From failure to champion: Cheptegei’s inspirational story of resilience

In 2017, a 20-year-old Joshua Cheptegei was a subject of ridicule mostly by fellow Ugandans for running in “zig zag” after staggering to finish the race at the 2017 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Kampala.

Fast forward, four years later in August 2021, Cheptegei clocked a time of 12:58:15 to win gold in the men’s 5,000m finals at the 2020 Olympics games in Tokyo, the Japanese capital.

The gold medal was only the fourth at the Olympics for Uganda since 1956 and the news was received enthusiastically by Ugandans who took to social media to praise the runner.

However, Cheptegei’s was a story of resilience and never giving hope.

2017 debacle

In front of the home crowd at the 2017 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Kampala, Cheptegei hoped to win the championship to kickstart his young career.

Indeed, he started the race well, leading for most of the race but with less than a kilometer to go, the unexpected happened as he started running backwards.

The runner who had led most of the race was now staggering and the resulting silence by the home crowd could clearly explain what was happening.

At the end of the race, Cheptegei had not only unraveled but had finished a distant 30th in just a blink of an eye.

Finishing 30th saw many Ugandans turn to social media to make fun of the young runner, with many saying that he was running in zig zag style.

However, speaking in 2020, the runner said the 2017 debacle only made him more resilient to achieve his dreams.

Thank you so much because your criticism has made me who I am today. It has made me discover the potential I had. It made me to understand that I was somebody who is really courageous. Setbacks are important and they propel to something great,” he told journalists then.


They say a bad beginning makes a good ending and this was the case with Cheptegei who had a poor start to his budding career, but things only got better.

The setback only catapulted the younger runner to great thing because five months later in August, he won silver in the 10,000m race at the World Athletics Championship in London.

Coming second after clocking a time of 26:49.94, the Ugandan runner came behind Great Britain’s Sir Mo Farah who won gold.

Cheptegei was not yet done because a few months later in 2018, he won gold in the 5,000m and 10,000m at the Commonwealth Games before ending the year with the 15km world record at the Zevenheuvelenloop in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

In 2019, the Ugandan runner became the cross-country world champion then in 2020, at a road race in Monaco, Cheptegei set a new world road 5km record 12:51 slashing it by 9 seconds after a previous record set by Kenya’s Sammy Kipketer in 2000.

Later the same year at the Monaco Diamond League, Cheptegei broke Kenenisa Bekele’s 16-year-old world record in the 5000 metres when he clocked a time of 12:35.36.

 2020 Olympics exploits

In the Olympics games held this year in Tokyo, Cheptegei showed he is not yet done after winning two medals for Uganda.

Cheptegei won in the men’s 5,000m finals after clocking 12:58:15, beating Canada’s Mohammed Ahmed who came second after clocking 12:58:61.

The Ugandan runner also won silver during the men’s 10,000m race at the Tokyo Olympics games.

Described by many as the best runner alive, Cheptegei has shown that with resilience everything is possible.

With what he has achieved at a tender age of only 25, Cheptegei has shown that many youths can still achieve their dreams if they work hard and refuse anything to derail their career.

The youthful runner has built a training centre named Joshua Cheptegei Training Center to help fellow youths with ambitions just like him to train and achieve what he has been able to accomplish.

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