As he followed the Ostrava Golden Spike meet, which is part of the World Athletics Continental Tour Gold series from his Eldoret home, Komen knew smashing the record would be a tall order or even impossible.
Komen, 45, holds three world records 3,000m (indoor), 3,000m (outdoor) and two miles. He proved his might as he set the world outdoor 3,000m record of 7:20.67 in Rieti, Italy, on September 1, 1996.
He then went into historical books as the only man alive to run two miles under eight minutes where he set the world record mark of 7:58 in Hechtel, Belgium, on July 19, 1997.
Komen then set the 3,000m world indoor record of 7:24.90 in Budapest, Hungary, on February 6, 1998.
Ethiopia’s multiple record holder Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie tried but failed to break the records; only until the athletics world branded the all-time marks as ‘Mt Everest’. Most global track icons have attempted and failed to break these records.
Despite enjoying favourable conditions in Ostrava, Cheptegei ran 7:33.24 to slightly improve his 7:33.26 personal best in the distance, but could not come close to destroying Komen’s world record mark.
“Cheptegei ran a good race. He is a good athlete. He has trained well and more importantly, he is disciplined,” Komen told Standard Sport yesterday in an interview in Eldoret.
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Cheptegei’s attempt, Komen said, rekindled memories of his 1996 outstanding world record moment.
Komen spectacularly broke Noureddine Morceli’s former record by 4.44 seconds in the 1996 race.
The track legend also holds the world 3000m indoor record, which he set in Budapest in 1998, barely two years after eclipsing the outdoor record. Speaking at Potters House Academy, a private primary school he owns, Komen said Cheptegei, 24, has shown potential to break the long-standing world record. “With a good strategy and training, he (Cheptegei) may break my world record,” a composed Komen said.
“I once competed at the Ostrava stadium, which is a fast track in a 1500m event and I ran 3:30 which was a national record then,” he said.
Komen said he would be happy to see the record fall now that technology in pacing and shoes has advanced.
He recalls how he overcame all odds while training for the world-breaking races and often facing humiliation from Ethiopian legend Haile Gebrselassie.
He said he was paced by 1500m athletes Martin Keino and David Kisang in the world record race.
“Together with Moses Kiptanui (former world 3000m record holder), David Kiptoo and Paul Bitok, we travelled from Eldoret to Nyahururu where we would train for a whole month – away from the comfort of our homes. It wasn’t easy preparing for races,” he said.
He said he broke the world record after failing to compete at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, and wanted to prove that he was capable of making history on the track.
“I wanted to race at the Olympic Games in 1996 but I didn’t. I wanted to show the country that I was capable of winning. I prepared well for the 3000m world record, just after the Olympics,” he said.
Behind pace pacemaker Stewart McSweyn of Australia, who has run 7:28 in 3000m, Cheptegei was within the pace dictated by the pacing lights through the first half of the race, crossing 1500 in 3:39 and 1600 in 3:55 but slowed down seconds later, during the Wednesday night race. And that is how the mission aborted.