The World’s Greatest Footrace – 2017 World XC Champs Senior Men’s Preview: Can Geoffrey Kamworor Lead Kenya to Team Gold? Can the Americans Medal?
March 24, 2017
Kampala, Uganda – In 2007, when the IAAF World Cross Country Championships were held in Kenya, LetsRun.com went and the result was one of the wildest sporting events we’ve ever attended. After a 10-year wait, World XC returns to Africa on Sunday as Kampala, Uganda, hosts the world’s hardest race to win. And we’re pleased to be on site to cover it for you once again.
In all, 557 athletes from 60 countries are expected to run in the Ugandan capital, the largest contingent since 2006. There are also some changes in store: the IAAF is leading the way in gender equity as both the men’s and women’s senior races will now be 10 kilometers (the men used to be 12k/women 8k), and for the first time there will be a mixed gender, 4 x 2k relay featuring Asbel Kiprop and Genzebe Dibaba, among others.
We’re on-site in Kampala this week to give you updates on the course and the top American and international pros, but before we get to that, we have to preview the races. We start below with a look at the top men’s individuals and teams.
What: 2017 IAAF World Cross Country Championships
When: Sunday, March 26, 2017
Where: Kololo Independence Grounds, Kampala, Uganda
Mixed 4 x 2K relay: 2:00 p.m. local/7:00 a.m. ET
Women’s U20 6K race: 2:30 p.m. local/7:30 a.m. ET
Men’s U20 8K race: 3:10 p.m. local/8:10 a.m. ET
Women’s senior 10K race: 3:55 p.m. local/8:55 a.m. ET
Men’s senior 10K race: 4:55 p.m. local/9:55 a.m. ET
How to watch / listen: If you live in the UK, you can watch it live on BBC Red Button or if you have a UK IP address, you can watch the race live online via the BBC. In the U.S., the races will be streamed on NBC Sports’ website on tape delay, with coverage beginning at 12:25 p.m. ET. We do not know of a (legal) live stream in the U.S.
The IAAF will also have a live radio broadcast (active during competition sessions) of the championships as well as live results and a live blog (active during competition sessions). We always recommend watching the event live and then reading the live discussion thread that always exists on our fan forum / messageboard.
Important note: Kampala sits at modest elevation (3,900 feet). But since most of the top runners (including the entire U.S. senior men’s team) are based at elevation, that shouldn’t be much of a problem.
We’re going to break down the race team-by-team, highlighting top individuals as we go. We’re starting with Kenya and Ethiopia, as those two teams have combined to win every edition of the race since 1981. Of the two, Kenya has had significantly more success through the years (including a ridiculous 18 straight team titles from 1986-2003) but Ethiopia has won the last two team titles, including the most recent edition on a fourth-man tiebreaker over Kenya. As a refresher, there are six athletes per team, with four scoring.
One thing to keep in mind: it’s going to be warm on Sunday but nothing like it was when the World XC was held on the coast in Kenya (five-time defending champ Kenenisa Bekele dropped out of the race due to the oppressive heat.). The races will be held on Sunday afternoon, and the current forecast calls for a high of 79 degrees on Sunday. Check back later today and we’ll have a full article up where we talk about the course and the weather.
Team Kenya: Led by 2 Returning Studs, Kenya Seeks First Team Title Since 2011
|Name||Previous World XC finishes||Notable PRs||Comment|
|Leonard Barsoton||5th, 2015; 2nd, 2013 (jr. race)||13:16/27:20||Kenyan Trials champ; ’14 African XC champ|
|Geoffrey Kamworor||1st, 2015; 1st, 2011 (jr. race)||12:59/26:52/58:54||Defending champion; won last 2 World Half Marathon champs; ’15 WC 10k silver; 3rd at Kenyan Trials|
|Vincent Rono||none||7:37/13:16/27:52||Has mostly acted as a rabbit on Euro circuit but 4th at Kenyan Trials|
|Leonard Komon||4th, 2010; 4th, 2009; 2nd, 2008; 4th, 2007 (jr. race); 2nd, 2006 (jr.)||12:58/26:55/59:14||WR holder for road 10k (26:44) + 15k (41:13); 5th at Kenyan Trials|
|Leonard Langat||none||???||Very little is known about Lagat, who will be representing Kenya for the first time in Kampala|
|Nicholas Kosimbei||none||13:17/27:02||World Junior 10k bronze in ’14; ran 27:52 on roads on Jan. 8; 7th at Kenyan Trials|
Kenya has two proven studs in Leonard Barsoton and Geoffrey Kamworor, and if Bedan Karoki (2015 silver medallist, 2nd at Kenyan Trials) were running, they’d be the heavy favorites for the team title. However, Karoki is skipping World XC in order to focus on next month’s London Marathon. The guy who’s replacing him — 27:02 man Nicholas Kosimbei — is no slouch, but Kenya would be a stronger bet to win with Karoki in the lineup.
