Athletes contest the mixed relay at the World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus (© Dan Vernon)
The mixed relay kicks off championship action at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships Bathurst 23 and competition will be fierce from the start with two title-winning teams – Ethiopia and Kenya – again going head-to-head and Australia’s home quartet seeking medal success on home soil.
The east African powerhouses have claimed one title apiece since the introduction of the 4x2km relay at the 2017 championships in Kampala, Kenya beating Ethiopia and Turkey in that inaugural event and Ethiopia turning the tables to triumph ahead of Morocco and Kenya in Aarhus in 2019.
Now they meet again with more star quality on their teams, but with some strong competition looking to challenge them to top spot on the podium.
A total of 15 teams are entered for the mixed relay in Bathurst, where two women and two men will each run a loop of around 2km – the first and last laps being slightly longer than the others – for each squad. Racing in man-woman-man-woman format, athletes will wear or carry a wristband that they will transfer to their teammates in the takeover zone.
Steeplechase specialists Mekides Abebe and Getnet Wale head the Ethiopian squad that will be seeking a successful defence of the nation’s gold gained four years ago. Abebe, who won world steeplechase bronze in Oregon, and world and Olympic fourth-place finisher Wale will be joined by world U20 1500m champion Birke Haylom and national 1500m champion Adehena Kasaye.
A steeplechase specialist also leads the Kenyan squad. World record-holder Beatrice Chepkoech has the benefit of experience, having anchored her team to mixed relay gold in Kampala. Chepkoech, who won the world steeplechase title in Doha in 2019, also finished seventh in the individual senior women’s race at the World Cross Country Championships that year in Aarhus.
Final teams must be decided 90 minutes before the race in Bathurst but among those joining Chepkoech in the Kenyan squad are world 800m fourth-place finisher Emmanuel Wanyonyi and world U20 1500m silver medallist Brenda Chebet.
The mixed relay is considered Australia’s biggest medal hope on home soil and the quartet features Olympic and world finalists. Oliver Hoare reached the Olympic final in Tokyo and last year took the men’s 1500m title at the Commonwealth Games, while Abbey Caldwell also achieved medal success in Birmingham, finishing third in the women’s 1500m. They team up with Olympic and world 1500m finalist Jessica Hull and Olympic seventh-place finisher Stewart McSweyn.
A major medal winner also leads the US quartet as Emma Coburn, who won the world steeplechase title in 2017, returns to cross country action for the first time since 2011. Joined by the in-form Heather MacLean, who recently won the mile at the World Indoor Tour meeting in Boston, plus Alec Basten and 2019 relay team member Jordan Mann, the quartet will be looking to go at least one better than the US finish in 2019 by claiming a podium place.
Ronald Musagala anchored Uganda to a fifth-place finish in Aarhus and also formed part of the 2017 team, and the Olympian returns to lead a squad that will again be on the medal hunt.
Anjelina Nadai Lohalith became the first athlete in the World Athletics refugee team programme to win an international competition when she triumphed at the European Champion Clubs Cup Cross Country in Castellon earlier this month. Now the 28-year-old will follow up her Olympic and World Championships appearances by leading the Athlete Refugee Team relay quartet in Bathurst.
Jess Whittington for World Athletics