Action from the junior men's race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships (© Getty Images)
Facts & Figures – IAAF World Cross Country Championships Kampala 2017, the latest in a series of statistical reference books published ahead of IAAF World Championships, is now available.
Here the book's author, renowned statistician and cross country historian Mark Butler, introduces us to some of the figures and facts to watch as the championships' 42nd edition, set for Sunday 26 March in the Ugandan capital, approaches.
Who will get on the podium among Kenya and Ethiopia at the Kololo Independence Grounds on Sunday?
It’s a question we’ve been asking at the World Cross Country Championships for decades, so dominant have those two countries been since the 1980s. A quick glance at the facts and figures of the event will reveal that they are far and away the most successful nations, having between them now won 559 of the 996 available medals since 1973. Kampala should see the 1000th medal awarded in the under-20 women’s race.
We haven’t had any winner from outside Kenya and Ethiopia since 2007, the last time the championships were in Africa. Then, the two big individual titles went to an Eritrean and a Dutchwoman. Considering teams and under-20s, we must go even further back. For instance, the last non-Kenyn or non-Ethiopian winners in the under-20 men’s team event were the United States in 1981. That particular race signalled a change in eras with Tunisia’s Mohammed Chouri becoming the first-ever African individual winner of an IAAF World Championship.
While few other countries can now mount a challenge, the rivalry between Kenya and Ethiopia is intense. It doesn’t seem likely that Kenya will ever again be allowed to accumulate the 18 successive team titles they won in 1986-2003, one of the most impressive win streaks in any sport. The longest current victory sequence is the five consecutive individual golds won by senior Kenyan women.
Now that the championships are staged every other year and without an additional short course event, there is little movement in the tables of the most bemedalled individuals. Who will ever join Kenenisa Bekele, Worknesh Kidane or Tirunesh Dibaba on 20 or more medals? One who should climb that list is Dibaba’s sister Genzebe, who surely will collect a medal from the first running of the mixed relay race. She currently has four gold, two silvers and one bronze. Along with Tirunesh and Ejagayehu (six medals), the three Dibaba sisters already have 33 world cross medals. That’s a higher total than all but six countries.
Among the entries for Kampala are runners from France, Great Britain & NI, Spain and the United States. That means those four countries will continue their unbroken record of attendance at the championships, having competed in all previous 41 editions. One statistic which can never be beaten by Kenya or Ethiopia.
Mark Butler for the IAAF