At his best, Kamworor is the class of this field. Consider that in the span of 12 months from March 2015 to March 2016, he accomplished the following:
- Won World XC
- Ran 26:52 for 10,000 meters on the track
- Took World Championship silver at 10,000 meters behind Mo Farah
- Finished second in the New York City Marathon
- Won the Kenyan Cross Country Championships
- Ran one of the greatest half marathons in history, clocking 59:10 in wet, windy conditions to win the World Half Marathon Championships. He beat Farah by 49 seconds in that race despite falling down at the start and being trampled by the masses behind him.
No one else in that race could do all that. And if we knew that Kamworor was going to show up on the line in Kampala, we wouldn’t hesitate to pick him for the win. But the second half of 2016 did not go smoothly for Kamworor. He dropped out of the Kenyan 10,000-meter Olympic Trials (Athletics Kenya gave him a wild card to Rio) and finished a disappointing 11th in the Olympics. Kamworor’s agent, Valentijn Trouw, told us that Kamworor was battling a lung infection prior to the Olympics and that it took until September/October for Kamworor’s doctors to diagnose it correctly. As a result, he took off three or four months of running after the Olympics and didn’t start training again until December.
“Around [the] Olympics, he was frustrated,” Trouw said. “In his mind, he was going for gold in 10,000, so of course it was difficult for him around that time…but [the break afterwards] was good timing because of course we just finished the Olympic cycle. It was not for a good reason, but in the end maybe it’s not so bad to take a longer rest to fully recover and start building again in a nice way.”
Indeed, Kamworor is as close to a year-round racer as you’re going to get these days, as he generally runs cross country or a few half marathons in the spring, a track season in the summer and a marathon in the fall. Hitting reset as Kamworor embarks on another Olympics cycle may have been a blessing in disguise. As for Kamworor’s current fitness, Trouw believes it is good. Trouw said that Kamworor’s third place at the trials was “completely okay” as he had done mainly endurance work building up to the race. In the last five weeks, he’s added more speed work to his routine and Kamworor has told the Kenyan press he is ready to go on Sunday.
Kamworor may have said everything is ready to go but when we bumped into US champ Leonard Korir yesterday on the flight here from Kenya, he told us he had heard that Kamworor was most definitely not 100%. We guess we won’t know for sure until Sunday.
Japan-based Leonard Barsoton was fifth two years ago in Guiyang and he’s continued to perform well domestically, taking third at the Kenyan XC Champs last year and winning this year’s Kenyan XC Champs on February 18. Given that he beat Kamworor and Karoki in the latter race, it’s obviously an impressive performance, but the recent track record of Kenyan champions at World XC is not good: none of the past four Kenyan XC champs have finished as the top Kenyan at World XC. The 22-year-old Barsoton is still improving as a runner, however, and this could be his big break. He won the 2014 African XC Champs here in Kampala, and was a silver medallist at the 2015 All-Africa Games in the 10,000 meters, impressive results for a developing athlete. He hasn’t raced this year apart from his run at the Kenyan champs, but he’s proven himself as a good cross country runner. The question is whether he can build on his win at nationals and take the leap from good to great and challenge for the win in Kampala.
