The athletic world gasped in shock and dismay upon hearing the news of legendary Olympian Mo Farah failing to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics 2020. The defending Olympic champion for both the men's 5000m and 10,000m events will not make a fourth appearance at this year's Summer Games in Tokyo.
Sir Mohamed Farah, one of the most successful British Olympians in modern history, is only the second athlete in the world to win the 5,000m and the 10,000m at two consecutive Olympic Games (London 2012 and Rio 2016). Deservedly nick-named the 'Flying Finn', Lasse Viren was the first distance runner to accomplish the same feat forty years ago.
Farah fell short of the newly revised qualification mark of 27:28.00s twice - first at the UK trials held at Birmingham and then at a special race ahead of the qualification deadline at the British Athletics Championships in Manchester, held on June 25th.
Age appears to be finally catching up to the seemingly immortal track career of the 38-year-old. Farah expressed his disappointment in an interview after his last potential qualifying event at the British Athletics Championships. When asked if his failure to qualify marked the end of his incredible career, he said:
“I don’t know what to think or what’s next. If I can’t compete with the best why bother? There’s no excuse in terms of conditions – it is what it is. I genuinely thought I’d come out here, get the time and then go back to the training camp.
“I’ve had an amazing career. Thinking about it tonight it’s a bit shocking and I don’t really know what to say. I’m lucky enough to have so many medals. I’m one of these athletes who, if you can’t compete with the best, why bother?”
While Farah's Olympic prowess and accomplishments seem unattainable, could someone else potentially achieve the herculean double gold at the Tokyo Olympics 2020?
The answer is probably hiding in the name Joshua Cheptegei.
Who is Joshua Cheptegei?
Joshua Kiprui Cheptegei, simply put, is the concurrent world record holder in the men's 5000m and 10,000m events.
Born in Kapchorwa, Uganda, Cheptegei is the second eldest of nine children. His unique abilities came to the athletic world's notice when he was placed second at the 2014 TCS World 10km, held in Bengaluru, behind the double World Half Marathon and Cross Country champion Geoffrey Kamworor.
Joshua Cheptegei quickly raced into the international spotlight when he won the World U20 10,000m championship in Eugene, Oregon. The very next year, the pacer finished ninth in the 10,000m finals at the Beijing World Championships.
The 2016 Rio Olympics witnessed Cheptegei at the prestigious quadrennial event for the first time, where he finished eighth in the 5000m and sixth in the 10,000m events - both events headlined by Mo Farah.
Cheptegei steadily improved his timing with a personal best of 26:49.94s in the 10,000m at the World Championships in London in 2017, where he was placed second behind Mo Farah. The young pacer further upped his game at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on Goal Coast, Australia, where he became only the second man in history to win both the 5000m and 10,000m.
With an already decorated career, 2020 proved to be Cheptegei's most prolific year yet. In just the three races run this year, the Ugandan broke an astounding three world records. The first came back in February, when he broke the world road 5k record at the Monaco Run 5K with a time of 12:51s.
At the Monaco Diamond League meet on August 14th, the Ugandan superstar broke the great Kenenisa Bekele's 16-year-old 5000m world record by 1.99s with a remarkable time of 12:35.36s.
Mere months later, at the NN Valencia World Record Day held in Spain on October 7th, 2020, Cheptegei obliterated the 10,000m world record by over six seconds. The previous world record of 26:17.53s, also set by Bekele back in 2015, was bested with a dazzling time of 26:11.00s.
Cheptegei currently has four standing world records to his credit - road 5K, road 15K, 5000m and 10,000m. The new king of the track will now set his eyes on the distance double at the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
Who is Joshua Cheptegei's competition at the Tokyo Olympics 2020?
While Joshua Cheptegei is favorite to take home the distance double, the men's 5000m promises to be a highly competitive event. Selemon Barega holds the top spot going into the competition.
Barega finished second behind Muktar Edris, his countryman and yet another big name in the event, at the World Athletics Championship held in Doha in 2019. The Ethiopian pacers will face off against the likes of 2016 Rio Olympic silver medallist Paul Chelimo and bronze medallist Hagos Gebrhiwet, who is currently ranked third in the world.
Second-ranked Jakob Ingebrigtsen has been on a tear lately, setting a new European record in the 5000m with a time of 12:48.45s. Mohammed Ahmed, the Canadian-national, is yet another name to look out for. Ahmed won bronze in 5000m at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha.
Rhonex Kipruto, the young Kenyan who burst into the spotlight after breaking Joshua Cheptegei's road 10K world record, will be his stiffest competition at the 10,000m event.