Joshua Cheptegei has Daniel Komen’s 3000m world record firmly in his sights at the 60th edition of the Golden Spike in Ostrava, a World Athletics Continental Tour Gold meeting, on Wednesday (19).
The video of that astonishing run, in which Komen clocked 7:20.67 in Rieti, Italy in September 1996, is one the 24-year-old Ugandan knows well.
“Ever since I started running, I’ve been watching it three or four times (a year), and this year I’ve been watching it five times,” said Cheptegei at the press conference on Tuesday. “I still really can’t believe it. What he did was really special and most of the big icons in the sport, the likes of Kenenisa (Bekele), (Hicham) El Guerrouj, Haile (Gebrselassie) tried it, but it was untouchable and that shows you how special the record is.”
The key question for Cheptegei, however, is whether he also sees it that way?
“I believe it’s not untouchable,” he said.
The Ugandan said he was “satisfied” with his fitness ahead of tomorrow evening’s attempt, in which he will be paced by Australia’s Stewart McSweyn.
“I’m hopeful the weather is okay, it should be (possible to break) the Ugandan record, which is 7:26, and of course the final one is the world record – 7:20 is not easy, it’s one of the hardest records and that’s why it’s not been broken for the past 25 years, but I’ll run fast as long as my legs will carry me.”
Cheptegei believes the pandemic was a blessing in disguise for his performances last year, allowing as it did a period of uninterrupted training and the freedom to chase world records without having to worry about preparing for championships. He set the 5000m world record of 12:35.36 in Monaco in August before breaking another of Bekele’s records in Valencia in October, clocking 26:11.00 for 10,000m.
If he adds the 3000m record he will become just the third man in history – after Paavo Nurmi and Henry Rono – to hold all three world records at once, but it will be a tough ask, given no other athlete besides Komen has ever broken 7:23.
Another world record-holder, Mondo Duplantis, will compete in Ostrava for the first time on Wednesday and the pole vault kingpin admits there’s a question mark lingering over his likely performance.
“I did do a home meet at (Louisiana State University) but it was more of a last-second training meet, it wasn’t part of my schedule,” he said. “Now I’ve got to step it up a bit and go after the big stuff. It’s our opening meet, it’s nerve-wracking, it’s exciting, and I think we don’t know what to expect. We’re just going to out there and try to jump high.”
Duplantis cleared 5.90m in that first outdoor competition of the year but he has since been over six metres in training.
“I feel good, training is good but it’s hard to tell until we have a meet,” he said. “It’s hard to compare what I do in training to a meet. It’s a whole different mentality when it comes to a competition but the things I’m doing in training now are better than I’ve ever been. This is my first meet from a full approach so there should be a little bit of rust.”
Duplantis welcomed the news that 1500 fans will be allowed into the stadium on Wednesday evening. “You don’t realise how lame it is when you go from these crazy meets with people watching you to no one watching you,” he said. “I’ve always liked the pressure and I’ve always liked the spotlight.”
Sam Kendricks, the reigning world champion, will take on his good friend in Ostrava and he’s confident it can help him surpass his current best this year of 5.86m.
“Mondo always brings the best out of me,” said Kendricks, who is also relieved to have fans back in the stands at the event where he holds the meeting record of 5.93m. “You see the crowd is deserving of a spectacle and you want to give it to them. Having this energy and attention on us makes us do better.”
Best time of year, says Taylor
There is another clash to savour in the men’s triple jump where two-time Olympic champion Christian Taylor faces the man most likely to stand in his way in Tokyo: Hugues Fabrice Zango. Taylor had a best of 16.52m on his most recent outing in Eugene off a short run-up, but he’s coming to Ostrava ready to stretch his legs.
“Before was a short approach and (with) a lot of training, but now we’re ready to begin,” he said. “I chase competition, I really want to compete because training every day can get boring. This, for me, is the best time of year.”
Zango broke the world indoor triple jump record with his 18.07m in Aubiere, France, back in January and he opened his outdoor season with 17.40m earlier this month in Montpelier and he’s also expecting better in Ostrava.
“This (was a) good entry (competition) but for me it was not a big meeting,” he said. “Tomorrow will be the first meet where I will give it all. This winter (after) I jumped the world indoor record, my mind is open. For me, there is no limit. I know exactly what I have to do tomorrow.”
US sprint star Sha’Carri Richardson will aim to break 22 seconds for the first time in the women’s 200m in what is her first race on the European circuit, and the 21-year-old felt no ill-effects after the long journey to the Czech Republic.
“Even if I did have jetlag I wouldn’t use that as an excuse, I’m feeling good,” she said. “I fell in love with the 200 before the 100, I like to show people I can be a 200 runner as much as a 100 runner.”
Richardson confirmed she will attempt to make the US Olympic team at both distances next month and she’s not ruling out the possibility of the sprint world records of 10.49 and 21.34, which have stood to Florence Griffith-Joyner since 1988.
“I don’t think they’re impossible,” she said. “Records are there to be broken.”
In Ostrava Richardson will face two-time world champion Dafne Schippers, who will run her first individual race of the year.
“I’m always excited to run against the fastest girls in the world,” said Schippers. “It’s nice to see new talent and I’m really excited to race.”
Vetter looking for another lucky punch
Johannes Vetter will be the star attraction in the men’s javelin and he arrives fully content with his current fitness. “Training is going really, really well but I don’t want to throw far in training, I want to do it in competitions,” he said. “There is a lot to do before Tokyo but competitions are the best training.”
Vetter launched an astonishing 97.76m German record in Chorzow last September and he admits he’ll be trying hard to reproduce such magic this season.
“I’m not sure how hard it will be to recreate, the positions during that throw were really good and it’s always down to small details which are really hard to train, develop and stabilise. I think I’m in a good way now, the last competitions were at a really high level and I think, I hope, it’s a matter of time before I have one more lucky punch in a big competition. The most important thing is to stay healthy, especially in Olympic season.”
Anderson Peters will also be in the field and the world champion is relieved to be back in competition mode after missing the entirety of 2020, forced to remain in Grenada for much of the year due to travel restrictions. He was also rehabbing following surgery on his left knee in October 2019.
Cathal Dennehy for World Athletics