the pack at Namboole stadium in Kampala

“He wanted me to first finish school. That time I had just finished high school. I was due for a Bachelor’s degree in education. Dad wanted me to become a literature
teacher”.
 
Cheptegei joined university but kept running, finishing second in the 2014 Inter-University Games. He also finished second in the national cross country championship, which he followed up by winning the World University Cross Country.
 
The breakthrough came at the U-20 World Athletics Championships in Oregon, where he won gold in the 10,000m.
 
The rewards Cheptegei was consequently invited to State House and received a car and sh20m from president Yoweri Museveni. It was the runner’s first big payday but certainly not biggest nor the last.

 Cheptegei celebrates after winning a gold medal in the Commonwealth Games in Australia

 Members of Team Uganda celebrates with Cheptegei after he won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games

 Subsequent victories in major world races - as indicated in the chart above - have seen Cheptegei etch towards the sh1b mark in career earnings. Imagine that!
“He is an extremely rich man,” said a top athletics official who once coached Cheptegei.
 
Cheptegei is currently in the middle of two major constructions back home - the first a mansion and the other an athletics track that will be hired out for high-altitude training.

President Museveni with Cheptegei. File Photo 

 

 Cheptegei with the Vision Group CEO Robert Kabushenga. File Photo
 
Barring any major injury setbacks, Cheptegei is poised to reap success from 5000m, 10,000m, world cross country, 10km, 15km and half marathon races for the foreseeable future. That means more prize money and sponsorship earnings not to mention government rewards and Police promotions.
 
And all of this because of the still oft-devalued path called sports.

 Cheptegei at a State Dinner in honour of athletes

 
“There is a need to support talent whenever it is realized,” Joshua counsels “Whether it is your child or any other person support them. It does not matter what sport it is. It is also the same for talents like music. Once you realise any talent invest in it.”
 
Nalis Bugingo (Veteran athletics coach)
I was with him at the U-20 World Championships and I remember I went to Kapchorwa afterward to talk to his parents to convince them not to stop a future champion. You could see that he had a future.
 
Namayo Mawerere (UAF publicist)
Joshua Cheptegei has been a great inspiration. He has flown Uganda’s flag so high he is like (John) Aki Bua. He is an icon. When you go to Kapchorwa, it is his name
on the lips of everyone. He has inspired so many athletes in Uganda. Now we have nearly 100 elite athletes when a few years ago we had about three or four.
 
James Bakama (Veteran athletics scribe)
He’s a very big prospect and he is carrying Uganda athletics to new heights.
Winning the Diamond League championship final is unprecedented for us and I see even bigger things from him. If he is well-motivated, he can win the 5000m and 10,000m double in Doha (at the World Athletics Championships). It is up to his managers and the government to ensure he is well-catered for.
 
Cheptegei major career
 
Earnings
 World U-20 championships 2014
10,000m winner - sh20m gov’t reward
 2017 1AAF World Athletics Championships
10,000m silver medal - sh110m
 2018 NN Seven Hills race 15km winner - sh211m
 2018 Commonwealth Games 5,000m & 10,000m winner - sh50m NCS reward, sh10m reward
 2019 World Cross Country Senior men’s race winner -sh110m
 2019 IAAF Diamond League Championship 5000m winner - sh184m
 Nike sponsorship - unknown
 
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