Welcome to the final installment of our three-part series previewing this Saturday’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships. Today we give you a little history lesson on the Championships, throw some quick race previews at you and give out all the details for how to watch the meet on Saturday morning. Check out our other previews as well: Matt Baxter | Stephanie Bruce and the U.S. women.
HISTORY: To run in the World Cross Country Championships is to run in a meet that has played host to just about every great distance runner you can think of going all the way back to 1973. Winners have included Kenenisa Bekele, Zola Budd, Tirunesh Dibaba, Carlos Lopes, Paula Radcliffe, Zersenay Tadese, Paul Tergat and Grete Waitz (to name a few). The last American winners were Lynn Jennings who won three years in a row from 1990 through 1992, and Craig Virgin who won back-to-back titles in 1980 and 1981. The meet was held annually until 2011 when it became a biennial event. Back in the day, countries could run nine athletes and six would score. Now, countries can run six athletes and four score. That change seemed to be aimed at giving countries a better chance against the dominance of the two deepest distance running nations in the world–Kenya and Ethiopia. How dominant are they? In the senior men’s race, either Kenya or Ethiopia was won every single team title since 1981. In the senior women’s race, their run of victories goes back to 1995. The junior men’s streak goes back to 1982 and how about this; the junior women’s race began in 1989 and Kenya or Ethiopia has won every single edition.
But this particular iteration of the Championships seems as wide open as any in recent memory, due mainly to the unique challenges provided by the course (see below). No athletes from any country (Kenya and Ethiopia included) will have ever raced on a layout quite like this one. And when the course, or the course conditions, are a little out of the ordinary, things can get a little unpredictable. The most recent example would be 2013 in Bydgoszcz, Poland when heavy rains created a muddy mess of course and the U.S. men shocked the world with a second-place finish–ahead of Kenya and behind only Ethiopia.
So with all of that in mind, here are some tidbits to watch out for in each of the four major races on Saturday:
QUICKIE RACE PREVIEWS:
Junior Men: The big story in this one is whether or not 18-year-old Jakob Ingebrigtsen can break the European drought in this race and break onto the podium (the Euros haven’t had a top ten finisher in this race in 25 years). Ingebrigtsen is one of the top 1500 meters in the world, having won the title at that event at last summer’s European Championships. Still, we wouldn’t call him the favorite here. That honor probably goes to Kenyan Leonard Bett, who is currently ranked 11th in the world in the steeplechase. It would seem his steeple skills would come in handy on this particular course. Other top contenders include Ethiopia’s Tsegay Kidanu, Uganda’s Oscar Chelimo and Kenya’s Samuel Chebolei.
Junior Women: The favorite here has to be Beatrice Chebet of Kenya. She won the Kenyan Junior Championships, handily, and is the reigning Junior World Champion at 5,000 meters. Her teammates, Betty Kibet and Jackline Rotich, should also contend. Ethiopia brings its Junior Champion, Girmawit Gebrzihair, to the line and she could certainly break up the Kenyan party. If you want a couple of dark horses, look out for Italy’s Nadia Battocletti and Switzerland’s Delia Sclabas–they went 1-2 at the European Junior Championships in December.
Senior Men: The fact that there’s a clear favorite in this race, as deep as it is, is a testament to the greatness of Kenya’s Geoffrey Kamworor. Kamworor is going for his third straight title at these Championships, to go along with wins at the World Half Marathon Championships in 2014, 2016 and 2018. That’s an impressive resume’. Oh yeah, and he won the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon as well. But winning here is never easy. In 2017, it looked like Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei was on his way to victory on home soil only to succumb to what turned out to be too early of a move. He’s been on fire since, however, and one would think he’s looking to avenge what happened two years ago. The other top contender has to be Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega, coming off a summer in which he ran 12:43 for 5,000 meters. That’s moving and certainly means he’s capable of a win here.
Senior Women: As in the men’s race, there is a clear favorite. And as in the men’s race that favorite is from Kenya. Her name is Hellen Obiri. She’s the reigning World Champion at 5,000 meters and is in very good form heading into this meet, winning all three cross country races she’s contested in 2019. The entire Kenyan lineup on Saturday is super strong and three of Obiri’s teammates; Lilian Kasait Rengeruk, Agnes Tirop and Beatrice Chepkoech, will be among her biggest obstacles to victory. Beyond Kenya, Bahrain’s Rose Chelimo is an established star and could figure in to the mix. Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey won the Junior races in both 2015 and 2017 so she is a cross country stud for sure. Her teammate, Dera Dida, actually beat her at the Ethiopian trials so either could come out on top in Aarhus.
THE COURSE: The talk of the meet has largely focused on the course itself. With a 400-meter uphill at the start, followed by an undulating loop that includes a mud pit, a sand pit, a Viking cheer zone and a 10% grade, 100-meter climb up unto the roof of a building–this thing is a beast. We could go into more detail but the fellas at LetsRun.com already did an awesome job. Read their course preview: “A Tour of the toughest cross country course we’ve ever seen.”
THE WEATHER: The weather appears fairly mild, all things considered, with mostly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid 50s. There will be a good amount of wind though–17mph from the WSW at race time.
HOW TO WATCH: We’ve got very good news here. U.S. fans will be able to watch the meet LIVE beginning at 5:30am EST on the Olympic Channel and 6:00am EST on NBC Sports Gold. And the meet will be shown across the globe on a variety of outlets. For the entire list click HERE.