A Ugandan won the men’s race at today’s World Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia, Poland, but it wasn’t 5k/10k world record holder Joshua Cheptegei.
Instead it was his younger countryman, Jacob Kiplimo, who emerged from Cheptegei’s shadow to win his first global senior title, using a 13:38 split from 15k to 20k to separate from the field and power to victory in a new championship and Ugandan record of 58:49 in just his second career half marathon. Kenya’s Kibiwott Kandie was second in 58:54 and Ethiopia’s Amedework Walelegn third in 59:08 as Cheptegei was fourth in his debut in 59:21.
We analyze Kiplimo’s victory and the rest of the race.
Quick Take: Jacob Kiplimo gets his moment
For most of 2020 — and indeed, for most of his young career — Jacob Kiplimo has been overshadowed by his Ugandan countryman Joshua Cheptegei. Last year, he would have been the first Ugandan to medal at World XC since 2010 — had Cheptegei not crossed the finish line four seconds earlier. Kiplimo’s thrilling 12:48.63 5,000 win in Ostrava would have been the race of the year and a Ugandan record — had Cheptegei not broken the WR a month earlier. Between that 12:48 and his 7:26.64 3,000 in Rome, Kiplimo would have been the story in distance running this year without Cheptegei.
Today, the young Ugandan got his dues, winning his first senior global title in fine fashion. And he made it look easy — Kiplimo never looked to be straining and seemed a natural in what was his first serious attempt over the 13.1-mile distance (he had run only one previous half marathon, a 61:53 win at elevation in Kampala in November 2019).
Quick Take: Do we have a Federer-Nadal situation brewing in Uganda?
Over the last 19 months, Joshua Cheptegei has been, undoubtedly, the greatest distance runner in the world. World titles in XC and on the track, a Diamond League 5,000 title, world records in the 5k and 10k on both road and track. He’s clearly a humongous talent.
But could Kiplimo be an even bigger talent?
There are some questions about exactly how old Kiplimo is — if his November 14, 2000, birthday is correct, it means he ran 27:26 for 10k as a 15-year-old. Regardless of whether his age is totally accurate, Kiplimo does look very youthful and he’s run significantly faster and accomplished more than Cheptegei (born September 12, 1996) did at the same age.
Both men were world champs as juniors (Kiplimo at World XC in 2017, Cheptegei in the 10k on the track in 2014), but Kiplimo’s 7:26 pb is faster than Cheptegei has ever run for 3k and the fastest time recorded in 13 years, and his 12:48 5k is way faster than anything Cheptegei had run prior to 2020. Now, at the official age of 19, Kiplimo has a World XC silver and a World Half gold.
It reminds us of the situation that unfolded in men’s tennis a decade ago. Roger Federer came around and began winning majors left and right, quickly building a resume as the greatest of all time. People thought, “That’s the greatest tennis player in history. No one can ever top that.”
Then Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic showed up and suddenly it wasn’t clear if Federer was even the greatest player of his generation.
Given his 5,000 and 10,000 world records, we imagine most still view Cheptegei as the favorite for gold in Tokyo next year, but Kiplimo is a serious rival. Think about it. If Kiplimo is faster (based on his 3000 pb) and has better endurance (based on his half marathon), then wouldn’t he also be better at 5,000 and 10,000? If their battles are anything like the ones we’ve seen in men’s tennis the last few years, running fans are in for a treat.
In the closing stages of the race, commentator Tim Hutchings pretty much summed up exactly what we were thinking.
Quick Take: Joshua Cheptegei handled the defeat with class and displayed great sportsmanship
One of our favorite things from today’s race was what happened when it was over. It wasclear that the two Ugandan men clearly have a lot of respect for one another. Cheptegei, upon crossing the finish line in 4th today, immediately went over to congratulate Kiplimo, lifting him off the ground in a bear hug.
Quick Take: Joshua Cheptegei has nothing to be ashamed of
While many expected Cheptegei to win this race, running 59:21 in your debut and finishing 4th behind a couple of studs in Kiplimo and Kibiwott Kandie is by no means a bad performance.
If anything, Cheptegei deserves a ton of credit for showing up and testing himself at a new distance. Mo Farah chose to take a paycheck and pace the London Marathon rather than race here today. Sifan Hassan was in great shape but pulled out earlier this week. Cheptegei could easily have ended his season after his 10k record 10 days ago, but he chose to show up and run here. And though the result wasn’t what he wanted, he brought a ton of attention to the event and the race was more exciting because of his presence. The sport needs its biggest stars to show up at its championships, and Cheptegei did that. Kudos to him.
Plus we think the defeat could be great for him in the long term. Instead of thinking, “I’m the greates in history” and starting to rest on his laurels, he’s now extremely motivated heading into the offseason, wondering, “Am I even the best guy in my own country?”
Quick Take: Tactically, there wasn’t much the other contenders could have done to beat Kiplimo today
History for Uganda! 🇺🇬
Jacob Kiplimo wins his nation's first #WorldHalfMarathon title in a championship record.
How the talented teen secured gold 👇 pic.twitter.com/uKzIzrA1YQ
— World Athletics (@WorldAthletics) October 17, 2020
The pace up front wasn’t super fast through 5k (14:19 — 60:24 pace) or 10k (28:23 — 59:52 pace), which meant that there were still 23 men in the lead pack at 10k. You could argue that played into the strength of Kiplimo, who showed earlier this year he has big-time wheels and a serious kick.
But we’re not sure a faster opening 10k would have produced a different outcome. Kiplimo’s winning time was 58:49. Only one man coming in had run faster than that (Kibiwott Kandie’s 58:38, which came in a rabbitted race in Prague). Kiplimo split 13:38 from 15k to 20k. Who, exactly, was going to run fast enough to drop him today?
Quick Take: Just like the women’s race, the men’s race was incredibly deep
Today’s race was just the second half marathon in history in which 10 men broke 60:00 (the first was the 2019 RAK Half). And the times were fast all the way down the list. Twenty-eight men broke 61:00, 38 broke 62:00, and in all, 68 of the 117 finishers (58%) ran personal bests. Which makes sense when you consider conditions were perfect for running (48 degrees, 6 mph wind) and shoe technology has made a significant leap forward over the last few years.