By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2024 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved, used with permission. 

NOTE: This story was written remotely –Ed.

(29-Mar) — Defending senior champions Beatrice Chebet of Kenya and Jacob Kiplimo of Uganda won’t be shivering on the starting line of tomorrow’s 45th World Athletic Cross Country Championships in Friendship Park in Belgrade.  Instead, they’ll be basking in ample sunshine with temperatures of 27C/80F.  They are ready to race.

“I’m so excited to be here,” Kiplimo said at today’s pre-race press conference. I think I have done a lot of training. I’m excited to be here to race tomorrow.”

Jacob Kiplimo, Uganda, World Cross Country, photo by Randy Miyazaki/TrackandFieldphotos,

Kiplimo, 23, who has already won two individual world titles and an Olympic bronze medal, won the last edition of these championships in Bathurst, Australia, by a comfortable nine seconds over Ethiopia’s Berihu Aregawi.  His compatriot Joshua Cheptegei, the 2019 world cross-country champion in Aarhus, Denmark, took the bronze just one second behind Aregawi.  All three medalists will be racing in Belgrade tomorrow for both individual and team honors.  Individual race winners receive USD 30,000, while the first-place teams earn USD 20,000.  Kiplimo would like to go home with two checks.

“It will be good now when our flag would be raised,” Kiplimo said with a smile.

Chebet, 24, also a two-time world champion, comes into this event after a spectacular 2023 campaign in which she won both the world cross country and 5-kilometer road running titles, ran a 5-K world record on the roads (14:13), was undefeated in cross country, and took the bronze medal at 5000m at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest. Like Kiplimo, she’s looking forward to earning individual and team titles.

Beatrice Chebet, Serbia 2024, photo by World Athletics

“First, I want to thank God for this privilege to be here in Belgrade,” Chebet said today.  “Secondly, I’m so happy to get the opportunity to win again.”  She continued: “It’s not easy to prepare.  You know in Kenya it’s very competitive to qualify and represent your country outside here.  I know we come with a strong team from Kenya.”

Indeed, the Kenyan women dominated the 2023 edition of these championships, scoring a scant 16 points (first, third, fourth, and eighth), and look like the gold medal favorites again for tomorrow.  Chebet’s bronze medal-winning teammate, Agnes Jebet Ngetich, is again on the team supported by superstars Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi and Lilian Kasait Rengeruk.  It’s possible that Kenya could win the medals in the senior women’s race despite facing a solid Ethiopian squad.

“What I can say about 2023 (it) was a good season for me,” Chebet continued.  “I can say its preparation was good, especially through cross country.  I can say cross country motivated me a lot.”

Karoline Grovdal, European XC Champ three times over, photo by World Athletics

However, Norway’s Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal wants to break up the Kenyan party. The three-time European Athletics cross-country champion is coming off a convincing victory at the hilly United Airlines NYC Half on March 17, where she defeated Kenya’s Gladys Chepkurui. She is excited to race in Belgrade tomorrow. The 33-year-old hadn’t raced in a World Athletics Cross Country Championships since 2010 when she was a DNF.

“First, I’m looking forward to running tomorrow,” said Grøvdal, who will be the only Norwegian athlete to compete at these championships.  “I like to run cross country, and I do it a lot in Europe.  She added: “I want to test my form and my winter training.  I’m really looking forward to testing my form tomorrow.”

Weini Kelati setting AR for half, January 14, 2204, at Aramco Houston Half Marathon, photo by Kevin Morris.

The United States has the largest team in Belgrade, with 29 athletes entered across all five races (U20 men and women, senior men and women, and the mixed 4 x 2000m relay).  Their top individual medal contender is national half-marathon record holder Weini Kelati of Flagstaff, Arizona, in the senior women’s race.  The 27-year-old dominated the USATF Cross Country Championships in January in Mechanicsville, Virginia, where she won by a generous 22 seconds.  The last American woman to win a medal at the World Cross was Shalane Flanagan in 2011 when she won bronze.

“It’s going to be fun,” Kelati said of running in Serbia just after winning her national cross-country title.  “Hopefully, this time, we will come back with better results.  I’m ready to do it.”

Weini Kelati, USATF National Cross Country Championship
Richmond, Virginia, United States
1 20 2024, by Kevin Morris

Tomorrow’s championships were originally scheduled for February 10 in the Croatian cities of Medulin and Pula. Still, World Athletics president Sebastian Coe announced that those plans had been scrapped last September because “preparations have not advanced sufficiently.”  Belgrade stepped in shortly thereafter, and by hosting tomorrow’s championships the Serbian capital will have the distinction of being the only city to have hosted the World Athletics Indoor Championships (2022), European Athletics Indoor Championships (2017), European Athletics Cross Country Championships (2013), and World Athletics Cross Country Championships (2024).

“Thank you for hosting us so graciously in your home,” Coe said today, addressing Belgrade’s mayor Aleksandar Šapić.  He continued: “It’s a city that serves not just European but World Athletics very well.  That’s not an accident.  There’s an outstanding athletics federation here.”

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Here is the timetable for tomorrow’s championships with both local and Eastern Daylight times:

11:00   6:00 EDT    U20 Women 6 km
11:35   6:35        U20 Men 8 km
12:15   7:15        Mixed Relay (4 x 2000m)
12:45   7:45        Senior Women 10 km
13:30   8:30        Senior Men 10 km

USA viewers can watch on either CNBC on traditional cable or Peacock via streaming.