Kenya hoping to defend World Cross Country title in Belgrade

Kenya's Sabastian Sawe after winning men's half marathon in Riga, Latvia in October 2023. [World Athletics]

Kenya is looking to top the charts once again at the World Cross Country championships when the country’s charges face global squads at the Park of Friendship in Belgrade, Serbia, this Saturday.

In a spectacular fashion, Kenyan charges displayed their dominance in cross country after chalking the overall win at the 2023 show staged in Bathurst, Australia.

On Saturday, another opportunity for Kenya to showcase what it is made of presents itself at the 2024 World Cross Country Championships.

Will the country’s formidable squad endure the strong opposition from global stars eying to dethrone them?

World half marathon champion Sabastian Sawe and world 10km record-breaker Agnes Jebet Ngetich triumphed at the tough the national Cross Country Championships held at the Prisons Staff College in Ruiru earlier this month, and they will be joining defending champion Beatrice Chebet in the Belgrade showdown.

Sawe, who has been on a steady rise to the grand stage, will have defending champion Jacob Kiplimo of Uganda to contend with.

His sprint finish at the national trials was too strong for compatriots who are eying glory in Belgrade.

He crossed the finish line in 28:39, with 2019 world Under-20 cross-country bronze medallist Samwel Chebolei coming in second in a time of 28:39 and Gideon Rono closing the podium 28:42. The trio will be flying the Kenyan flag in Belgrade.

“This year I am going to give it my best,” Sawe said as he began training for the Saturday World Cross Country showdown.

Ngetich, the bronze medalist in Bathurst last year will be teaming up with Chebet, the defending champion and rising star Emmaculate Anyango in the hunt for medals.

The 22-year-old shattered the women’s 10km world record at the Valencia Ibercaja in January and became the first woman to break 29 minutes for the distance. She chipped 28 seconds off the previous road mixed race world record set by Ethiopia’s Yalemzerf Yehualaw in Castellon two years ago.

The women's team to Belgrade will face two-time Amsterdam marathon champion Tadelech Bekele of Ethiopia and a number of her compatriots including Sisay Gola.

Organisers have reported the course at the Park of Friendship, next to the Danube River will have perfect weather conditions for a tough contest, with the temperatures set at 22°C on Saturday.

Jacob Kiplimo, the defending champion and the winner of the 2017 edition held in Kampala will be joined by his countryman Joshua Cheptegei, who took the senior men’s crown in 2019 will be challenging Sawe and his Kenyan teammates for the 2024 title.

Ethiopian Berihu Aregawi, the silver medallist at 2023 Bathurst is also in the Belgrade mix and is eying another medal in the senior men’s category.

Aregawi will be joined by Tadese Worku, the 2021 World Under-20 3,000m champion among other stars.

“The terrain is predominantly grass, with some pedestrian paths which will be covered with sand. The course will feature two arch bridges as well as a hay maze, the classic cross-country hurdles. It is a long shot to predict the weather but it is expected to be a clear day with no rain or wind,” organisers reported in their latest update.

Belgrade had successfully hosted the 1962 European Championships, the 2013 European Cross Country Championships, the 2017 European Athletics Indoor Championships, the 2017 Balkan Championships, and the 2022 World Athletics Indoor Championships.

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