Faith Cherotich and Medina Eisa
Faith Cherotich has already won a world U20 title on the track; now the Kenyan steeplechase specialist is eyeing a global gold on a different terrain, this time at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships Bathurst 23.
The 18-year-old was a relative unknown when she earned bronze in the steeplechase at the 2021 World U20 Championships. One year on, and a much-improved athlete, she struck gold in convincing fashion at the 2022 edition of the event, winning the steeplechase by 14 seconds in 9:16.14.
She carried that momentum through her final three races of the season, improving her PB to 9:09.63 in Brussels and then again to 9:06.14 at the Wanda Diamond League Final in Zurich to place third. She capped her track season by setting a Kenyan U20 mile record of 4:28.97 in Zagreb.
Her strong form continued to December, when she won the U20 women’s race at Kenya’s World Cross Trials, finishing 17 seconds ahead of her nearest rival.
Nancy Cherop, the world U20 3000m bronze medallist, is also among Kenya’s medal hopes, along with world U20 steeplechase fifth-place finisher Pamela Kosgei, and Joyline Chepkemoi.
Ethiopia’s Melknat Wudu already has three global medals to her name, but she will be seeking her first golden one on Saturday.
In 2021 she earned 3000m bronze and 5000m silver at the World U20 Championships in Nairobi. She concentrated her efforts on just the 5000m for the 2022 World U20 Championships, but once again came away with the silver medal. In between those championships, she clocked a PB of 14:54 for 5km on the roads.
Compatriot Medina Eisa beat Wudu to the world U20 5000m title in Cali last year. She also clocked a 3000m PB of 8:41.42 – taking her to fourth on the world U18 all-time list – as well as a world U18 best of 14:53 for 5km.
Lemlem Nibret, meanwhile, was the surprising winner of Ethiopia’s trial race, beating both Wudu and Eisa. She hasn’t represented Ethiopia at a major event, but she has previously raced overseas, clocking a 5000m PB of 15:23.93 in Andujar last year and a half marathon best of 1:11:55 in Porto.
The Ethiopian squad, which also includes world U20 steeplechase bronze medallist Meseret Yeshaneh, stands a good chance of winning their fourth successive team title in the U20 women’s race.
The last time an athlete outside of Kenya or Ethiopia made it on to the U20 women’s podium at the World Cross was back in 1999, and it seems likely that trend will continue in Bathurst.
Uganda, winners of U20 women’s team medals in 2017 and 2010, will be without the top two finishers from their trial event, but the likes of Charity Cherop and Bentalin Yeko could help carry their squad into a top-three finish in the team standings.
World U20 mountain-running silver medallist Rebecca Flaherty leads the British team, while national cross-country champions Irene Riggs of the USA and Amy Bunnage of Australia will carry the hopes of their respective nations.
Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics