Series16 Feb 2019

Fab five: World Cross one-hit wonders


Fab five: World Cross one-hit wonders (© Getty Images)

As our countdown continues to the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Aarhus 2019, we look at five one-time individual gold medallists at the iconic event.


Joseph Ebuya

2010 senior men’s champion

Joseph Ebuya on his way to winning the World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz


The 22-year-old Kenyan was in the form of his life leading into the 2010 World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz and made the most of the opportunity to strike gold.

Ebuya had first showed signs of his ability in 2006 when placing fourth in the U20 race at the World Cross Country Championships in Fukuoka. An impressive 12:51.00 clocking for 5000m in Brussels the following year further underlined his ability.

He beat multiple world cross-country champion Kenenisa Bekele in Edinburgh at the start of 2010, hinting he was in outstanding shape. Two months later he backed this up by gradually pulling clear of Eritrea’s Teklemariam Medhin on the final lap to claim a six-second win and secure his only individual world cross-country crown.

Hellen Chepngeno

1994 senior women’s champion

Perhaps one of the most surprising of all world cross-country champions, the 26-year-old eclipsed Ireland’s perennial World Cross bridesmaid Catherina McKiernan at the 1994 edition in Budapest to make history and become the first African athlete to win the senior women’s race.

Chepngeno had finished 46th and 15th respectively at the 1991 and 1992 World Cross Country Championships. Disappointed at missing out, in 1993 she “trained like a donkey” and returned to the Kenyan team in 1994.

Competing in heavy rain and strong winds in the Hungarian capital, the prison guard produced the run of her life to claim a seven-second win. On her return to Kenya she was immediately promoted to inspector by the Prison Department.

Japhet Korir

2013 senior men's champion

After placing sixth at the Kenyan World Cross Trials, few would have earmarked Korir as the man to triumph at the 2013 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz. Yet on an icy course in Poland, the 19-year-old became the youngest man in history to take the senior crown to run away a six-second victor from Imane Merga.

Korir, now aged 25, still competes today but has struggled to replicate his World Cross success of six years ago.

Benita Willis

2004 senior women's champion

Australia claimed its maiden World Cross Country Championships medal thanks to a dazzling display in the senior women’s race by Benita Willis at the 2004 edition in Brussels.

Willis had claimed three top-six finishes in the short course race in the preceding three years but few would have picked her as pre-event favourite ahead of the powerful African contingent led by Ethiopia’s defending champion Worknesh Kidane. Yet the 24-year-old Queenslander produced a patient race to slowly put the squeeze on the opposition and claim a 12-second victory.

The Aussie went on to enjoy an accomplished career on the track, road and country but her performance in the Belgian capital some 15 years ago remained her career highlight.

Enock Koech

2001 senior men's champion

On his international debut, the inexperienced 19-year-old Kenyan caused a major surprise to strike gold in the men’s short race at the 2001 World Cross Country Championships in Ostend.

Running in thick mud, the winner of the Kenyan 4km trials proved too strong for the opposition, finishing two seconds clear of Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele, who collected the first of his 13 individual World Cross Country medals (note: the other 12 were all gold medals).

Later that year Koech ran a swift 3:31.28 for 1500m, but a career rich in potential quickly petered out as he struggled to match his highs of 2001.

Steve Landells for the IAAF