Over the first nine days of 2019, we are taking a look at nine things we’re really looking forward to as we enter another IAAF World Athletics Championships year.
We started with a look at returning stars and then some exciting rising stars. The series continued by examining some of the world records which may finally fall in 2019 and then moved on to key head-to-heads expected to highlight the year ahead and a look at the technology innovations being put to use in 2019.
Today, we look at...
Cross country returning to its roots
Gritty, raw and extreme
The best distance runners in the world, along with recreational runners, will embrace the raw and elementary DNA of the discipline when they take to the start line for the IAAF/Mikkeller World Cross Country Championships Aarhus 2019 on 30 March.
The two-kilometre loop is a true championships course: rough, tough and spectacular. It has all the classic elements of cross country, including hills, mud, water, obstacles and changes in terrain.
But it also has exciting additions such as a 50x20-metre fan tent, a Viking gauntlet and an uphill section that involves running on the grassy roof of Moesgaard Museum.
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“The World Cross Country Championships carries a historic tradition without equal in the sport of athletics,” said competition director and Danish Athletics CEO Jakob Larsen.
“Cross country running is where we grew from as a sport and it is where the winner is ‘the toughest of them all’. As organisers, we aim to present a course worthy of such a race, we aim to attract spectators to create a buzzing venue, and we want to encourage the spectators to get up and close, feel the intensity of the race, and spark an interest in cross country running.”
Open to the masses
“A very important part of this,” continued Larsen, “is letting ordinary people take part in the event – to let them join the actual championships race or run in the tailor-made mass race distances on the championships course. This is a very important part of what we do together with Aarhus and Sport Event Denmark.”
Recreational runners will be able to participate over four distances in Aarhus: the ‘sprint’ (2km), the ‘relay’ (4x2km), the ‘toughest’ (4/8/12km) or the ‘championship’ (10km).
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Kamworor seeks hat-trick
Following his victories in 2015 and 2017, Kenya’s Geoffrey Kamworor will be seeking a third triumph in the senior men’s race in Aarhus.
Only John Ngugi, Paul Tergat and Kenenisa Bekele have won three consecutive titles in the senior men’s race at the World Cross and Kamworor has the opportunity to join that exclusive group.
First, though, he will have to make it through the notoriously competitive Kenyan Trials. And then there's the small matter of beating the rest of the world, such as Ugandan duo Jacob Kiplimo and Joshua Cheptegei.
Kenya believe it?
Speaking of Kenya, they will once again be the team to beat in Aarhus. Two years ago in Kampala, the East African nation made history by filling the top six places in the senior women’s race.
They are by no means unbeatable, though, as they were beaten to team gold in the three other categories in 2017 and were kept out of the top two spots in both of the U20 races. Ethiopia and Uganda will once again provide stiff opposition in all five races, while the likes of Bahrain, Eritrea, Turkey and the USA can also contend for medals.
One of the most exciting elements of the 2017 World Cross Country Championships was the introduction of the mixed relay.
Comprising four legs of roughly two kilometres, teams are free to choose any running order they feel will work best.
A Kenyan quartet anchored by steeplechase world record-holder Beatrice Chepkoech ended up winning comfortably in Kampala, but having learned from that experience two years ago, other teams can be expected to put forward stronger teams in Aarhus with more competitive running orders.