The Uganda Sports Press Association (Uspa) 2019 awards ceremony on Wednesday 18th November were capped by a rather easily predictable outcome. Joshua Cheptegei was voted Uganda’s sports personality of the year 2019, beating off the challenge of Halima Nakaayi and Emmanuel Okwi.
However, Cheptegei was crowned in absentia, as his gong was received by Dominic Otucet, the President of the Uganda Athletics Federation. It was the second successive year, that Cheptegei was winning the top Uspa award. Yet, considering the pomp that followed him, when picking the 2018 award last year, his absence this year was conspicuous.
For the first time in so many years, the best sports personality was not present to give an acceptance speech for being voted the standout among many. And in a way, this gave the event an anticlimax to it. Normally, there is the popping of the confetti, a symbolic gesture pulled off to celebrate victors, as they get covered up by the falling pieces, that take up the whole stage, where they stand to receive their award.
But instead, it was Otucet, who basked in the moment. Unconfirmed reports suggested that Cheptegei only failed to attend the Uspa gala, because he was not feeling well physically, and so had to remain back home in Bukwo (Kapchorwa), as he recovered.
Although Cheptegei’s presence would have had its boosting effect, because of what he has achieved recently, his absence in the Victoria Hall, Serena Hotel, where the awards gala was held, did not mean his 2019 results could easily be forgotten.
Cheptegei won the 10000 metres gold at the World Championships in Doha, on top of the World Cross Country Championship in Denmark. He also won the 10km road race in Valencia last December. But remember, Cheptegei was one of the runner-ups in the World Athlete of the year award to Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge for which he had been nominated.
By and large, the competition provided by Nakaayi, who won gold in the 800 metres race at the world championship in Doha, plus Okwi’s two goals for the Cranes at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, paled in comparison with Cheptegei’s success. It is against that fact, that although his absence caught many by surprise, ghosting to the sports personality of the year award 2019, was as clear, as night following day.