PRIOR TO THIS GAMES only 4 men ever had come into an Olympic 5000 final as the WR holder and then triumphed for gold. Here Joshua Cheptegei became the fifth to unify the titles.
Running to the front of a 10-man lead pack with just under 600 to go, Cheptegei — who had claimed 10,000 silver a week earlier — opened a gap on the penultimate homestretch and kicked to the win in 12:58.15 from Moh Ahmed (12:58.61 as Canada’s first 5K medalist) and Paul Chelimo (12:59.05).
In becoming Uganda’s fourth-ever gold medalist and first-ever in the 5000, the 24-year-old joined Hannes Kolehmainen (1912), Paavo Nurmi (’24), Lauri Lehtinen (’32) and Kenenisa Bekele (2008) in the august WR holder/Olympic champion club.
Bekele’s WR had been the standard Cheptegei took down last August as he covered 12½ laps in 12:35.36, the first clocking more than 2 minutes faster than the 14:36.6 standard Kohlemainen set in his Olympic win 109 years ago.
WR holder though he was, Cheptegei finished just 6th in his only pre-Games 5000 at the Florence DL so rated in the same spot on our formchart. The chart’s reliability as guide took a hit, though, when its presumptive No. 1, Ethiopian Getnet Wale, finished a non-advancing 9th in his heat after a 4th in the steeple final.
In the heats the contenders ran tactically under sultry conditions. Kenyan Nicholas Kimeli took the first in 13:38.87 and formchart No. 2, Mohammed Katir of Spain, a sparkler on the summer’s Euro Circuit, prevailed in the second (13:30.10) with Cheptegei comfortably 5th, 0.51 behind.
Though sticky weather featured for the final too, logic suggested Cheptegei would prefer a stiffer tempo than those followed by Mo Farah for his London and Rio victories.
Rather than bang all alone, though, it appeared Cheptegei opted for a little help from a friend. He headed the pack through a 63.2 first lap and stayed there through 600 before ceding leadership to young teammate Jacob Kiplimo, the 20-year-old who had captured 10K bronze.
The world half-marathon champ, Kiplimo carried the pace through 2300m with the full laps he led timed in 63.4 (2:07.0), 62.4, 62.4 [4:11.8 at 1600] and 62.3 (5:14.1) before Cheptegei went up front again.
Turning laps of 64.1, 64.2 and 63.4, the soon-to-be winner reached 3200 in 8:26.7 with Kimeli at his side and 14 men still on the train — though Katir hung at the rear, looking not particularly threatening. Chelimo ran 8th and the two U.S. doublers back from the 10K, Grant Fisher and Woody Kincaid, held 10th and 12th.
Perhaps gathering resources for the finish, Cheptegei let Kimeli have a turn in front for the next two go-arounds — 63.1 and 62.6 (10:32.4 at 4K).
Chelimo, the Rio silver medalist, had now worked his way into the tightly bunched lead group. As Ethiopian Milkesa Mengesha led up the backstraight with just over a lap and a half to run an elbow bump with Kimeli knocked the American into the infield for 3 steps.
Entering the next curve, Cheptegei bid adieu to the fray. He passed the bell 2m ahead of Kimeli and Chelimo but the Kenyan had one more attack to make. Kimeli reclosed the gap with 300 left and tried to pass but Cheptegei upped the ante with a 13.5 next 100 and strolled home alone — if 13.9, 27.6, 55.0 closing figures can be termed a stroll.
The Bowerman TC’s Ahmed ran 5th entering the curve, burst past Kiplimo early in the bend and then by Chelimo and Kimeli 70m out to finish 2½m back. His finish was the fastest in the field: 13.7, 27.4, 54.7.
Chelimo worked Kimeli out into lane 3 in the last 50 — shades of his OT finish — and craned farther and farther forward over the last 10m. So far, in fact, that he crashed to the track in an arms-out-front dive after he crossed the line.
A slide well worth it, as the always physical Chelimo became just the first American ever to have medaled twice in the 5000.
“I had to give it all out there and that’s why I dove over the line, because I had given it all,” Chelimo said. “At the end at the finishline, I didn’t have anything. Being a double Olympic medalist was the big goal today.”
“I’m going to feel that tomorrow, not now. Right now I’ve got the adrenaline. I might feel it tomorrow, but I live to fight and always believe in one thing: go hard or suffer the rest of your life.”
