Cape Town - World Championship 10 000m silver medallist, Joshua Cheptegei is the first big name to be announced to compete in the inaugural Athletix Grand Prix Series in March.
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Cheptegei will be seen in action at the first two meetings in Johannesburg and Tshwane.
No stranger to South Africa, Cheptegei won the inaugural Durban 10K CITYSURFRUN in October last year when he ran the fourth fastest time in the world for 10km and also set a new All Comers Record of 27:28 for the distance.
This time though, the 21-year-old Ugandan has his sights set on shorter, faster races.
Cheptegei will open his 2018 campaign at the Athletix Grand Prix Meeting at the Ruimsig Stadium (Roodepoort) where he will line up against some of South Africa's finest middle distance athletes which will include Jerry Motsau.
"I want to run a time of around 3:32 on 1 March. I need to improve my speed for my specialist events, the 5 000m and 10 000m. The 1 500m is perfect for that," he said.
Cheptegei has only run one 1 500m in his career, the NijmegenGlobal Athletics Meet in 2016 where he finished 3rd in a time of 3:37.82.
"I know I am much faster than that. In Ruimsig I expect to go out hard and with the help of pacemakers, I will run fast," he said.
Cheptegei will be accompanied by his training partner, Abel Sikowo. Whether Sikowo will sacrifice his race for Cheptegei remains to be seen.
"We will be racing each other. If we can help each other to a fast time, then that would be ideal, but there is no talk of Abel (Sikowo) pacing for me."
Cheptegei freely admits that it will be a challenging race for him. Not only will South Africa’s middle distance heroes be hunting for his scalp, but it will also be the first race of his season.
"The first race is always tough. You are race rusty and not sure how the body will react under the pressure of racing. You do all the work in training, but racing is a different ball game. Things that are out of your control happen. So I am a bit nervous, but very excited to be opening my season in South Africa."
He will also compete in the second Meet of the series at Tuks on March 8, but whether he will run a 1 500m or 3 000m is still being decided.
Either distance will suit the man who is hailed to take over from Mo Farah as the best middle distance athlete.
"I am running the 5 000m at the Commonwealth Games in April and this series is the perfect opportunity for me to fine tune for the competition. If I post a good fast time here in South Africa, my rivals will know that I am coming for them."
The Athletix Grand Prix Series consists of three meetings:
1. Ruimsig Stadium, Johannesburg on Thursday, March 1,
2. Tuks Stadium, Tshwane on Thursday, March 8 and
3. Dal Josaphat Stadium, Paarl on Thursday, March 22.