The other Kenyan name U.S. fans might recognize is Leonard Komon, the world record holder on the roads for 10k (26:44) and 15k (41:13). Komon has had a lot of success at World XC in the past (between the junior and senior races, he finished in the top four every year from 2006 to 2010) but this is his first cross country season since 2013. And while he ran well enough to secure a berth on the Kenyan team, he’s not in his world record shape of 2010; he was 7th at the Campaccio XC on January 6 (46 seconds back of first) and 5th in Seville on January 15 (17 seconds back of first). If he couldn’t win World XC in his prime, we don’t think he does now.
Between Kamworor and Barsoton, Kenya has two bona fide contenders for the men’s senior individual title — the one Kenyan fans covet most. Komon projects as a solid #3, but we don’t know as much about the other three members of Team Kenya (Vincent Rono, Leonard Lagat and Nicholas Kosimbei) beyond what’s listed in the table above. At least one of them will have to step up if Kenya is to regain team gold as their depth, at least on paper, isn’t all that great.
Team Ethiopia: Going For The Three-Peat*
|Name||Previous World XC finishes||Notable PRs||Comment|
|Bonsa Dida||14th, 2015; 17th, 2013 (jr. race); 4th, 2011 (jr.)||28:13/60:19/2:11:55||Ran 2:11 to take 5th at Mumbai Marathon in January|
|Muktar Edris||3rd, 2015; 3rd, 2013 (jr. race); 7th, 2011 (jr. race)||12:54/27:17||Crossed line 4th in Oly. 5k but DQ’d; won DL 5ks in Shanghai + Eugene in ’16; won Campaccio XC on Jan. 6|
|Ibrahim Jeilan||1st, 2008 (jr. race); 5th, 2006 (jr.)||13:03/26:58||2011 10k world champ/’13 runner-up; ran PRs at 5k/10k in ’16|
|Getaneh Molla||none||7:52/13:05||Ethiopian champ was 6th at African XC champs last year|
|Yimer Jemal||none||28:08||4th in 10k at African champs last year|
|Abadi Hadis||none||13:02/26:57||3rd at Ethiopian Olympic trials, 15th in Olympics in 10k|
|Mogos Tuemay||none||8:03 3k||3rd at Ethiopian champs; 4th at World Youth 3k in ’13 but barely any results for him since|
*We listed all seven of Ethiopia’s entrants as we don’t know what their exact lineup will be. They can only race six men on Sunday.
**The meet website lists an athlete by the name of “Gebrhiwet Abadi” on the team, but we don’t know of any runner by that name. We assumed they meant either Hagos Gebrhiwet or Abadi Hadis (aka Abadi Embaye), two 2016 Olympians, and Gebrhiwet’s agent confirmed that he will not competing. So we’re operating on the assumption that Hadis will be running in Kampala.
Kenya may have gone 1-2 in 2015 with Kamworor and Karoki, but it was Ethiopia that prevailed in the team competition; both squads finished with 20 points but Ethiopia won the fourth-man tiebreaker. The Ethiopians are led, once again, by returning bronze medallist Muktar Edris, and we fully expect him to battle for a podium spot once again. Edris was the only man to break 13:00 twice in 2016, winning Diamond League races in Shanghai and at the Pre Classic, and he was fourth at the Olympics before later being disqualified. Though he struggled at the Ethiopian champs in February (40th; the IAAF reports he was battling an injury), he was in good early-season form — he beat Imane Merga, Jairus Birech and Thomas Longosiwa in a road 10k on New Year’s Eve and followed it up the next weekend by winning the always competitive Campaccio XC meet. If his injury has cleared up, he will be a major force.
The rest of Ethiopia’s team matches up well with Kenya. Abadi Hadis is a sub-27:00 10k guy, Ibrahim Jeilan is a world champion on the track, and neither of them even won the Ethiopian title: that would by Getaneh Molla, who also won the 5,000 at the All-Africa Games two years ago. As with Kenya, however, there are question marks. Bonsa Dida, who is coming off a 2:11 fifth-place finish at the Mumbai Marathon on January 15, will be counted on to move up from 14th two years ago, as he’s the only guy apart from Edris returning from the gold-medal-winning team. Mogos Tuemay and Yimer Jemal have barely run anything on the track; this will be the biggest race of both of their lives, by far. And though Jeilan is terrific at his best, he is extremely inconsistent. Whether he runs well in his first appearance at World XC since 2008 will go a long way toward determining Ethiopia’s fate.
