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World XC preview: Cheptegei looks to repeat, and Gidey wants gold

Everything you need to know (course, storylines, predictions) for the 2022 World XC Championships from Australia

Jacob Kiplimo Photo by: Kevin Morris

After being postponed twice, the 2023 World Cross Country Championships are here, and set to take place on Saturday afternoon from Bathurst, Australia (Friday evening and Saturday morning for North American viewers). This year, there are four individual races taking place and one team race (the 4x 2 km relay), with teams and individuals from Canada and more than 20 other countries.

The course

We received some intel from an Australian athlete, who said the course was “rough as,” (an Aussie expression) but not as hilly as the previous world XC course in Aarhus, Denmark in 2019. The senior men and women will complete five loops of a 2 km loop through the Mount Panorama vineyard. Each loop has an elevation gain of around 25 metres, but features a few switchbacks, a sandy “Bondi Beach” section, and a muddy water crossing known as “The Billabong.”

The toughest component of the race will definitely be the weather–temperatures at the start of the men’s and women’s senior races will be around 30 C, which could fare tough for competitors unfamiliar with racing in warm conditions.

Gidey’s hunt for gold

Letesenbet Gidey is the favourite to win the women’s race here in Bathurst. At only 24, she is the reigning world champion over 10,000m and holds the 5,000m, 10,000m and half-marathon world records. As good as she is on the track and road, what many do not know is that Gidey came to her superstardom through XC, winning back-to-back world U20 XC titles in 2015 and 2017, as well as leading her Ethiopian team to three straight world XC titles. Her only XC blemish comes from Aarhus, when she finished third behind Olympic medallist Hellen Obiri and her compatriot Dera Dida (who won the Dubai Marathon on the weekend and is not racing in Bathurst).

Letesenbet Gidey
World 10,000m champion Letesenbet Gidey at the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Ore. Photo: Kevin Morris

Gidey has never won the senior race at World XC, and will be looking to bounce back from her very decent 2:16:49 marathon debut in December (though she finished second). At the Ethiopian XC trials, she won by a long shot and is the safest bet to win here in Bathurst. For Gidey to win, she will have to inject a fast pace early to wear down the women who could potentially beat her.

One of those women is Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi, who we did not see much of in 2022, due to injury. On the track, under 5,000m, beating Niyonsaba has been a difficult task for many. Since moving up in distance due to World Athletics DSD athlete regulations, the 800m silver medallist has set a world best over two kilometres and was crowned the 2021 Diamond League champion over 5,000m. She has the speed to beat Gidey if it comes down to a late kick or if Gidey lets her hang too long.

Beatrice Chebet
Kenya’s Beatrice Chebet in the 5,000m at the 2022 World Athletics Championships. Photo: Kevin Morris

Another athlete to keep your eye on is Kenya’s Beatrice Chebet, who beat Gidey to earn a world championship silver medal in the 5,000m last summer in Oregon. Chebet won the U20 race at Aarhus 2019 and was the first non-Ethiopian since 2006 to do so. She has also proven she can contend with the best of the best, winning a Diamond League title in 2022.

Prediction: Beatrice Chebet (KEN)

Team title: Ethiopia

Top Canadian: Julie-Anne Staehli

Can anyone beat the Ugandans?

Trying to beat the Ugandan world champion duo of Joshua Cheptegei and Jacob Kiplimo will be a challenge. At his best, Cheptegei, the reigning champ, has proven that he’s unbeatable, setting world records of 12:35 for 5,000m and 26:11 for 10,000m. Kiplimo, on the other hand, has reached the podium at the last two World XC Champs, and has an incredible range from 3,000m to the half-marathon.

World 5,000m and 10,000m record holder Joshua Cheptegei winning the men’s 10,000m at the 2022 World Championships. Photo: Kevin Morris

The storyline in the men’s race will be the course. One reason the Ugandan duo had success in 2019 was their ability to adjust to speed over the hilly course at Aarhus. Bathurst is a little flatter, and it will give an opportunity for Ethiopias Selemon Barega (2020 Olympic 10,000m champion) or Berihu Aregawi (5K world record holder), both track distance specialists, a chance to win.

Another runner you can’t count out is the two-time world XC champion Geoffrey Kamworor of Kenya. Kamworor is an XC guru, winning this race in 2015 and 2017 and finishing with an individual bronze behind Cheptegei and Kiplimo in 2019. Although he has slowed down a little due to injury, he’s still a gamer.

Geoffrey Kamworor
Kenya’s Geoffrey Kamworor and Eliud Kipchoge at the 2019 TCS New York City Marathon. Photo: Kevin Morris

The team race will come down to a battle between Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya. Uganda is the defending champions, but their success will depend on the success of their bottom three. Kenya has the best team on paper, featuring Kamworor, former half-marathon world record holder Kibiwott Kandie and Nicolas Kimeli, the 2022 world leader over 5,000m (12:26) and Diamond League champion.

Prediction: Joshua Cheptegei (UGA)

Team title: Uganda

Top Canadian: Max Turek

You can catch the action from the 2023 World XC Championships live by streaming it on CBC or the CBC Sports app. Coverage will begin at 11 p.m. E.T.

Follow @CanadianRunning on Twitter for live tweets, up-to-date stories and news from the 2023 World XC Championships in Australia.

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