BUDAPEST (20-Aug) — Two-time defending champion Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda won his third straight world 10,000m title at the National Athletics Center here tonight, by using the strength of a road racer and the speed of a miler on the second day at the 2023 World Athletics Championships.
Cheptegei, 26, the world record holder, followed every move by his opponents to assure himself of good position, then ripped the final lap in 53.5 seconds to put the race away.
“It’s special for me,” Cheptegei told Race Results Weekly. “It’s my third world title: 2019, 2022 and now this year. I can’t be more proud than that.”
In hot conditions (32C/90F) with 49% humidity, the field of 25 was hesitant to push the pace. Cheptegei’s teammate, Joel Ayeko, ran a hot 62.9-second opening lap, but nobody bothered to respond.
Ayeko held the lead through 3000m (8:37.30), but he did so by running comfortable 70-second laps. The field was running the same speed, just a few seconds behind. Cheptegei was in no hurry to start the real racing.
“When you’re out there it’s kind of, you have a plan,” Cheptegei explained. “But, when you go inside there it’s a different thing.”
What developed next was a churn at the front where some of his key rivals, like Berihu Aregawi and Selemon Barega of Ethiopia, took turns at the lead and made soft attempts to up the pace: a 66-second lap here, a 65-second lap there.
Not much changed until 8000m (22:42.2) when Aregawi took the pace down to 64.6 seconds to separate the front group of about ten athletes from the rest of the field. Cheptegei continued to watch and wait.
“You have to read the game,” Cheptegei said. “You have to be awake mentally and try to see what’s going to happen in the race.”
With two laps to go, Cheptegei had his plan ready. He got on the front and ran the penultimate lap in 60 seconds flat. Only Kenya’s Daniel Ebenyo and Benard Kibet, Ethiopia’s Aregawi and Barega, and Canada’s Moh Ahmed could stay close.
“I was confident waiting for the last 400 meters,” Cheptegei said. “I needed to be in the lead.”
The others tried, but Cheptegei never relinquished his lead in the last lap, winning in 27:51.42, the slowest of his three winning times. Behind him, Barega seemed to have second place locked up, but Ebenyo was coming up on him fast.
“I just tried,” Ebenyo told Race Results Weekly. “I tell God, hey, give me chance, give me this chance.”
Barega was out of energy, but thought he had enough to hold second place. But literally within the final meter, Ebenyo went past him on the inside to grab the silver medal in 27:52.60. Barega had to settle for third just 12/100ths behind.
“I was watching him but I was not able to stretch my leg,” Barega said through a translator. “I was watching him on screens. I also thought that I already had crossed the line.”
Aregawi, who had put in a number of surges during the race, finished fourth in 27:55.71, and Kibet got fifth in 27:56.27. Ahmed, who was fifth at the bell, ended up sixth in 27:56.43.
It was not a great day for the American team of Woody Kincaid, Joe Klecker and Sean McGorty. Kincaid did best, finishing 11th in 28:08.71. McGorty was 16th in 28:27.54, and Klecker was 20th in 29:03.41. McGorty said that the heat really got to him.
“I think because we had ice vests when we first came out I was like, maybe this isn’t as bad as maybe I was expecting,” McGorty explained. “But, it built.”