By George Katongole
Peruth Chemutai’s career has finally come full circle as her first appearance at the Olympic Games last month was a memorable record in the Women’s 3000m Steeplechase.
Setting a new national record in the process, 22-year-old Chemutai became the first Ugandan woman ever to win an Olympic medal.
Her watershed moment was only the third Olympic gold won by Uganda in any sport, after John Akii-Bua’s 400m Hurdles win in 1972 and Stephen Kiprotich’s victory in the 2012 Marathon.
When she crossed the line, Uganda’s wait for gold at Tokyo was greeted with wild celebrations in Kampala.
During the race, Chemutai started confidently chasing down USA’s Courtney Frerichs, who won silver at the 2017 World Championships, on the final lap and pulled away to win by 20 metres.
She had moved in front early in the race before Frerichs took the initiative with three laps to go, pulling away from the field.
But Chemutai responded to the challenge and overtook the American on the last lap before crossing the line 3.34 seconds ahead of her.
“I’m so happy and proud of myself. It was a good race. I enjoyed myself and I enjoyed the weather,” Chemutai said, after arrival in Uganda.
Commentators probably did not envisage her triumph as Chemutai was hardly full of experience.
She had finished seventh at the Rio Olympics five years ago before a fifth-place finish at the World Championships in Doha.
Luckily for her, the race was open as the standout steeplechaser Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech, who broke the world record in 2018 clocking 8:44.32, has not quite been so dominant this year.
Her compatriot Hyvin Kiyeng (Kenya), who won the world title in 2015, also misjudged her race, starting her final kick late as she secured the final podium place.
The fastest of the entrants, who is the African Games champion, Mekides Abebe (Ethiopia), clocked 9:06.16 to finish fourth.
Chemutai, who dropped out of school in senior one, was clearly enjoying herself on the big stage and she was among the three beneficiaries of the presidential reward of a brand new Pajero car from President Yoweri Museveni, during a welcome ceremony at Kololo Airstrip.
In her home area of Kapchorwa, she received a heroes’ welcome alongside teammates Joshua Cheptegei and Jacob Kiplimo, where three cows were slaughtered at the victors’ party.
Chemutai started elite running in 2013 after an inspiring outing during the district athletics championships in Bukwo.
She later decided to take it as a profession. But this came at a cost as she had to drop out of school to chase her dream.
Born to Isaya and Sophie Chebet on July 10, 1999, Chemutai is the second born of 12.
She attended Chemuron Primary School before joining Tulel SS Bukwo, from where she dropped out to concentrate on running.
Police Athletics Club recruited her in 2015 and deployed her in the sports department as a Special Police Constable (SPC).
She travelled to the Olympics with hope of gold, and there she is smiling her way into record-breaking.
Chemutai is now top of the league and she has proven without doubt that she will be a force to reckon with in the athletics world.
Most importantly, she is a girl many will remember for years to come.
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