Could anyone forget that in 2017, running in front of a home crowd in Kampala (UGA), Joshua Cheptegei looked ready to claim’s Uganda’s first-ever World Cross Country title, leading with a lap to go over defending champ Geoffrey Kamworer (KEN)?
But Cheptegei faded to 30th and Kamworer won again, so when the 2019 World Cross Country Championships race in Aarhus (DEN) came down to the final lap on Saturday and Cheptegei and Kamworer were in contention again, would history repeat itself?
Not this time, as Cheptegei was the steadiest on the final lap of a challenging course and won his first world title in 31:40 over the 10,025 m course. Teammate Jacob Kiplimo was second (31:44) with Kamworer third (31:55) as Uganda won the team title as well.
By the end of the third lap (of five), the race was already down to five contenders, with Kamworer leading Kiplimo, Aron Kifle (ERI), Cheptegei, Rhonex Kipruto (KEN) and Selemon Barega (ETH). Kipruto and Barega dropped contact on the fourth lap and Kifle was straining to stay with the top three.
On the final lap, Kiplimo and Cheptegei broke free of Kamworer on the first of two runs over the inclined roof of the Moesgaard Museum and then Cheptegei broke Kiplimo on the second time over the roof to win in 31:40 over a very difficult course with Kiplimo four seconds back and Kamworer third in 31:55.
Chepetegei, 22, had proven his star status with his silver medal in the 2017 World Championships 10,000 m. He said of the 2017 World Cross disaster, “I learned from the last World Cross that I needed to be a smart runner and that you cannot ear success without discovery.” He has obviously learned his lessons well.
Kipruto’s silver at age 18 is a portend of great things to come. He said afterwards, “I came in second which I am happy with. The route was challenging and a lot different than I am used to, but all this is okay. I think after this race the whole of Uganda is celebrating now.” Uganda won the team title with just 20 points, ahead of Kenya (43) and Ethiopia (46).
Kamworer noted, “I feel like I gave all I had and tried my best. I really appreciate the tough route today.”
The women’s race was similarly tight, with favorite Hellen Obiri (KEN) in a fight with Ethiopia’s Dera Dida and Letesenbet Gidey (ETH) and Uganda’s Peruth Chemutai after three laps. Chemutai dropped back during the fourth lap and then Gidey fell off the pace, leaving the 2017 World 5,000 Champion (Obiri, 29) dueling with a 2:21:45 marathoner in Dida (22).
Neither could shake the other and Obiri maintained a small lead right to the finish, winning in 36:14 to 36:16 for Dida.
“It is really special,” said Obiri. “It was my debut IAAF World Cross Country Championships and my only chance to do it. I now don’t need to do any more cross country.”
It was also a history-maker, as Obiri became the first woman to own individual world titles in indoor track, outdoor track and cross country. Only Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele has done this among men; Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba also achieved this, but in the junior division.
Obiri was clearly ready for the race and explained her technique for dealing with the repeated climbs over the inclined roof of the museum: “I thought you must look down, as you don’t want to look up to see where you are going and at how difficult the hill is,” she said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be a test of speed, as it was a tough hill. It was all about mind games.”
Said Dida, “It was a very good race for me, it was a surprise to take the silver medal. The competition was very good, and it took place in a nice surrounding.”
Ethiopia’s women won the team title with 21 points to 25 for Kenya and 36 for Uganda.
The U-20 races were tight, with Milkesa Mengesha leading a 1-2 finish for Ethiopia in 23:52 to 23:54 for Tadese Worku over a 7,570 m course. The women’s U-20 race was a fight to the finish, as Kenya’s Beatrice Chebet, Alemitu Tariku (ETH) and Tsigie Gebreselasma (ETH) all given the same time of 20:50 over 5,740 m, with Chebet given the victory.
The U.S. teams ran poorly. The men finished 11th (198 points), with Shadrack Kipchirchir finishing 34th. The women were eighth with 190 points, with Stephanie Bruce the top placer at 33rd.
The hokey Mixed Relay was won by Ethiopia, with Morocco second, Kenya third and the U.S. fourth. Summaries:
IAAF World Cross Country Championships
Aarhus (DEN) ~ 30 March 2019
(Full results here)
Men (10,025 m): 1. Joshua Cheptegei (UGA), 31:40; 2. Jacob Kiplimo (UGA), 31:44; 3. Geoffrey Kamworer (KEN), 31:55; 4. Aron Kifle (ERI), 32:04; 5. Selemon Barega (ETH), 32:16; 6. Rhonex Kipruto (KEN), 32:17; 7. Thomas Ayeko (UGA), 32:25; 8. Andamlak Belihu (ETH), 32:29; 9. Thierry Ndikumwenayo (BDI), 32:29. Also in the top 50: 34. Shadrack Kipchirchir (USA), 33:46; 35. Stanley Kebenei (USA), 33:47.
Men/Teams: 1. Uganda, 20; 2. Kenya, 43; 3. Ethiopia, 46; 4. Eritrea, 83; 5. Burundi, 91; 6. Bahrain, 99; 7. Spain, 181; 8. Australia, 188. Also: 11. United States, 198.
Men U-20 (7,570 m): 1. Milkesa Mengesha (ETH), 23:52; 2. Tadese Worku (ETH), 23:54; 3. Oscar Chelimo (UGA), 23:55; 4. Leonard Bett (KEN), 24:02; 5. Tsegay Kidanu (ETH), 24:07.
Men U-20/Teams: 1. Ethiopia, 18; 2. Uganda, 32; 3. Kenya, 34; 4. Morocco, 144; 5. South Africa, 150. Also: 6. United States, 154.
Women (10,025 m): 1. Hellen Obiri (KEN), 36:14; 2. Dera Dida (ETH), 36:16; 3. Letesenbet Gidey (ETH), 36:24; 4. Rachael Zena Chebet (UGA), 36:47; 5. Peruth Chemutai (UGA), 36:49; 6. Tsehay Gemechu (ETH), 36:56; 7. Beatrice Chepkoech (KEN), 37:12; 8. Eva Cherono (KEN), 37:13; 9. Deborah Samum (KEN), 37:18; 10. Zenebu Fikadu (ETH), 37:24. Also in the top 50: 33. Stephanie Bruce (USA), 39:09; … 50. Sarah Pagano (USA), 39:54.
Women/Teams: 1. Ethiopia, 21; 2. Kenya, 25; 3. Uganda, 36; 4. Great Britain, 132; 5. Australia, 134; 6. Bahrain, 152; 7. Canada, 186; 8. United States, 190.
Women U-20 (5,740 m): 1. Beatrice Chebet (KEN), 20:50; 2. Alemitu Tariku (ETH), 20:50; 3. Tsigie Gebreselasma (ETH), 20:50; 4. Sarah Chelangat (UGA), 20:51; 5. Girmawit Gebrzihair (ETH), 20:53.
Women U-20/Teams: 1. Ethiopia, 17; 2. Kenya, 26; 3. Japan, 72; 4. Uganda, 73; 5. South Africa, 132. Also: 14. United States, 257.
Mixed Relay (8,070 m): 1. Ethiopia (Kebede Endale, Bone Cheluke, Teddese Lemi, Fantu Worku), 25:49; 2. Morocco (El Bakkali, Farkoussi, Iguider, Arafi), 26:22; 3. Kenya (Kipruto, Mwasya, Manangoi, Mbithe), 26:29; 4. United States (Krubhli Erassa, Shannon Osika, Jordan Mann, Eleanor Fulton), 27:01; 5. Uganda, 27:35.