•Kenya and Ethiopia have occupied the top two spots in the team race in every edition of these championships since 2002
•The last time the individual champion did not come from Kenya was in 2008
It looks set to be an East African affair again at the front of the senior women’s race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark this weekend.
Defending champions Kenya will be targeting their sixth team title in the past seven editions, but the result looks likely to be less clear cut than it was two years ago in Kampala when Kenya achieved a historic 1-6 clean sweep in the individual race.
Kenya and Ethiopia have occupied the top two spots in the team race in every edition of these championships since 2002 when the United States took silver in Dublin— and that does not look likely to change in Aarhus 2019. The question is simply which way round the top East African distance running powerhouses will finish.
Fresh from a 29:59 clocking for 10km at the end of December and a victory at the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting in Elgoibar in January 2019 Kenyan champion Hellen Obiri starts as one of the favourites. The last time the individual champion did not come from Kenya was in 2008 when 5000m world record-holder Tirunesh Dibaba took her fourth senior title. Interestingly, Kenya have also occupied the top two individual spots on the podium in four of the past six editions.
Obiri will be backed up by 2017 bronze medallist and 2013 world U18 champion at 3000m Lilian Kasait and 2015 champion Agnes Tirop, who will hope to get on the podium again after her fourth place two years ago.
Steeplechase world record-holder Beatrice Chepkoech, who took victory in the IAAF Cross Country Permit race in Seville earlier this year, 2016 African cross country bronze medallist Beatrice Mutai and relative newcomer Deborah Samum, who was fourth in the recent Kenyan Championships, are also part of a strong Kenyan lineup.
Having been to two previous World Cross Country Championships and claiming silver in the U20 race in 2015, Dera Dida heads the Ethiopian charge after a dominant victory in her country’s national trials, where she finished five seconds ahead of 20-year-old Letesenbet Gidey (5000m world rank: 5), who makes her senior debut after winning the U20 title at the past two IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
With 2017 U20 silver medallist Hawi Feysa and 2019 10km world leader Tsehay Gemechu (road running world rank: 12) also in the squad, Ethiopia look set to put up a strong challenge to their East African rivals. Less known is Zenebu Fekadu, but after a strong third place in the Ethiopian trials, she could be one of the surprise packages of the Championships.
The battle for bronze in the team race looks much more open, with eight different countries taking the honours in the last 15 years. Bahrain finished third in the team race two years ago and will be aiming for a similar performance this time around.
Although missing Olympic steeplechase champion Ruth Jebet, their squad includes Rose Chelimo, who was eighth in the Olympic marathon, Eunice Chumba, the Asian cross-country champion and 11th in Kampala 2017, Bontu Rebitu, the world U20 5000m bronze medallist and Winfred Yavi, who won the 87th Cinque Mulini cross country race in Italy last month.
Uganda could also be in the hunt for the medals, led by Commonwealth 10,000m champion Stella Chesang (10,000m world rank: 5; road running world rank: 36), who was a dominant winner at the national championships last month, 17 seconds ahead of Rachael Chebet.
With the course being more varied at this 43rd edition of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships than in Kampala 2017, taking in the grassy roof of Moesgaard Museum, the hilly surroundings, a mud pit and a section of water as part of the 2km loop, it may be less of an African procession than two years ago, where the first non-African finisher was Aliphine Tuliamuk of the United States in 15th.