Rahel Daniel, Letesenbet Gidey and Beatrice Chebet
Had the World Athletics Cross Country Championships Bathurst 23 gone ahead in 2021 as originally planned, there’s a strong chance that Letesenbet Gidey would already be a world champion at the discipline.
The Ethiopian was in sensational form in 2020 and 2021, setting world records of 14:06.62 for 5000m and 29:01.03 for 10,000m. She had to settle for bronze at the Olympic Games at the longer event, but she prioritised global honours over records in 2022 and was rewarded with her first world title on the track, winning the 10,000m in Oregon in a nail-biting race.
The 24-year-old is now focused on winning her first individual senior world cross-country title. She won back-to-back U20 crowns in 2015 and 2017, joining an elite club of athletes to achieve the feat, alongside Faith Kipyegon and Genzebe Dibaba.
Gidey finished third in the senior women’s race in 2019 and earned gold in the team competition, but this time she heads to Bathurst as one of the big favourites.
If her performance at the Jan Meda Cross Country – Ethiopia’s trial event for the World Cross – is anything to go by, Gidey is certainly in form to challenge for gold in Bathurst. In that race back on 1 January, she bided her time until the last kilometre of the race and then soon opened up a gap of about 20 seconds on a strong domestic field.
It looked as though she was running within herself, too.
As much as individual glory will be Gidey’s biggest goal on Saturday, she will also want to earn gold in the team standings, and Ethiopia will once again be in with a great shout of doing exactly that.
Gete Alemayehu, who has a 1:06:37 half marathon PB, was second in the trial race, just ahead of 30:06.01 10,000m performer Tsigie Gebreselama, bronze medallist in the U20 race in Aarhus in 2019. Fellow Ethiopian Fotyen Tesfaye just missed out on a top-10 placing in Aarhus, so will be keen to improve on that in Bathurst.
But Gidey and her Ethiopian compatriots won’t have an easy ride, as they’ll be up against someone who is undefeated in international cross-country races for more than a year.
Eritrea’s Rahel Daniel has dominated the World Athletics Cross Country Tour and currently tops the season standings thanks to her three victories last month. She won at the prestigious Campaccio meeting in San Giorgio su Legnano, then two days later triumphed in Elgoibar, winning by eight seconds. More recently she won in Hannut, racing in heavy snow, showing she can cope well in any conditions.
Daniel enjoyed a successful 2022 campaign on the track, setting national records for 5000m (14:36.66) and 10,000m (30:12.15), the latter when placing fifth at the World Championships in Oregon.
But the 21-year-old is clearly more at home on cross country, and despite this being her World Cross debut, Daniel will have high hopes for a podium finish.
Beatrice Chebet is just as formidable an opponent, though. The Kenyan took 5000m silver at the World Championships last year and won the U20 women’s title at the 2019 World Cross in Aarhus. She is also the African, Commonwealth and Diamond League 5000m champion, and is a former world U20 champion on the track.
She has raced just twice in cross-country events since the end of the track season, but won both of her races. She won by 13 seconds in Atapuerca in November and by 15 seconds at the Cinque Mulini in January.
In the absence of Chebet at the Kenyan trials, teenager Grace Loibach Nawowuna was a surprising winner of the senior women’s race, beating Olympic semifinalist Edinah Jebitok by four seconds. The Kenyan team also includes two-time world cross-country champion Emily Chebet and Agnes Ngetich.
Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba missed the peak of the 2022 track season through injury, but still managed to win three races on the Wanda Diamond League circuit, and then triumphed at the Venta de Banos Cross Country in December. In her latest appearance, though, she was a distant fifth in Elgoibar, some 47 seconds behind Daniel.
Stella Chesang, the 2018 Commonwealth 10,000m champion, was a dominant winner of the recent Ugandan Cross Country Championships and is keen to improve on her 21st-place finish from the 2019 World Cross. She is joined on the Ugandan team by world U20 5000m bronze medallist Prisca Chesang.
Olympic finalist Nozomi Tanaka, who holds national records for 1000m, 1500m and 3000m, leads the Japanese team. The 2018 world U20 3000m champion placed 39th at the last World Cross when she was still just 19 years of age, so she’ll be hoping for a higher position this time. Ririka Hironaka, who earned U20 team bronze in 2019, will also be flying the Japanese flag in Bathurst.
Ednah Kurgat and Weini Kelati feature on the US team, while Australia’s Rose Davies and Leanne Pompeani will aim to give the home crowd something to cheer for. Other contenders include Canada’s Regan Yee, Mexico’s Laura Galvan, and Britain’s Abbie Donnelly.
Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics