Joshua Cheptegei, whose three appearances in this COVID-disrupted year have seen him break three world records, wants to complete a special hat-trick of world titles tomorrow at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia, where he will be making his debut at the distance.
The 24-year-old Ugandan, who broke the world five kilometres record on the roads of Monaco in February and has followed up by setting new marks on the track at 5000 and 10,000 metres, wants to complete a set of championship gold medals having won the World Cross Country and world 10,000m titles last year.
"I’ve shown in cross-country and on the track, and I have also shown when it comes to breaking world records, and now the only thing is to win a special title on the roads," he said at today’s pre-event press conference in the Polish city.
"Crowning the season with a title would be something that would be good for me.
"To have first my debut, then a win – that would be amazing.
"That would be really something special and classic."
If Cheptegei wins tomorrow he will become only the second man in the modern era to win global titles on the track, road and cross-country, joining Khalid Skah, the Moroccan who won this title in 1994 and in so doing became the last man to win the World Half on his debut at the distance.
Meanwhile the women’s race in what will be World Athletics’ one and only international championship of 2020 – postponed from its original date of March 29, and obliged to cancel its mass race element on August 31 – features, for the first time since the Championships were launched in 1992, two current world record holders for the distance.
Ethiopia’s Ababel Yeshaneh, who ran 1hour 04min 31sec at the Ras Al-Khaimah Half Marathon in February and Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir, who earned the record for a women-only race when she clocked 1:05:34 at the Prague 21.1K in September, are the two favourites in a hugely strong women’s field.
Cheptegei explained that this event had originally been planned for him as a good preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, until the global pandemic caused widespread postponements.
"Things change," said Cheptegei, "so of course my coach and I sat down and saw we had the option of running in the Diamond Leagues and trying to attack a couple of world records, which I think I have achieved.
"I have been training well for my track events, and although I know the Half Marathon Championships come just a few days after the 10,000 metres world record, I believe I am a person of high talent and I can say it will be a nice challenge for me.
"I have had the best and fabulous season, the most amazing season of my life.
"I thought that last year was going to be the good year for me, but this year is far more great than previous years – with COVID, but still if I look back it is still a great year.
"That gives us a lot of encouragement that sometimes, in difficult challenges, we have to be stronger and accept the situation and develop some new mechanisms of adapting and moving on with life.
"I won’t have any regrets, this is a new challenge for me – but – I am also hungry for the title, as there are not so many events this year, and if I can win this title that would be special to me."
Cheptegei pointed out that he had also had success in longer distances, and holds the current world best for 15 kilometres from 2018.
"So that tells you that it will not be something so disastrous to me."
One of Cheptegei’s strongest challengers could well be his youngest team-mate, Jacob Kiplimo.
The 19-year-old clocked a Ugandan record of 7min 26.64sec for 3000 metres in Rome – the fastest run this year – and set a 5000m personal best of 12:48.63 in Ostrava.
His last race against Cheptegei came at the 2019 World Cross Country Championships, where he shared the lead for much of the way before finishing second.
Since 2006, all but one of the nine men’s titles have been won by either Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea or Kenya’s Geoffrey Kamworor.
Neither man will be in Gdynia, which is on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea, meaning for the first time since 2010 a new name will feature on the top step of the podium.
But despite the absence of Kamworor, who was involved in a car accident earlier this year, the Kenyan team – headed by the man who tops this year’s world rankings with a time of 58min 38sec, Kibiwott Kandie - is still strong.
The Kenyans will be set on winning their first senior men’s global team title since 2016, having been beaten at the 2018 World Half and the most recent editions of the World Cross Country.
However the Ugandan team has strength in depth with 2009 world under-20 cross-country bronze medallist Moses Kibet, Stephen Kissa, who has ran the distance in an hour, and 20-year-old rising talent Victor Kiplangat.
Ethiopia, whose team includes the mercurial Guye Adola, who has beaten Kamworor over this distance, should never be written off.
There are high hopes too of Kenyan success in the women’s team race, according to Jepchirchir, who has returned to the top level after giving birth to a daughter, Natalia, at the end of 2017.
"The Kenyan team is strong," said the 27-year-old, who won this title in the rain of Cardiff in Wales in 2016 and may be facing similar conditions on the looped course tomorrow.
"We are going to run as a team.
"We have prepared well and I know that maybe gold will go to Kenya."
Also in the field are Netsanet Kebede Gudeta and Joyciline Jepkosgei, the gold and silver medallists from 2018 – and, incidentally, the previous world record-holders of the two women’s half marathon marks.
Eritrea – winners of team medals at the past 10 editions, including gold in 2014 – have not entered a team for Gdynia.
Nor will there be representatives of Japan and the United States, who have sent teams to all 23 previous editions.