Said the winner, “I have a lot of titles now. I’ve broken a couple of World Records and I’ve also become a world champion [’19 WC 10,000), but I would say that to win an Olympic gold and become Olympic champion is really special because it counts for a lot. I count this achievement to be higher rated than the World Record.”
Wisconsin alum Ahmed, who had been just 6th with 300 left, said, “I was just telling myself little cues to try and get there and to come home. I felt like I could get a medal, even when I was in 6th place. I was able to read people’s body language a little bit and I was like, ‘Man, I think you can get it — you feel good, just keep kicking, keep pushing.’”
MEN’S 5000 RESULTS
(August 06) (temperature 84F/29C; humidity 78%)
1. Joshua Cheptegei (Uga) 12:58.15
(13.9, 27.6, 55.0, 1:54.2, 3:59.6);
2. Moh Ahmed (Can) 12:58.61
(13.7, 27.4, 54.7, 1:54.5, 3:59.9);
3. Paul Chelimo (US) 12:59.05 (AL)
(14.2, 28.2, 55.4, 1:55.1, 3:59.8);
4. Nicholas Kimeli (Ken) 12:59.17
(14.6, 28.5, 55.7, 1:55.5, 4:00.9);
5. Jacob Kiplimo (Uga) 13:02.40
(17.0, 31.5, 58.6, 1:58.2, 4:03.4);
6. Birhanu Yemataw (Bhr) 13:03.20
(15.6, 30.5, 58.5, 1:58.2, 4:03.5);
7. Justyn Knight (Can) 13:04.38
(15.4, 30.4, 59.8, 2:00.1, 4:05.5);
8. Mohamed Katir (Spa) 13:06.60;
9. Grant Fisher (US) 13:08.40
(14.9, 30.3, 61.5, 2:03.6);
10. Milkesa Mengesha (Eth) 13:08.50;
11. Andrew Butchart (GB) 13:09.97;
12. Luis Grijalva (Gua) 13:10.09 NR;
13. Jimmy Gressier (Fra) 13:11.33;
14. Woody Kincaid (US) 13:17.20;
15. Dawit Fikadu (Bhr) 13:20.24;
16. Oscar Chelimo (Uga) 13:44.45.
(kilo leaders: Kiplimo 2:38.00, 5:14.10; Cheptegei 7:55.25; Kimeli 10:32.38)
HEATS (August 03)
I–1. Kimeli 13:38.87; 2. Ahmed 13:38.96; 3. Kincaid 13:39.04; 4. Chelimo 13:39.07; 5. Yemataw 13:39.42; 6. Marc Scott (GB) 13:39.61; 7. Hugo Hay (Fra) 13:39.95; 8. David McNeill (Aus) 13:39.97; 9. Getnet Wale (Eth) 13:41.13; 10. Daniel Simiyu (Ken) 13:41.64; 11. Jonas Raess (Swi) 13:43.52; 12. Soufiyan Bouqantar (Mor) 13:43.97; 13. Luc Bruchet (Can) 13:44.08; 14. Nibret Melak (Eth) 13:45.81; 15. Yemaneberhan Crippa (Ita) 13:47.12; 16. Robin Hendrix (Bel) 13:58.37; 17. Yuta Bando (Jpn) 14:05.80; 18. Nursultan Keneshbekov (Kir) 14:07.79; 19. Abidine Abidine (Mau) 14:54.80 PR;… dnf—Mike Foppen (Neth).
II–1. Katir 13:30.10; 2. Chelimo 13:30.15; 3. Knight 13:30.22; 4. Kiplimo 13:30.40; 5. Cheptegei 13:30.61; 6. Mengesha 13:31.13; 7. Butchart 13:31.23; 8. Fisher 13:31.80; 9. Gressier 13:33.47; 10. Grijalva 13:34.11; 11. Morgan McDonald (Aus) 13:37.36; 12. Narve Gilje Nordås (Nor) 13:41.82; 13. Jamal Abdelmaji Eisa Mohammed (Sud) 13:42.98 PR; 14. Fikadu 13:44.03; 15. Precious Mashele (SA) 13:48.25; 16. Mohamed Mohumed (Ger) 13:50.46; 17. Isaac Kimeli (Bel) 13:57.36; 18. Hiroki Matsueda (Jpn) 14:15.54. ◻︎