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Previews27 Mar 2024

WXC Belgrade 24 mixed relay preview: past champions Kenya and Ethiopia clash


The mixed relay at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst (© Getty Images)

Since the mixed relay was introduced to the programme in 2017, Kenya has won two titles and Ethiopia has secured one. They will clash again at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships Belgrade 24 on Saturday (30).

Kenya claimed the inaugural relay crown ahead of Ethiopia and Turkiye in Kampala seven years ago and then Ethiopia won from Morocco and Kenya in Aarhus in 2019. Kenya regained the title in Bathurst in 2023, denying Ethiopia and host nation Australia, and now the Kenyan squad is ready to mount a strong title defence.

The event in Belgrade will involve teams of two women and two men each running one loop of the course in the order man-woman-man-woman. The course loop is 1887m, but the first and last legs will be around 200m longer. Athletes must carry a wristband that will be transferred to the next athlete within the takeover zone.

Kenya and Ethiopia are among the 12 teams entered, as they go for gold again in Friendship Park. 

Three of the four winning team members from Bathurst are back on the Kenyan squad for Belgrade. Emmanuel Wanyonyi won the world U20 800m title in 2021 and went on to finish fourth when making his senior debut at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon in 2022. A year on from his mixed relay success in Australia, he now heads to Serbia as the world 800m silver medallist, Diamond League champion and Rising Star award winner, looking for another honour to add to his CV.

Mirriam Cherop ran the second leg in Bathurst while Kyumbe Munguti took on the third and they could both join Wanyonyi in Belgrade. Kenya has named a six-strong squad to select a team from and adding further quality are world U20 mile record-holder Reynold Cheruiyot, who secured silver in the U20 men’s race in Bathurst last year and won the 2022 world U20 1500m title, plus 2021 world U20 1500m champion Purity Chepkirui and Virginia Nyambura.

The final composition of teams must be declared 95 minutes before the race in Belgrade.

Ethiopia has also named a six-strong squad, headed by world 5km champion Hagos Gebrhiwet. The 29-year-old won the world U20 cross country title in Bydgoszcz in 2013 and has gone on to become an Olympic and two-time world 5000m medallist. Now he makes a return to cross country running fresh from his African 5000m title win in Accra last Friday.

Joining him in the squad is Adehena Kasaye, who formed part of Ethiopia’s silver medal-winning team in Bathurst, plus Birri Abera, Dahdi Dube, Hiwot Mehari and Taresa Tolosa.

Morocco, silver medallists between Ethiopia and Kenya in 2019, fields a team featuring Kaoutar Farkoussi who ran the second leg to help her nation to that runner-up finish in Aarhus. She’s joined by Hicham Akankam, Bathurst team member Hafid Rizqy and Rahma Tahiri.

USA finished fourth in Aarhus and fifth in Bathurst. Back on the medal hunt, this time the quartet includes Pan-American 5000m champion Kasey Knevelbaard, plus Ella Donaghu, Katie Izzo and John Reniewicki.

Another athlete to watch out for is Nozomi Tanaka, who is entered for her fourth global championship in eight months. After finishing eighth in the 5000m at the World Athletics Championships, eighth in the mile at the World Road Running Championships and eighth in the 3000m at the World Indoor Championships, she now returns to form part of Japan’s mixed relay team in Belgrade. Tanaka raced at the World Cross Country Championships last year, too, finishing 14th in the senior women’s race.

The host nation team includes multiple European medallist Elzan Bibic, Nikola Raicevic, Teodora Simovic and Milica Tomasevic.

Jess Whittington for World Athletics