Title hopes rest on Beatrice Chebet, Sabastian Sawe at World Cross Country Championships

ATHLETICS Title hopes rest on Beatrice Chebet, Sabastian Sawe at World Cross Country Championships

Abigael Wafula 05:30 - 29.03.2024

Beatrice Chebet will have her work cut out as she seeks to defend her World Cross Country title while all eyes will focus on Sabastian Sawe to reclaim the senior men's title in Belgrade, Serbia.

Defending champion Beatrice Chebet will be up against the world’s best cross-country runners at the upcoming World Cross Country Championships in Belgrade, Serbia scheduled for Saturday, March 30.

Chebet will be hoping to defend the highly coveted title but has her work cut out as she seeks to achieve her goal and continue her Olympic season with a winning streak.

The 24-year-old was beaten to fourth place during the National Trials and will have to dig deeper for another win considering she will be competing against formidable opponents including her compatriots.

Her greatest challenger in the field is the reigning world 10km record holder Agnes Ngetich who comes back to the cross-country event after finishing third last year.

Following a brilliant start to her season, smashing the 10km world record in Valencia, she will be keen to continue writing her name in the books of history.

There is no doubt that Emmaculate Anyango is also one to watch in the deep field. She won the Sirikwa Classic Cross Country in February and she is hungrier for more.

Team Kenya also features Lilian Kasait Rengeruk and Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi, both of whom took silver medals, over 5km and the half marathon respectively, at the World Road Running Championships last year. Cintia Chepngeno is also in the mix to make a name for herself.

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However, the Ethiopian squad will also be looking to run away with the top slots. Girmawit Gebrzihair won Ethiopia’s National Trial race and will be competing at her first major championships as a senior.

Compatriot Tadelech Bekele will also be trying her luck after having a mixed season last year. Others on the Ethiopian team include marathon specialist Sisay Meseret Gola, and teenagers Bertukan Welde and Mebrat Gidey.

Uganda’s Rachael Zena Chebet has been the best non-Kenyan/Ethiopian performer at the World Cross in the past decade, having finished fourth in 2019. The 27-year-old won the Ugandan cross-country title by 25 seconds and will be keen to lead her team to another medal, having earned team bronze in 2019.

Burundi’s Francine Niyomukunzi will also want a piece of the cake after performing exemplary well on the World Cross Country Tour this year, winning in San Giorgio Su Legnano back in January. She followed that with a national 10km record of 30:42 in Valencia.

Meanwhile, the men’s race will see the Ugandan duo of Jacob Kiplimo and Joshua Cheptegei renew their rivalry. Kiplimo will be keen to defend his title but he has to shake off sturdy competition from the quality field.

World Half Marathon champion Sabastian Sawe is also in the mix and the Kenyan will be hoping to make history for the country by bringing back the title. Uganda has claimed back-to-back senior men’s titles through Kiplimo and Cheptegei, and these two will race to claim a historic hat-trick for their country.

On his part, Sawe leads the Kenyan charge and will be joined by world U20 cross-country champion Ishmael Kipkurui, world 5km bronze medallist Nicholas Kipkorir, and rising trio Samwel Chebolei Masai, Benson Kiplangat and Gideon Kipkertich Rono.

World 5km record-holder Berihu Aregawi will hope to stop the Ugandan dominance too with a keen eye to become the first Ethiopian winner of this title since 2011.

A few weeks after taking silver in Bathurst last year, Aregawi moved to second on the world all-time 10km list with 26:33. He started his 2024 campaign with a convincing win at the Cross Country Tour Gold meeting in Elgoibar.

Others on the Ethiopian team include Dinkalem Ayele, Chimdessa Debele, Boki Diriba, and Tadese Worku, the 2019 world U20 cross country silver medallist and 2021 world U20 3000m champion.

Spain’s Thierry Ndikumwenayo placed ninth in the senior men’s race at the 2019 World Cross while representing Burundi and he will also be contending for a top spot.

The 26-year-old has had two cross-country successes this year, winning at the Spanish Championships at the Cross Country Tour Gold meeting in Albufeira.

Eritrea’s Merhawi Mebrahtu, the 2022 world U20 5000m silver medallist placed second in Hannut in January, and more recently finished eighth over 10,000m at the African Games. He will be keen to build on that as he seeks more glory.