Series09 Feb 2019

Fab five: World Cross U20 stars


Fab five: World Cross U20 stars (© Getty Images)

In the latest in our fab five series counting down to the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Aarhus 2019, we highlight a quintet of age-group stars from past editions of the World Cross.


Faith Kipyegon

World U20 cross-country champion in 2011 and 2013

Still aged only 25, the slightly-built Kenyan has proved the supreme collector of titles. Aged just 16, she placed fourth in the U20 race at the 2010 World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz before returning to the next edition in Punta Umbria to repel the Ethiopian challenge and strike gold, running barefoot.

Her U20 World Cross career concluded in 2013 as she retained her title, this time running in shoes, on a snow-covered Myslecinek Park course in Bydgoszcz.

Kipyegon, the 2011 world U18 and 2012 world U20 1500m champion, has kicked on to enjoy a stellar senior career and is the reigning world and Olympic 1500m champion.

Wilfred Kirochi

World U20 cross-country champion in 1987 and 1988

Wilfred Kirochi (left) wins the U20 race at the 1987 World Cross Country Championships


He may have been diminutive in stature but the teenage Kenyan proved a World Cross Country Championship giant, claiming back-to-back U20 successes in 1987 and 1988.

His maiden triumph in Warsaw required a late surge to pip Ethiopia’s Demeke Bekele, and then 12 months later he successfully defended his crown in Auckland with a dominant 14-second victory.

During a stellar age-group career, Kirochi also clinched 1500m gold at the 1986 and 1988 World U20 Championships. He later enjoyed success as a senior, earning 1500m silver behind Algerian middle-distance legend Noureddine Morceli at the 1991 World Championships.

Viola Kibiwot

World U20 cross-country champion in 2001 and 2002

The first woman in history to claim successive world U20 cross-country titles, the Kenyan reigned supreme during the early phase of the millennium. A bronze medallist behind compatriot Vivian Cheruiyot in 2000 in Vilamoura, just 12 months later Kibiwot elevated herself to top spot on the podium as she waded through the Ostend mud to gold.

In Dublin in 2002 Kibiwot then made history to hold off Ethiopian icon Tirunesh Dibaba for glory in blustery conditions in the Irish capital. Kibiwot went on to enjoy an accomplished track career, placing fourth in the 5000m at the 2013 and 2015 World Championships.

Philip Mosima

World U20 cross-country champion in 1993 and 1994

A winner of successive U20 titles at the World Cross Country Championships in 1993 and 1994, the gifted Kenyan proved an outstanding age-group performer. In Amorebieta, aged just 17, he secured a two-second victory from compatriot Christopher Kosgei to deliver his maiden global title before holding off Daniel Komen, the current world 3000m record-holder, the following year to triumph in Budapest.

Mosima did not match his U20 accomplishments as a senior athlete but ran a 5000m PB of 12:53.72, a mark which made him the third-fastest man in history at the time and still ranks him inside the world’s all-time top 40.

Letesenbet Gidey

World U20 cross-country champion in 2015 and 2017

Becoming the fourth woman in history to secure successive U20 titles at the World Cross Country Championships, the young Ethiopian is among the very elite of age-group performers. A little over a week after her 17th birthday, Gidey landed victory at the 2015 edition in Guiyang, courtesy of a burst of acceleration over the final 500 metres.

Two years later in Kampala she rammed home her dominance by claiming a decisive win by a 23-second margin from her compatriot Hawi Feysa. Last year Gidey served further notice of her exciting potential by rising to eighth on the world all-time list for the 5000m after clocking a slick 14:23.14 in Rabat.

Steve Landells for the IAAF