In this article, Deji Ogeyingbo focuses on Jacob Kiplimo, who is shaking up the world of distance running, on the road and the track, and reminding people that some incredible runners are coming out of Uganda!
Jacob Kiplimo: The Ugandan seizing the moment and challenging the elite of distance running
Very rarely do you find a precocious distance running athlete. And that’s not because they don’t exist, but largely because the elite and top runners stay at the top for a long period, it is almost impossible to dislodge them at a young age. Most times, it is not because of the lack of trying or because there aren’t much talented runners coming through on the grid, but getting to the top and challenging for top honors takes improbable grit and tenacity.
There have been some outliers in the last three decades. Kenenisa Bekele challenged Hicham El Guerrouj, Eliud Kipchoge challenged Bekele, and Mo Farah challenged taking the sting out of Kipchoge and Bekele on the track as they both transitioned to the road. Every now and then, there, a spring chicken shows up and upsets the applecart.
At some point, these distance running greats had one or two moments that made them entrench their way into the heart of fans. From Bekele winning multiple cross-country titles at the Junior and senior level or an 18-year-old Kipchoge beating El Guerrouj and Bekele to the World title over the 5,000m in Paris in 2003 to Farah winning double Olympic Gold at the 2012 London Olympics, these were sliding door moments for the then youngsters who later went on to achieve great things in distance running.
Jacob Kiplimo is the latest distance running sensation. The Ugandan started competing internationally when he was 15 years old, and by the time he clocked twenty he had represented his country at the Olympics, world championships, and the Commonwealth Games. However, it wasn’t until 2021 that he broke the half marathon record when he ran 57.31 in Lisbon.
During the time frame in which Kiplimo was grinding it out and looking for that breakthrough performance, the 21-year-Old played second fiddle to his countryman, Joshua Cheptegei who broke the men’s 5k road 5000m, and 10,000m world record. And as expected, he took the limelight.
Before the 2021 season, Kiplimo made sure he got into the conversation. In what was a pandemic-hit year, beat Selemon Barega in the Czech Republic in his first race of 2020 as he ran a Personal Best of 12:48.53s. A few days later, he took on another prodigious talent in Jakob Ingebrigtsen over the 3000m in Roma. After both athletes went neck and neck for the most part of the race, it was Kiplimo’s final 50m, which has been a trademark for him as his strength and stamina are second to none, saw him pull through and claim victory in a new National Record of 7:26.64.
In addition to the incredible feat, Kiplimo became the youngest and fastest teenager in 3000m history. However, he saved his best of the last in 2020. At the 2020 Half marathon championships in Poland, Kiplimo faced Cheptegei and Kenya’s Kibiwott Kandie who was then faster than him over the half marathon.
One incredible thing that happened in the race was that he ran the final mile in 4:15. With his eventual winning time of 58:49s, he broke the world championships record and became the first Ugandan in history to win the championships. Then, he proved to the entire world that he was one to watch out for.
Having beaten some of the best distance runners as a teenager, Kiplimo went into 2021 with so much vigor and vitality as he set his eyes on the Olympics. In Tokyo, he ran both the 5000m and 10000m. And after coming close to getting on the podium in the shorter distance, Kiplimo picked up Bronze in the 10,000m.
However, it will be what he would go on to achieve a few months later, that will go on to make him a force to be reckoned with in the running world. At the EDP Lisbon Half Marathon in November 2021, Kiplimo pulled away from his opponents after just three kilometers into the race and he passed through the first 5km in 13:40. At that point, his opponents didn’t really know if he was going for the World Record or if he just wanted to win.
By the time he reached 10km in 27:05, he had a lead of about one minute over the chase pack and was well on schedule to break Kandie’s world record. Kiplimo passed through 15km in 40:27, the fastest time ever recorded for the distance and indicative of a sub-57-minute finish. With no nearby competitors to work off, Kiplimo’s pace dropped slightly in the closing stages, but he managed to just finish inside the world record, crossing the line in 57:31.
Kiplimo took lessons from the 2021 track season and pushed beyond the limit in 2022. At the World Championships in Oregon in July, Kiplimo finished behind his country Cheptegei over the 10,000 as he picked up bronze.
Perhaps, his most significant achievement this season was at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. In the absence of Cheptegei, Kiplimo upped his game and performed to expectations. Going shoulder to shoulder with Kenya’s Nicholas Kimeli, he outsprinted him to claim victory in the 10,000. A couple of days later, he followed that up with yet another win in the 5,000m.
Kiplimo seems to make the half-marathon his forte at the moment. At the Great North Run which took place in early September, the Ugandan once again beat Barega to the win with running great Bekele taking third.
The beauty about Kiplimo is that he can excel over any racing distance, be it the 3000m or the road races, he seems unstoppable. Very few talented athletes make it to the top and most times, they are the ones that have a good training regime and live a good lifestyle. They center their entire life around running. That’s exactly what we’ve seen with Kiplimo. The urge to get better with every single race, always reaching for the top.