Geoffrey Kamworor, Joshua Cheptegei and Jacob Kiplimo
The defending champion, a two-time winner, the world half marathon champion, Olympic and world gold medallists. The senior men’s 10km at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships Bathurst 23 on Saturday (18) looks set to offer a clash for the ages.
The top three from the last edition in Aarhus in 2019 all return as Joshua Cheptegei races to retain his crown against a field featuring his fellow Ugandan Jacob Kiplimo, runner-up four years ago, and Kenya’s two-time champion Geoffrey Kamworor.
Kamworor will be joined on the Kenyan team by world half marathon silver medallist Kibiwott Kandie and Diamond League champion Nicholas Kipkorir, while Ethiopia’s greatest strength comes in the form of Olympic 10,000m champion Selemon Barega and world 5km record-holder Berihu Aregawi.
Then there’s Burundi’s Rodrigue Kwizera – 11th at the 2019 World Cross but winner of last season’s World Cross Country Tour and joint leader on this season’s tour – along with many other athletes ready to make their mark.
For Cheptegei, Bathurst offers an opportunity for the 26-year-old to follow in the footsteps of stars such as Kamworor, Ethiopian great Kenenisa Bekele and official event ambassador Paul Tergat – the latter pair having achieved the feat multiple times – in becoming a back-to-back winner of the senior men’s title.
After disappointment at his home edition of the championships in Kampala in 2017, when he struggled while leading on the last lap and eventually finished 30th, Cheptegei was triumphant in Aarhus two years later as he won a first world cross country title to go with his world 10,000m silver from 2017 and two Commonwealth Games titles from 2018. Since then, he has become an Olympic and world champion, winning the 5000m in Tokyo and the 10,000m in Doha and Oregon, while he has also set world records in both disciplines.
Affected by injury in 2022, Cheptegei ended his year with a 10km win in Madrid in 27:09 and has been working towards the World Cross Country Championships since then.
In 2019 he led Uganda to the senior men’s team title and in 2017 his 30th-place finish clinched team bronze for the nation. Joined by Kiplimo, who has individual gold medal ambitions of his own, plus 2019 U20 ninth-place finisher Samuel Kibet and 19-year-old Rogers Kibet, who placed in the top three at four World Cross Country Tour Gold meetings last year, another team medal will be the aim.
Two years on from becoming Uganda’s first ever World Cross Country Championships gold medallist thanks to his U20 win on home soil, Kiplimo missed the senior title by just four seconds in Aarhus, but like Cheptegei, his star has continued to rise ever since. The 22-year-old won the world half marathon title in 2020 and then claimed Olympic and world bronze in the 10,000m, before completing a 5000m and 10,000m double at the Commonwealth Games. Now he targets another global gold.
But Kamworor has the same aim. With his own injury struggles behind him, the 30-year-old – winner of the U20 world cross country title in Punta Umbria in 2011 before his senior wins in Guiyang in 2015 and Kampala in 2017 – will look to regain the crown. In January the three-time world half marathon champion won at the National Police Service Cross Country Championships ahead of Commonwealth 10,000m silver medallist Daniel Simiu Ebenyo, and he has proven time and time again that he thrives on the major stage.
With former world half marathon record-holder Kandie, Sabastian Kimaru Sawe and Olympic and world 5000m finalist Kipkorir joining them in the Kenyan squad, the nation has a strong opportunity to claim the senior men’s team title for the first time since 2011.
But Ethiopia will also be looking to regain a team title claimed in 2013, 2015 and 2017. Leading the way is Barega, who made world finals in the 5000m and 10,000m in Oregon and then finished second in the Great North Run half marathon in September before starting his year with a win at the Elgoibar Juan Muguerza Cross Country. So far his World Cross career features two fifth-place finishes – one in the senior race in 2019 and another in the U20 event in 2017.
Aregawi is another athlete to watch. The 21-year-old, who finished fourth in the Olympic 10,000m final in Tokyo, won the Jan Meda Cross Country in Sululta – Ethiopia’s trial race for Bathurst – at the start of the year and makes his World Cross Country Championships debut.
Getaneh Molla was third, Mogos Tuemay fourth and Hailemariyam Amare sixth in that trial race and they all join Aregawi and Barega on the Ethiopian team.
So far, Thierry Ndikumwenayo’s ninth-place finish in the senior men’s race at the 2019 event is Burundi’s best men’s result at the World Cross Country Championships but given his pedigree in the discipline, Kwizera should be capable of building on that as he switches the Cross Country Tour for a global field. The Spain-based 23-year-old – winner in San Giorgio su Legnano and Venta de Banos recently – also finished fourth in the Valencia 10km in 27:04 last month and will hope to progress from 11th in 2019 and 39th in 2017.
Spain’s Nassim Hassaous and Abdessamad Oukhelfen, who have also been busy on the World Cross Country Tour Gold circuit in their home country, compete at the World Cross Country Championships for the first time.
The US team is led by national cross country champion Emmanuel Bor, who has experience from competing at the 2019 edition in Aarhus, and he’s joined by 2017 11th-place finisher Sam Chelanga.
While the mixed team relay is considered the best medal chance of the host nation, Australia will be looking to make an impact on the team standings in the senior men’s race, too. The team's main contenders have the benefit of having checked out the venue early, and will have had more time to adjust to the conditions in Bathurst.
Oceanian 10,000m record-holder Jack Rayner won the trial race ahead of Matt Ramsden and Oceanian marathon record-holder Brett Robinson and the trio return to World Cross action after respective 62nd, 38th and 30th-place finishes in 2019. Robinson was 28th in 2015 and 29th a decade ago in Bydgoszcz, while Rayner was 40th in Kampala.
Prior to Bathurst, 50 World Athletics member federations have yet to compete at the World Cross Country Championships but in the senior men’s race on Saturday, six of those nations are set to field athletes – Cook Islands (Andrew John Logan), Marshall Islands (Bildad Bildad), Northern Mariana Islands (Sildrey Job Noceja Veloria), Pakistan (Sohail Amir), French Polynesia (Damien Troquenet) and Solomon Islands (Martin Faeni, Gregory Foasilafu, Rosefelo Siosi).
Jess Whittington for World Athletics