Statistician Mark Butler takes a look at all the statistics, facts and figures behind the IAAF World Cross Country Championships to take place on Sunday, 20 March in Punta Umbria, Spain.
[Ed Note: You can download Butler's 'Facts & Figures' document (PDF, 0.5 MB) from the 'related items' section at the right of this page.]
The recent history of the World Cross Country Championships has been all about Kenya and Ethiopia. There’s little doubt that by Sunday afternoon, those two countries will have consolidated their hold on the top of the table which lists all 924 medals to have been won across 38 editions of the World Cross Country Championships. Those two countries have now won more than half of all available medals. It is now a rare achievement for any individual from any other country to reach the podium.
In this compilation of surperlatives of the World Cross Country Championships, the names of multiple champions Kenenisa Bekele, Paul Tergat and John Ngugi crop up again and again. One wonders now if their records will ever be beaten now that the opportunity for gold will come only every two years. We know there will be a completely new name engraved on the senior men’s gold medal on Sunday. For that man to match Bekele’s record of six individual long course titles, he would also need to win every odd year up to and including 2021!
The most bemedalled athlete entered for 2011 is Meselech Melkamu who already has the fifth largest medal haul (16) in the history of the championships. Unusually she also has the possibly unenviable record for the most individual bronze medals, five. On the other hand, the experienced Hosea Macharinyang has only ever won gold medals. Again part of the Kenyan men's squad, he looks set to make it seven. No-one else would have such a perfect record.
In terms of total team medals won, the head-to-head could hardly be closer between the super-powers. Ethiopia have 113 to Kenya 111. A slip-up by them in one of the races on Sunday could be costly with Uganda and Ethiopia both having powerful squads capable of reaching the medal zone. The European challenge may well be led by Spain who have progressed 8th-7th-6th in the men’s race at the last three championships. With Qatar not entered in 2011, another step up is possible for the hosts.
There are further records which are attainable, and it is fitting that Punta Umbría will be graced by the Iberian trip of Ana Dias, Jacqueline Martín and Alessandra Aguilar who between them have contested 37 championships (13, 12 and 12 respectively). It is not inconceivable that one of them could eventually match the women’s record appearance total of 17 which has stood to Conceição Ferreira since 2000.
I would like to make a prediction that one country might well win their first ever medal at the World Cross Country Championships: South Africa. They have full teams in all four events and are spearheaded by the rapidly-improving Steven Mokaka. His country has had five fourth places in the past, including Zola Budd in 1993. Of course in an earlier allegiance, she won for England in 1985 and 1986.
Finally, I will be keeping an eye on 24 year-old Sotyvoldy Khaitov of Tadjikistan who has the improbable record of finishing in 119th place on every one of his three previous appearances at the championships. Surely it won’t happen again? Statistics like these can make athletics fun, if you like that sort of thing.
Mark Butler for the IAAF