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Previews27 Mar 2024

WXC Belgrade 24 U20 men's preview: Kenya and Ethiopia set to battle once more


Charles Rotich at the 2023 World Cross Country Championships (© Getty Images)

Over the past 15 editions, all individual medals in the U20 men’s race have been won by athletes from Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. It would be a surprise if that trend came to an end at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships Belgrade 24.

Predicting a winner, though, is a difficult task.

Anyone who wins the highly competitive Kenyan trials will be a medal contender on the global stage, so many eyes will be on Samuel Kibathi. He has competed on the international stage before, finishing sixth in the 5000m at the 2022 World U20 Championships, and last year he took bronze over 10,000m at the African U20 Championships.

Charles Rotich finished just one second behind Kibathi at the Kenyan Cross Country Championships. He finished 12th at last year’s World Cross in Bathurst and earned team gold, but will be keen to contend for individual medals this time.

But, as has been the case for many decades now, Ethiopia will pose a strong threat to Kenya’s individual and team medal chances.

Their U20 men’s squad is led by Abel Bekele, who won their national trials. He placed seventh in Bathurst last year and earned team silver.

Yismaw Dillu was also part of Ethiopia’s silver-medal-winning team last year, then he went on to represent his country over 10,000m at the World Championships in Budapest.

Mezgebu Sime is another who has already made an impact as a senior, recently winning the national 5000m title.

Uganda took team silver in 2019 but didn’t have enough competitors to score in the team contest last year. This time they have fielded a full squad, led by Hosea Chemutai who was 11th in Bathurst. Also watch out for Silas Rotich, who finished fourth at the 2022 World Mountain Running Championships. Esteemed compatriot Jacob Kiplimo, the senior men’s defending champion, came via the mountain running route before achieving success on the track, road and cross country.

Eritrea’s Yobiel Weldrufael placed ninth in the mile at the World Road Running Championships last year. He also has fond recent memories of Belgrade, because during the indoor season he set a senior national indoor 1500m record of 3:39.09 in the Serbian capital.

USA took a surprise team bronze in Bathurst last year and they’ll be keen to prove it wasn’t a fluke. Kole Mathison, who was part of that team and finished 25th individually last year, is joined on the squad by national U20 cross-country champion Kevin Sanchez.

Mexico’s Victor Daniel Perez Igari and Angel Luis Reyes Ramirez head to Belgrade full of confidence after finishing 1-2 at last month’s Pan-American Cross Country Championships.

Japanese U20 cross-country champion Yamato Hamaguchi is joined on his country’s squad by Sota Orita, a 13:28.78 performer over 5000m.

Henry Dover was sixth at the European Cross Country Championships in December and he leads the British team alongside James Dargan, who was fourth over 5000m at the Euro U20 Championships.

Others to look out for include Sweden’s Karl Ottfalk, who was fourth at the European Cross, Spanish U20 cross-country champion Mesfin Escamilla, and Australian U20 cross-country champion Jack Coomber, who finished in the top 50 in Bathurst.

Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics