HEAD ABOVE SHOULDERS.
Jacob Kiplimo has come of age for Uganda’s long distance running.
Last Sunday, Jacob Kiplimo tucked a dominant win at the Cross Internacional de Itálica under his belt. This was a win like no other. The teen sensation might be no stranger to turning up victorious at Iaaf World Cross Country Permit meetings, but it’s not everyday that he leaves Joshua Cheptegei in his wake. Yet that is exactly what he did in the sunbathed Spanish city of Seville.
Needless to say the temptation to read too much in the win is overbearing. Many observers have christened it a quintessentially coming of age moment for Kiplimo.
Here is why: Cheptegei is no spring chicken for starters. Above all, the double Commonwealth champion went into last Sunday’s 9.9km event safe in the knowledge that victory would see him match compatriot Matthew Kisorio’s feat of successive titles in 2008 and 2009.
Kiplimo, though, had other ideas. After initially going about business conservatively, the teenager cantered to the tape on the back of what is now becoming his trademark -- a devastating kick.
The approach more than anything showed just how streetwise Kiplimo has become after diving head first into the senior ranks.
Ironically, Kiplimo announced himself to the world on the day Cheptegei suffered an extraordinary meltdown. Many Ugandans tend to forget that before Cheptegei faded badly during the senior men’s race at the 2017 Iaaf World Cross Country Championships in Kampala, Kiplimo had scored a convincing win in the Under-20 category. It remains Uganda’s solitary gold medal at a World Cross.
All that could change in a few months. More on that later. First back to that extraordinary day in March of 2017. Just as Cheptegei would go on to do -- albeit fatally -- Kiplimo turned on the afterburners early under the punishingly hot conditions in Kololo.
It’s hard to tell whether the momentum that took him to the finish line with aplomb was a product of either the vociferous home support or that he in fact read the situation brilliantly. It could have been a subtle mixture of both. There was, however, no point of departure about the scale of his victory and that he had showed an old head on young shoulders.
Kiplimo teemed with more maturity en route to placing fourth in the men’s 10,000 metres final at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Cheptegei made the headlines on that occasion after capturing gold, but Kiplimo’s season best time at the Carrara Stadium cast him as the proverbial low-hanging fruit waiting to be picked.
A hat trick of wins at the backend of 2018, including one at the 37th Cross Internacional de la Constitución in Alcobendas, Spain gave the impression of a precocious talent at the peak of his powers.
It will be fascinating to see how he fares at the World Cross in Denmark at the tail end of March and Worlds in September.