World Cross Country Championships: Cheptegei says men’s field is ‘strongest ever’

Joshua Cheptegei
Joshua Cheptegei is a two-time world record holder

Defending champion Joshua Cheptegei said the men’s 10K field for Saturday’s revived Cross-Country World Championships was “one of the strongest that has ever come together”.

The Championships are taking place in Bathurst, Australia for the first time in four years after the 2021 biennial event was canceled due to the Covid pandemic.

And the East African athletes are expected to prove their dominance once again. All senior male podium finishers from the 2019 edition in Aarhus, Denmark will compete – led by the Ugandan duo from Cheptegei and silver medalist Jacob Kiplimo, with Geoffrey Kamworor of Kenya also competing.

The two-time Olympic champion hopes to join a class of other successful East Africans who have won multiple cross-country world titles, including two-time champion Kamworor.

“The field is incredible – it brought together incredible athletes from Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda and Burundi so to win again would be huge,” Cheptegei told BBC Sport Africa from Bathurst.

“Everyone trained a lot when they came to Australia. The athletes here are all sporting heroes in their countries and I can say with respect that this is one of the strongest fields ever.”

It will be the first event Cheptegei, who holds the world records in the 5,000m and 10,000m, will compete in 2023. Injury woes have limited him to just one race since successfully defending his 10,000m world title at the IAAF World Championships in Eugene, Oregon last year.

“I had a tough time in preparation as I was also working on my recovery from injury,” he said.

“But I’m fine now and I’m really looking forward to getting fit again. I can run on different routes again.”

Thirst for podium places

Francine Niyonsaba
Francine Niyonsaba has been in exceptional form since climbing the 5,000m

Joining Cheptegei will be Kenya’s Geoffrey Kamworor, who has also had his own injury woes – he was picked up when he was hit by a motorbike during a training session near his home in June 2021.

He was forced to withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics despite having run the fastest 10,000m on Kenyan soil during the Kenyan national tests. He was also part of the Kenya marathon team where he finished fifth.

He’s hoping to quench his thirst for a podium finish, which he hasn’t been able to achieve since winning the 2019 New York Marathon.

“It feels great to be back in cross country, it gives me an opportunity to get back on track and most importantly try to reclaim the title,” said Kamworor.

Kamworor also defeated Cheptegei at home to win the 2017 Cross Country World Championship title in Kamapla. He will use the Cross Country as a test event ahead of his London Marathon in April.

Other East African athletes at the forefront include former world half-marathon record holder Kibiwott Kandie of Kenya and Thierry Ndikumwenayo of Burundi, who finished ninth in 2019.

In the absence of defending women’s 10K champion Hellen Obiri, all eyes will be on Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey – who finished third in the last edition – and Kenya’s Beatrice Chebet, the 2019 World Junior Cross Country Champion.

Gidey, the 5,000m and 10,000m world record holder, has also tasted cross-country fame in the junior category. She won back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016 and looks poised for her first senior win.

She meets Kenya’s Beatrice Chebet, who won a 5,000m silver medal at the World Championships in Oregon before being crowned Commonwealth Games champion over the same distance.

Burundi’s sole female representative, Francine Niyonsaba, has been sensational since she rose from the 800m to the 5,000m after being barred from competing in the two under a World Athletics rule affecting female athletes with high testosterone levels -Lap racing has been excluded.

Niyonsaba won three Diamond League meetings last season before suffering an injury that ruled her out of the World Championship.

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