Ugandan long-distance runner Joshua Cheptegei, 25, who won two medals at the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics said his success has come through sheer hard work and determination.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, he recalled his journey from a bare-footed runner to once becoming a laughing stock by collapsing in the race ahead of the target.
Cheptegei returned home with two Olympic medals. He won gold in 5,000 meters and silver in the 10,000 meters race. His feat helped Uganda to rank second among the African nations after Kenya and hold the 36th position in the medals tally all over the world.
‘’I am happy that I managed to win gold and silver at the Olympics in Tokyo. I appreciate the encouragement from fellow Ugandans just before the races. They inspired me to win the medals,” he said.
Maintaining that he had worked hard over the past five years, Cheptegei recalled that in 2017 he had become a laughing stock when he collapsed in a race in Kampala, just 100 meters before the finish. He ended up in 16th position.
It later turned out that he had collapsed due to a poor diet.
On learning that about the poor diet and his collapse, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni ordered a special diet for him so he can increase his stamina.
Describing this as a turning point in his career, the athlete said that it encouraged him to work hard.
“That incident made me believe that I was not strong enough to win races. I decided to work hard so that I win medals for my country. It was because of the poor beginning in Kampala that I worked hard to see that successes like the one in Monaco took place,” he said.
Soon he turned the disappointment into achievement by winning medals in various games and breaking world records.
In 2017, Cheptegei became the silver medalist in the 10,000 meters event at the World Championship in London. In 2018, he set a world record for the 15 kilometers road race and became the cross-country world champion in 2019.
“I am a proud man having broken world records. I am happy about winning a gold and silver medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics,”
According to his schoolmate Gregory Chesang, Cheptegei had initially preferred playing football and trying his luck in the long jump. But he later switched to participating in races.
In secondary school, he was spotted by the sports division of Ugandan police, which recruited him as an officer.