Kiplimo, Cheptegei hope to deliver a third successive gold for Uganda

Jacob Kiplimo and Joshua Cheptegei eye gold in the World Cross Country Championships|COURTESY

WORLD ATHLETICS CROSS COUNTRY PREVIEW Kiplimo, Cheptegei hope to deliver a third successive gold for Uganda

World Athletics • 10:30 - 28.03.2024

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.

The top three finishers in the senior men’s race from last year’s edition will return for another clash at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships Belgrade 24 on Saturday (30).

Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo will defend his title against a strong field that includes 2023 runner-up Berihu Aregawi, and 2023 bronze medallist and 2019 winner Joshua Cheptegei, the three-time world 10,000m champion.

Jacob Kiplimo started the new year in style as he secured victory in Valencia|COURTESY

The line-up also includes another global title winner in the form of world half marathon champion Sabastian Sawe of Kenya.

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.

The duo will be joined by Martin Kiprotich, who finished 18th in Bathurst, and African U20 5000m champion Dan Kibet, who finished second at last month’s Ugandan Cross Country Championships, won by Kiplimo.

Uganda Long distance running sensation Joshua Cheptegei | Photo Credit: BSR Agency/Getty Images

Kiplimo, who delivered Uganda’s first-ever World Cross Country gold medal when he won the U20 title on home soil in 2017, returns to global competition after an injury forced him to withdraw from last year’s World Championships in Budapest.

October marked his return to competition, winning the World Cross Country Tour Gold meeting in Atapuerca, and he followed that with victory at the Zevenheuvelenloop 15km road race.

This year, the world half marathon record-holder has competed twice and triumphed twice, winning over 10km in Valencia and at the Ugandan Cross Country Championships. The 23-year-old now looks to Belgrade as an opportunity to bounce back to global glory.

Cheptegei, who recently clocked 26:53 over 10km in Laredo, will be motivated to reclaim the senior title he won in 2019. In fact, should either of the leading Ugandan contenders win, they will join the likes of Kenenisa Bekele, Paul Tergat and Geoffrey Kamworor as a multiple world cross winner.

World 5km record-holder Aregawi will aim 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, who won the recent Lisbon Half Marathon; African 10,000m silver medallist Chimdessa Debele, who was 11th in Bathurst; Ethiopian trials winner Boki Diriba, who took U20 bronze in Bathurst last year; and Tadese Worku, the 2019 world U20 cross country silver medallist and 2021 world U20 3000m champion.

On paper, the team certainly appears strong enough to regain the team title they last won in 2017.

After missing out on an individual medal in Bathurst last year, the Kenyan men will be keen to make the podium this time.

World half marathon champion Sawe leads the cross-country powerhouse nation. He is joined on the Kenyan team by world U20 cross-country champion Ishmael Kipkurui, world 5km bronze medallist Nicholas Kipkorir, and rising trio Samwel Chebolei Masai, 2021 world U20 5000m champion Benson Kiplangat and Gideon Kipkertich Rono.

Ranked third in the Cross Country Tour standings, Spain’s Thierry Ndikumwenayo is a man to watch out for in Belgrade. He placed ninth in the senior men’s race at the 2019 World Cross while representing Burundi. Since then, he has reduced his PBs to 7:25.93 at 3000m and 12:55.47 for 5000m.

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.

Ndikumwenayo is joined on the Spanish team by Aarón Las Heras, who was 20th in Bathurst, as well as Fernando Carro and Nassim Hassaous.

Eritrea’s Merhawi Mebrahtu is also a contender. 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.

Compatriot Aron Kifle, who finished fourth and fifth at the 2019 and 2017 World Cross respectively, brings experience to the Eritrean team, which also includes Filmon Kibrom.

Celestin Ndikumana, who placed fourth and sixth over 5000m and 10,000m respectively at the recent African Games, leads the Burundian team. Ndikumana will aim to improve on his 20th-place finish from Bathurst.

The US team features three-time NCAA steeplechase champion Anthony Rotich, Emmanuel Bor, Reid Buchanan, Christian Allen, Anthony Camerieri and Ahmed Muhumed.

Paris-bound Patrick Tiernan, who finished 13th at the 2017 World Cross, leads the Australian team, while the British squad is headed by European U23 cross-country champion Will Barnicoat.

Three nations will be represented at the World Cross for the first time at this year’s edition: Afghanistan (Mohammad Karim), Honduras (Iván Zarco) and Montenegro (Željko Dabović).