Kenyan distance runner Hellen Obiri (AFP / Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Aarhus, Denmark

Senior women's preview: Obiri leads strong Kenyan contingent 

It looks set to be an East African battle again at the front of the senior women's race at the IAAF/Mikkeller World Cross Country Championships Aarhus 2019 on Saturday.

Defending champions Kenya will be targetting their sixth team title in the past seven editions, but the result looks likely to be less clear cut than it was two years ago in Kampala, when Kenya achieved a historic sweep of the top six positions in the individual race.

Kenya and Ethiopia have occupied the top two spots in the team race in every edition of these championships since 2002, when the United States took silver in Dublin - and that does not look likely to change in Aarhus. The question is simply which way round the top East African distance running powerhouses will finish.

Fresh from a 29:59 clocking for 10km at the end of December and a victory at the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting in Elgoibar in January, world 5000m champion Hellen Obiri (5000m world rank: 2) starts as one of the favourites. The 29-year-old has won all of her cross-country races this year, including the Kenyan Cross Country Championships. If she wins in Aarhus, she will become the first woman in history to win senior world titles indoors, outdoors and at cross country.

The last time the individual champion did not come from Kenya was in 2008, when world 5000m record-holder Tirunesh Dibaba took her fourth senior title. Interestingly, Kenya has also occupied the top two individual spots on the podium in four of the past six editions.

Obiri will be backed up by 2017 bronze medallist and 2013 world U18 3000m champion Lilian Kasait Rengeruk (5000m world rank: 9) and 2015 champion Agnes Tirop (5000m world rank: 4), who will hoping to get on the podium again after her fourth place two years ago. Steeplechase world record-holder Beatrice Chepkoech (steeplechase world rank: 1), who took victory at the IAAF Cross Country Permit race in Seville earlier this year, 2016 African cross country bronze medallist Beatrice Mutai (10,000m world rank: 34) and relative newcomer Deborah Samum, who was fourth at the recent Kenyan Championships, are also part of a strong Kenyan line up. 

Having been to two previous World Cross Country Championships and claiming silver in the U20 race in 2015, Dera Dida (marathon world rank: 49; road running world rank: 49) heads the Ethiopian charge.

Dida produced a dominant victory at her country's national trials, where she finished five seconds ahead of 20-year-old Letesenbet Gidey (5000m world rank: 5), who makes her senior debut after winning the U20 title at the past two IAAF World Cross Country Championships. With 2017 U20 silver medallist Hawi Feysa and 2019 10km world leader Tsehay Gemechu (road running world rank: 12) also in the squad, Ethiopia looks set to put up a strong challenge to their East African rivals. Less known is Zenebu Fekadu, but after a strong third place in the Ethiopian trials, she could be one of the surprise packages of the championships.

The battle for bronze in the team race looks much more open, with eight different countries taking the honours in the past 15 years. Bahrain finished third in the team race two years ago and will be aiming for a similar performance this time round.

Their squad includes world marathon champion Rose Chelimo (road running world rank: 63; marathon world rank 132), 2016 Asian cross-country champion Eunice Chumba (road running world rank: 14; marathon world rank 55), world U20 5000m bronze medallist Bontu Rebitu (5000m world rank: 45), and Winfred Yavi (steeplechase world rank: 7), who won the Cinque Mulini cross country race in Italy last month. 

Uganda could also be in the hunt for the medals, led by Commonwealth 10,000m champion Stella Chesang (10,000m world rank: 5; road running world rank: 36), who was a dominant winner at the national championships last month, 17 seconds ahead of Rachael Chebet.

With the course being more varied at this 43rd edition of the World Cross Country Championships than in 2017, taking in the grassy roof of Moesgaard Museum, the hilly surroundings, a mud pit and a section of water as part of the two-kilometre loop, it may be less of an African procession than two years ago, where the first non-African finisher was Aliphine Tuliamuk of the United States in 15th.

Among those hoping to break through the East African wall will be Spain's Trihas Gebre (marathon world rank: 213; road running world rank: 52), 12th at the European Cross Country Championships, Germany's Elena Burkard, who was sixth at the European Cross Country Championships, Ireland's twice European cross-country champion Fionnuala McCormack and US bronze medallist Marielle Hall (5000m world rank: 29; 10,000m world rank: 10).

European U23 cross-country and steeplechase champion Anna Emilie Moller (steeplechase world rank: 15) leads the home nation charge, after making her World Cross Country Championships debut two years ago aged 19.

Athletes from 44 countries are entered.

Emily Moss for the IAAF