The country’s most valuable female athlete and only Ugandan woman to win an Olympic gold medal (Tokyo 2021), Peruth Chemutai, days ago struggled in the World Champs in Oregon, US.
After an uncharacteristic performance that started promisingly, Chemutai came home with the clock at 9mins, 21secs, 93 microseconds.
That time was 20 seconds shy of her Olympic gold winning speed in 2021, her personal best which is 9mins, 1sec, 45 microseconds.
Both mainstream and social media have been awash with speculations regarding her unfamiliar show.
Javier Silas Omagor caught up with Chemutai to explain her performance moments before she left Oregon for Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Peruth, many thanks for representing the country in the Oregon World Champs.
I am humbled, although my best was not good enough to win the country another major medal.
For the entirety of this year, I covered your training sessions and competitions both at national and international races and you won or finished within the medal bracket in almost all of them, so what exactly happened in Oregon?
Very disappointing! I was unlucky. Since I arrived in Oregon, I started having a severe stomachache.
I told myself ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do now?’
I tried to bear the pain so as to make my country proud, but it just got worse during the finals.
I could have dropped out of the race at some point, but I knew I had to endure the pain and finish the race in whichever position that would be.
Thankfully, you finished in the eleventh position, but about the stomachache, was American food the problem?
Oh yes, the American food was so unfavourable. Out of all the food we had at our disposal, rice was the only thing I could eat.
I suffered a lot in America. I wished I had my own food with me, but I was almost helpless. Earlier, I tried their food and it reacted badly in my stomach.
As you braved your own setbacks, your close friend, Norah Jeruto, claimed victory and later hugged you, what do make of her win?
She is my very close friend. We are professionals who celebrate with each other.
I was happy for her victory; that is why I decided to embrace her so passionately in spite of my own disappointment.
In athletics, everyone has their own day; that (World Champs 3000m steeplechase 2022) was Jeruto’s.
So, it has been a couple of days since then, how are you feeling right now?
The team doctor (Martin Chebet) put me on treatment. I am feeling better now.
Great news, Peruth! Are you returning to Uganda or your management has a special programme for you ahead of the Commonwealth Games?
For the remaining weeks (till Commonwealth Games commence on July 28), I will stay in the Netherlands, at Global Sports Communication (her management agency) headquarters.
I love the Netherlands and entire Europe because the food there is good; they even have posho and that will help me a lot.
That sounds like you are promising to make amends at the Commonwealth Games, right?
Yes, I will turn my disappointment and that of my country in Oregon into joy in Birmingham.
I trust that God will be on my side and I will be happy again and Uganda will have its anthem played before the entire world.
The good news is that I have no problem with the English food as well.
I will run for my country without fearing anybody.
Should your fans and the whole country expect a medal?
That is all I am preparing and praying for. I will make it in Birmingham and they will rejoice again.
My target is to bring another major medal for Uganda.
I know by now, you have an idea of who will be on the Commonwealth Games 3,000m steeplechase star tlist, who are you worried of, if any?
None! I respect all of them, but during the race, I will not fear any of them.
There have been pockets of negative opinions about your performance, how do you handle scrutiny that comes with your celebrity status?
If you are my fan, we are in a social relationship and that means it should never be one sided.
My true fans will always be there for me while losing and feeling low and they will be there when I am winning. If you only want to be there when things are good, I am sorry you are in the wrong place.
I sometimes go to social media and read messages from a few negative people criticising athletes after a poor show, which is not smart. Everyone has a bad day in the office.
We all need love, support and encouragement the most during low moments, so why should an athlete be different? It should be unconditional support.
Other members of team Uganda are still impressing and winning medals actually, what is your take on them?
I feel happy and proud of Joshua (Cheptegei), Jacob Kiplimo and Stephen Kissa. They ran smart and pulled out their strategy well.
Winnie Nanyondo (1,500m finished in 8th position) ran well although she was unlucky not to finish on the podium.
Halima Nakaayi also tried her best in the 800m race although she did not make it to the finals.
I also watched the 5000m heats which involved Oscar Chelimo and Joshua Cheptegei who both qualified for the finals. Peter Maru did well as well, but could not qualify. He is still a junior athlete who only came here to learn, but he is very promising.
Team work is such a good proponent in sports and you can see how it paid off in the 10,000m men’s category for Cheptegei, Kiplimo and Kissa.
It is good you talk about teamwork, but bad to note that you have no Ugandan steeplechaser in your category to plan with, it must be lonely for you in international races?
I am praying for God to give us a couple of female steeplechasers to break into the senior team. I badly need teammates to tactically strategise within these competitions. Being alone makes it hard to plan.
For now I am happy that Loice Chekwemoi (junior steeplechase runner) is promising and hopefully her progress is steadily going upwards.
She qualified for the Junior World Athletics Championships taking place in Cali, Colombia in early August and I know she will make it.
There is power in numbers. Sometimes you do not need a team to succeed, but most times you will need teamwork to win regularly as a country.
World Champs, Commonwealth Games, World Juniors champs, Islamic Solidarity Games all in the mix, the busy schedule is only beginning, do you see medals pouring in for Uganda?
Of course, the teams have prepared well collectively and individually. If the weather conditions and other important factors stay constant, Ugandans must expect the biggest medal haul season ever.
I expect more medals for the team in Birmingham (Commonwealth Games), the World junior team is richly talented, while Abel Chebet and Janat Chemusto are not bad for Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey.
We are going to have more champions at the end of this busy fixture, I promise you that.
Any special message for your fans?
To you all in Uganda, thank you for supporting me and the entire team. We shall always do our best to make you proud.
I thank my coach, Addy Ruiter, Global Sports Communication Management, our federation, the ministry (sports), Uganda Police management (her club) and my fiancé Collins Chebet for encouraging me.
Peruth, as Vision Group, we wish you all the best in your preparations and success in Birmingham.
Thank you very much for having me.