The IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Guiyang 2015 will be the third time the championships have been staged on the continent of Asia, and the fact that all three editions have come in the past decade shows the growing importance and rising profile of not only cross-country running but athletics in general within Asia.
Following in the footsteps of the Japanese city of Fukuoka in 2006 and the Jordanian capital Amman in 2009, Guiyang also has the distinction of being the first Chinese host. While the city might not be the epicentre of world distance running, there is no denying that the city is still home to a burgeoning – and still expanding – running community
“The Chinese Athletics Association (CAA) has staged dozens of national and international events in Guiyang,” said Wang Yuxiang, the Deputy Mayor of the Guiyang Municipal People’s Government.
“Guiyang for 44 years in a row has staged a long-distance running event on the first day of each New Year,” he added with considerable pride, referring to a local event which outdates even the IAAF World Cross Country Championships for antiquity.
“Last June, Guiyang also launched the first ever international marathon event. We attracted some 10,000 runners from 24 countries, including professional and amateur runners. We are going to have more marathon events so we can create a brand for the event in Guiyang.”
The city’s largely benign year-round climate and good air quality are no doubt compatible with recreational running, plus the city’s greenery and open spaces – such as the Guangshanhu Wetland Park where the professional athletes have been training in the days leading up to the race – provide miles of traffic-free roads and paths for runners.
“I think Guiyang is a unique city," added Wang. "We enjoy beautiful mountains, good water and a positive ecology. We also have a world-class venue for cross-country running with good facilities."
Good times in Giuyang
“We have hosted more than 10 national championships and one Asian Cross Country Championships. We have good conditions for hosting it. IAAF officials have visited Guiyang many times in the preparations and they all feel Guiyang enjoys a good environment, and comfortable climate.”
Recreational runners will be able to pound the same course as the elite runners on Saturday, as the organisers made a clever decision to stage 2km and 4km mass participation races at the start of Saturday’s programme before the official opening ceremony.
This follows on from the innovations at the 2014 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships where a mass participation race was staged in conjunction with the elite race.
“To make the general public more into it, we have a range of amateur running events so public can experience cross-country running,” said Du Zhoacai, the Director of the Chinese Athletics Association.
“It will be very important for the popularity and development of cross-country running in China.”
On the competitive side, Chinese runners have only picked up four medals at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. Three of those medals came in the women’s junior race in 1990 when Liu Shixiang and Yan Qinglan won individual gold and silver, plus team bronze.
Du identifies the junior races, and especially the women’s contest, as one where the hosts could leave an impression on home soil.
“We have sent some young but outstanding athletes and we hope we will have a good performance in the junior team race,” he said. “In the senior team, we are trying to improve the quality. You can see we have 30 athletes, including some athletes for the future. They are the talents and hopes of the future for the Chinese team.”
Steven Mills for the IAAF