Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei waited too long to make a decisive move Friday in the Olympic final of an event in which he holds the world record, opening up space for 21-year-old Selemon Barega to surge ahead in the final lap and hold off the reigning world champion for 10,000m gold, the first track and field medal of the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Barega's triumphant victory returns Ethiopia atop the men's 10K podium for the first time since the back-to-back eras of Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele, who together took home four straight Olympic golds for the East African nation from 1996 to 2012.
Cheptegie's countryman Stephen Kissa broke early to open up a 10-second lead by 800 meters, then was reeled back in at the two-mile mark by Barega and Kenya's Rhonex Kipruto before pushing again to separate by another few seconds.
Two laps later, Barega dropped back to join the pack just as Cheptegei moved up to the front five, where he'd stay until assuming the lead at the four-mile mark and hold for about three laps.
Cheptegie and others traded the lead for the next mile or so until the bell lap at which point Barega turned on the jets.
The 2019 world silver medalist split an approximate 53.92 for his last 400m, dropping the hammer to beat Cheptegei by less than a half-second in 27:43.22.
Cheptegei, who's also entered in the 5000m, an event in which he also holds the world record, finished in 27:43.63 for silver. His fellow countryman Jacob Kiplimo, 20, the world leader entering the race, earned bronze in 27:43.88. Uganda now has five Olympic track and field medals, overtaking boxing as its most successful sport at the Games.
Barega's win gives Ethiopia 23 golds in track and field, the only sport in which it has captured Olympic medals.
Statistically, Barega now becomes the favorite for the 2024 Paris Games, if he's to follow a pattern in place for the last 25 years — after Gebrselassie and Bekele's defense runs, Great Britain's Mo Farah completed his own double gold streak, making it three consecutive repeat titles.
American Grant Fisher was fifth, just two seconds back in 27:46.39.