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

NOTE: This story was written remotely –Ed.

(30-Mar) — Blazing sun, two bridges, a mud pit, hay bales, and a sand-covered hairpin turn did little to slow the Kenyan women’s senior team at today’s 45th World Athletics Cross Country Championships in Friendship Park in Belgrade.  Led by defending champion Beatrice Chebet, Kenya swept the top five places, scoring a perfect ten points.  Chebet easily won her second consecutive title and became the first woman since Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba in 2005 and 2006 to win back-to-back senior women’s titles.

“It’s not easy to come and defend your title,” Chebet told reporters after the race.  “You know, there is a lot of pressure.”

The Kenyan women made their intentions known right from the gun of the 10-kilometer race, shooting to the front and imposing a fast pace.  The entire team –Chebet, Emmaculate Anyango Achol, Agnes Jebet Ngetich, Lilian Kasait Rengeruk, and Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi– were on the front.  By the time the third of five laps had been completed (about 6 km), only Uganda’s Sarah Chelangat and the USA’s Weini Kelati were within six seconds of the Kenyans.

“The course was so good,” said Chebet, who won the World Athletics 5-K road running title last October and didn’t mind the nearly 80-degree temperatures.  “The weather was good; it was like Kenya.”

At the end of the fourth lap (24:23), the Kenyan team was still together, and their nearest challenger, Uganda’s Chelangat, was a yawning 13 seconds behind.  With the team title well in hand, the battle for the medals began to unfold.  Achol was the first to fall back, then Ngetich, the bronze medalist from last year’s championships in Bathurst, Australia.

Rengeruk made the first bid for victory, surging with 29 minutes and 20 seconds showing on the clock. Both Chebet and Kipkemboi responded, and a minute later, Chebet surged away to win in 31:05. Rengeruk held on for second (31:08), and Kipkemboi got third (31:09).

BELGRADE, SERBIA – MARCH 30: Beatrice Chebet of Kenya poses with a flag after winnig in the Women’s Senior race during the World Athletics Cross Country Championships Belgrade 2024 on March 30, 2024 in Belgrade, Serbia.
(Photo by © Adam Nurkiewicz for World Athletics)

“Today was very good and I thank God that we managed to come together for position one to five, as a Team Kenya, as a team title,” Chebet said.  “That shows strong teamwork from Kenya.”

Ethiopia won the team silver medal with 41 points, followed by Uganda with 44. The United States—led by national half-marathon record holder Weini Kelati in 15th place—placed a distant fourth with 113 points.

Although the Kenyan men also won the team title with a low 19 points, they didn’t dominate the race like their women’s squad.  Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo overwhelmed the competition in the last third of the race, running away with his second consecutive title in 28:09.  Ethiopia’s Berihu Aregawi repeated as silver medalist in 28:12, and Kenya’s only individual medal went to third place Benson Kiplangat in 28:14.

Kiplimo, who is only 23, ran comfortably in the pack for the race’s first half and did not respond when Kenya’s Gideon Kipkertich Rono surged ahead and built up a five-second lead after the third lap.  Instead, Kiplimo kept his cool and waited for the final lap to step on the gas.  When he did, he made it look easy.

“I think now I’m actually excited because I defend my title,” a smiling Kiplimo said after the race.  “I’m so happy.  I think the strategy was just to stay in pack until maybe the last 3-K and then I tried to push it.”

Kiplimo’s teammate, 2019 champion Joshua Cheptegei, ran near the front the entire race but could only manage a sixth-place finish in 28:24 (he was the bronze medalist in Bathurst last year and the winner in Aarhus in 2019). Still, he was Uganda’s #2 scorer and helped them secure the silver medal with 31 points. Ethiopia got bronze with 40 points.

Seventeen of the top twenty places went to men representing African countries.  The top European was Thierry Ndikumwenayo of Spain in ninth place, and the top North American was Anthony Rotich of the United States in 22nd place.

Ethiopia dominated the under-20 women’s race, sweeping all three individual medals plus the team title with a scant 12 points.  The winner of the 6-kilometer contest was 15-year-old Marta Alemayo (19:28), who led for most of the race and easily held off teammates Asayech Ayichew (19:32) and Robe Dida (19:38), who won silver and bronze, respectively.  Kenya got the silver medal with 28 points, followed by Uganda with 48 points.  The USA squad of Ellie Shea (15th), Allie Zealand (16th), Mary Dalton (28th), and Zariel Macchia (29th) finished fourth, falling one place from their bronze medal position in Bathurst.

The Ethiopian and Kenyan squads had quite a tussle in the U20 men’s race (athletes from those two countries took all of the top ten places), but it was Kenya who won the team title with 15 points to Ethiopia’s 21 (Uganda was third with 52).  Samuel Kibathi of Kenya won the individual gold medal in 22:40 for 8-K, followed by Ethiopia’s Mezgebu Sime in second (22:41) and Kenya’s Mathew Kipkoech Kipruto (22:46) in third.  Japan, led by 16th-place Tomoya Inoue of Rakunan High School, was the fourth-place team with 77 points.

In the 8-kilometer mixed relay, Reynold Kipkorir Cheruiyot, a 3:48 miler, put his team in the lead on the first 2-kilometer loop.  When he handed off to teammate Virginia Nyambura, the 9:13 steeplechaser took off and put Kenya in the lead for good.  Kenya’s final two runners, Kyumbe Munguti and Purity Chepkirui, only needed to maintain their position but opened a wider gap. In the end, Kenya won by nearly half a minute in 22:15.  It might have been closer had Ethiopia’s second runner, Dahdi Dube, not had her shoe come off in the exchange zone after her teammate, lead-off man Taresa Tolosa, stepped on her heel.  She tried to get the shoe back on but ran her lap with only her right shoe.

Great Britain and Northern Ireland took the bronze, gaining positions with each lap.  Their lead-off runner, Thomas Keen, handed off to Alexandra Millard in only ninth place.  But in the third lap, 3:49 miler Adam Fogg moved the team up from eighth to fourth place.  Britain’s anchor, Bethan Morley, was only three seconds behind the USA’s Katie Izzo at the last exchange.  She quickly passed the American –who had only recently recovered from a broken foot– and put her team into the bronze medal position to stay.

“The American girl was in my sights early on, but I had to remain calm and not go off too quickly,” Morley told the British Athletics media team.  “Coming down the final ramp into the home straight, I was just thinking, oh my God, I am going to be a world medalist.  You’ve got to keep it going!”

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This is the second time these championships were held on Easter Saturday.  According to British historian and statistician Mark Butler, the World Cross was also held on Easter Saturday in 1978 in Glasgow.

The next edition of the World Athletics Cross Country Championships will be held in Tallahassee, Florida, in January 2026.