VALENCIA, SPAIN, October 07—With an even older, and just as formidable, World Record as his target than the women’s 5000 mark Letesenbet Gidey had improved just before his start at the NN Valencia World Record Day, Joshua Cheptegei knocked down Kenenisa Bekele’s hallowed 15-year-old 10,000 standard.
On a warm, humid evening in Turia Stadium he completed the 25 laps in 26:11.00. The time bettered Bekele’s mark, set in Brussels in ’05, by 6.53 and stood up as a cracking follow to the 24-year-old Ugandan’s erasure of Ethiopian great Bekele’s 5000 standard a month and a half ago at the Monaco DL.
Cheptegei’s was a magnificent run even though many rue the “disruption” ZoomX Dragonfly spikes and other recently developed shoes rather obviously have wrought on all-time lists and the very meaning of “fast.” Don’t count Cheptegei’s manager Jos Hermens, an organizer of the WR chase doubleheader, among the complainers. Hermens sees the new generation of shoes as part of natural and inevitable technological evolution. “Anybody can run in those spikes so there is nothing special,” Hermens told CNN. “Of course shoes develop, tracks develop, everything develops all the time in any sport.
“Go to Formula 1, apparently Mercedes has a better motor than the one from Red Bull and no one makes a problem about that. It’s everywhere. I don’t see the problem.” Hermens views the Wavelight pacing system Cheptegei followed as he churned through the race’s second half as not all that different from a primitive pace light setup used for his own 1-Hour WR back in ’76 and defended Wavelight as an enhancement primarily for fan enjoyment.
“Now we are all digital and into visual things,” he continued. “A lot of athletics fans have gone, the young people don’t understand athletics so how wonderful is it to say that to break the World Record, you have to be in front of the green light?
“It’s not like we stand on the track, put on the lights and we break a World Record. The athletes just have to run. We have to get our sport more interesting.”
Anyway, Cheptegei’s 25-lap tour—with a second pack chasing sub-27:00 times—exceeded “interesting.” He needed to average faster than 63.1 to break Bekele’s WR. That’s virtuoso running and Cheptegei’s rabbits, three of them, delivered.
Not until the tenth circuit (63.28) did a lap not below the target pass. That meant “money in the bank” for much of the run: 3000 in 7:52.79, 5000 in 13:07.73, 1.46 up on Bekele’s marker. At halfway, Cheptegei’s last hare, sub-27:00 performer Nicholas Kimeli, moved outside, though he would finish in 27:12.98, about a dozen seconds off his PR. (Continued below)
Plenty of drama had yet to unfold. Bekele had effected some mean pace-pushing through 6K in his record, and at that juncture Cheptegei’s 15:45.06 split actually trailed the Ethiopian’s by about a half-second, and he dropped a series of 5 metronomic laps: 62.92, 62.59, 62.92, 63.02, 62.97. That sent him past 8K in 20:59.48, 5.15 faster than what his target had run. With his next kilo, the challenger sealed it: 23:36.75 at 9K, 8.34 ahead of schedule and running, as it were, on a cushion.
With some 600m to run he lapped Shadrack Kipchirchir, en route to a 27:28.97 AL seasonal best of his own. The American clung gamely behind the race leader for half a lap and then had to let go as Cheptegei tore into his last go-around, a 60.06. With a 2:03.93 last 800 and a 13.5 finishing 100 that looked remarkably dynamic, the record chaser raced home smiling, having bagged his prize.
“I think this means something great to me. We are trying to write history,” Cheptegei said. “We want people to know that track is still exciting and we want to give it all. The sports lovers in the world can have the benefit of the time by seeing us now.”
The subtext of this last remark, Cheptegei acknowledged, was the C19 pandemic. “You know we live in a difficult situation now with COVID but this event can still give us joy, can still give us hope for tomorrow,” he said. “Knowing that we need to take precautions, we need to wear a mask, we need to be careful, we don’t need to be reckless again. We need to tell [people] again that we want to get back to normal and the best way we can do that is when all of us get concerned about coming back to normal.”
Bekele was 23 when he set his 10K WR. Cheptegei is just a year older. “I think this just lays a foundation of what can still happen and what I can achieve in the years to come,” he said.
VALENCIA MEN’S RESULTS
10,000: 1. Joshua Cheptegei (Uga) 26:11.00 WR (old WR 26:17.53 Kenenisa Bekele [Eth] ’05) (finish—13.5, 60.06, 2:03.93, 3:05.66, 4:08.58);
2. Nicholas Kimeli (Ken) 27:12.98;
3. Shadrack Kipchirchir (US) 27:28.97 (AL);
4. Stephen Kissa (Uga) 27:34.48 PR; 5. Victor Kiplangat (Uga) 28:16.40 PR; 6. Luuk Maas (Neth) 29:17.74 PR;
(Leader laps: Hoornweg 63.04, 62.92 [2:05.96], 63.0 [3:09.0], 63.06 [4:12.06]; Ramsden 62.99 [5:15.05], 63.05 [6:18.10], 63.08 [7:21.18], 62.92 [8:24.10]; Kimeli 62.45 [9:26.55], 63.28 [10:29.83], 63.03 [11:32.86], 62.99 [12:35.85], 63.23 [13:39.08]; Cheptegei 63.02 [14:42.10], 62.96 [15:45.06], 62.92 [16:47.98], 62.59 [17:50.57], 62.92 [18:53.49], 63.02 [19:56.51], 62.97 [20:59.48], 62.94 [22:02.42], 62.92 [23:05.34], 61.73 [24:07.07], 63.87 [25:10.94], 60.06).
(Leader kilos: 2:37.9, 2:37.2 [5:15.05], 2:37.74 [7:52.79], 2:37.04 [10:29.83], 2:37.90 [13:07.73], 2:37.33 [15:45.06], 2:36.9 [18:22.0], 2:37.5 [20:59.48], 2:37.27 [23:36.75], 2:34.25)