After watching a race for nearly 13 minutes, the Ethiopian distance running legend was left stunned.
“Wow, amazing!” he exclaimed.
The blistering run by the Ugandan, who was just eight when Bekele powered to a record that would stand unbeaten for 16 years, left the retired track distance star dumbstruck.
“He is a superstar and simply the best.” - Haile Gebrselassie on Joshua Cheptegei.
Gebrselassie, who enjoyed success breaking 5,000m and 10,000m world records, was utterly impressed by how Cheptegei had effortlessly set the new mark.
“I watched the 5,000m world record in Monaco, and it didn’t look hard [for him] compared to the time I ran the 5,000m.”
As an athlete, Gebrselassie set 27 world records, including an amazing 5,000m time of 12:39.36 in Helsinki, Finland, in 1998.
And now the two-time Olympic gold medal winner is tipping Cheptegei to smash the 10,000m record on Wednesday (7 October) in an event you can watch live on Olympic Channel.
Cheptegei can go even faster in the 5,000m
At the resumption of the athletics season, reigning 10,000m world champion Cheptegei decided he would mark his return to competition in style after the COVID pandemic disruption.
He announced a plan to attack both the 10km time, and the long-standing 5,000m record.
Bettering the 5km road world record in 12 minutes 51 seconds from the previous mark of 13:22 in February, gave him the motivation to chase the track record in the shorter of the two distances. And doing so in 2020 was his aim.
"There would not be a right moment to try and break the world record. So I told myself even if we have COVID-19 now, this year presents me the right moment and the right opportunity to try and make history,” he told the Olympic Channel of his decision.
Gebrselassie, who set a gold standard in the 5,000m that stood for six years before it was bettered by his compatriot Bekele in Hengelo [12:37:35], was astonished to see Cheptegei finish in 12:35:36 in that August run.
Speaking exclusively to Olympic Channel, Gebrselassie said, "the 5,000m world record in Monaco didn’t look hard compared to the time I ran. He is a superstar and simply the best!”
“It looks like he can run 12:35 for 5,000m. It’s amazing to see such wonderful athletes in this generation. I don’t know what is going to be the time in the future.” - Haile Gebrselassie on Joshua Cheptegei
Gebrselassie: ‘Sub 26 possible’ in the 10,000m
The run in Monaco was an inspirational performance that has the legend excited for this 10,000m record challenge from the Ugandan, and the new batch of runners coming through from East Africa.
“It’s not only Joshua, the other friend of his [Jacob] Kiplimo. These two athletes’ wow! Where have they come from? Amazing! It looks like they can run sub 26, if not, 26:10.
“I worry that if they run under 26 minutes it’s going to be difficult for others to break it,” said Gebrselassie, his mind on 24-year-old Cheptegei’s world record attempt in Valencia on October 7, which is live on Olympic Channel.
Gebrselassie feels the runner from the high-altitude region of Kapchorwa, eastern Uganda, is the present and the future, and could dominate the distance track races as he and Bekele did.
Bekele’s world record stands at 26:17.53 set in Brussels in 2005. No athlete other than the triple Olympic champion himself has come within five seconds of that mark.
Kenya's 2008 Olympic bronze medallist Micah Kogo was closest with his 26:35.63 run in 2006.
Cheptegei’s personal best is 26:48.36, his winning time from the 2019 World Championships in Doha, which ranks him 18th in the all-time list.
Technology advances make things seem "easy"
Double Olympic champion Gebrselassie, who at his best surpassed his pacemakers in races, wonders how much faster he could have run if he had the new technology available to athletes now.
“If you see athletics now, I am jealous. The shoes that I am running in now from Adidas, Wow! very comfortable. These people should have brought these shoes [out] when I was in shape.”
“Technology is helping these athletes! When you have that kind of technology, and [what] they are using in the stadium when the athletes are running, you can plan your tempo. It [becomes] very easy to break the world record,” he reasoned.
Cheptegei wore Nike’s new Dragonfly spikes when he broke the world record in Monaco, believed to give runners a boost.
He also had access to the Wavelight technology introduced at this year’s Diamond League track events.
The system uses the rail (inside of the 400m track) in which the lights flash at an assigned pace for the runners helping them to keep up with the targeted time.
Cheptegei the man to beat in Tokyo?
Cheptegei dreams of becoming the greatest by not only running super-fast but being “the best ever, like Kenenisa, Gebrselassie, and Eliud Kipchoge.”
He is determined to win the 5,000m and 10,000m titles after Britain's Mo Farah won the double at both London 2012 and Rio 2016 and will be trying to defend both in Tokyo.
The five-time Olympian Gebrselassie feels Cheptegei is on the right track as he heads into the Olympic year.
“If you look at Joshua and Kiplimo, can you take gold from those athletes? My friend Mo [Farah] it’s not going to be easy [for him] but he will be prepared for that.”
Talking 10,000m revives special memories for Gebrselassie and his last victory at the Olympics at Sydney 2000.
“[Until now] it’s as if I am still in the race competing with Paul [Tergat]. It looks like I took that gold from him,” he said as breaks into a hearty laugh.
“If you ask me which was my best race ever? or if you ask me which [race] I choose in my athletics career? Of course, Sydney! If you ask me to choose 1,2,3…1. Sydney! 2. Sydney! 3. Sydney! “- Haile Gebrselassie to Olympic Channel.
“Bless that day in Sydney. In Olympic athletics history I can say it was the best athletics events ever! It was an amazing 10,000m even for other people who were watching and not only for Haile or for Paul Tergat.”
Watch Cheptegei attempt to break the 10,000m world record in Valencia live on Olympic Channel on Wednesday 7th October, here.