The Americans: Can Team USA Medal for Just the Second Time Since 2001?
|Name||Previous World XC finishes||Notable PRs||Comment|
|Leonard Korir||none||13:15/27:29||US champ was 14th in Olympic 10k; has been on fire in ’17|
|Sam Chelanga||none||13:04/27:08||4th at US Cross, won World’s Best 10K on 2/26; 3rd at 15K champs|
|Trevor Dunbar||29th, 2010 (jr. race)||13:26/28:30||Former Oregon star now training under Brad Hudson in Boulder|
|Scott Fauble||none||28:00||4th Olympic Trials 10k|
|Stanley Kebenei||none||13:45/8:18 steeple||Arkansas grad was runner-up at US Cross|
|Shadrack Kipchirchir||none||13:18/27:46||Olympic Trials 10k runner-up was just behind Korir at 15K champs|
While the World Cross Country championships are no longer the “must-run” event like they were 20 or 30 years ago, the US has sent a very strong team. With no Galen Rupp, it is not the strongest possible U.S. team, but it’s a step up from recent editions. On paper, you’d even take this team over the silver-medal-winning squad of 2013 that pulled off the “Miracle on Dirt.” Rupp’s not here, but the second, third, fourth and sixth place finishers in last summer’s Olympic Trials 10,000 are all entered, and given that the course is 10 kilometers long, that seems like a good place to start. Though Shadrack Kipchirchir was the top finisher in that race — the only man to hang with Rupp until the final lap — it’s fellow Olympian Leonard Korir who has become the top dog in 2017 as he’s won all four of his races this year, including victories over stars such as Callum Hawkins and Feyisa Lilesa. Internationally, Korir isn’t as renowned as stars such as Kamworor and Edris, but you need only look to his Army WCAP teammate Paul Chelimo, who won Olympic silver at 5000 last summer, for evidence of someone who went from unknown to global medallist. Korir probably isn’t going to win the silver medal here as Chelimo did, but he’s displayed a fantastic ability to hang with any pace and still manage to kick off it at the end of the race. World XC always goes out hard, so it won’t be easy for Korir to sustain the pace needed to stay at the front, but if he’s in the mix entering the final loop, he could find himself standing on the podium.
Korir is clearly the U.S.’s best medal hope, but Kipchirchir was only one second behind him at the 15K champs two weeks ago and as he showed last summer while battling Rupp, he has the ability to mix it up with the world’s best. Still, for the U.S. to reach the podium, he, Kebenei — who last summer was in position to make the Olympic steeple team with 150 meters to go — and Sam Chelanga must exceed expectations and produce big-time races. All three have shown potential in the past — remember, Chelanga is one of the greatest cross country runners in NCAA history, as he holds the course record at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course (28:41 for 10k) — but none of them are proven at the international level. Kipchirchir has finished 16th and 19th the last two summers at Worlds and the Olympics, while Kebenei and Chelanga will be running in their first World Championships.
Dunbar and Fauble were 6th and 8th at USA XC, and while both are solid runners, their upside is not as high as the four Kenyan-born athletes on Team USA. Dunbar was soundly beaten by Korir, Kipchirchir, Kebenei and Chelanga at the 15K champs two weeks ago (he was over 90 seconds back), while Fauble was 24 seconds behind Dunbar at USA XC and only made the team after both Chris Derrick and Mason Ferlic scratched. Fauble showed last summer at the Trials that he can run well in the heat, an important skill in Uganda, but he was only fourth at the NACAC XC Champs on March 4, and the quality of competition at Worlds will be significantly higher. For the U.S. to succeed, it has to ride its horses, and right now, those are the four Kenyan-Americans who have been crushing it in 2017.
While we don’t think the U.S. will win it all, as Korir thinks they can (LRC U.S. Champ Leonard Korir Says the American Men Can Win Team Gold at World XC) this is a strong team capable of challenging for a medal. To do that, Korir likely has to finish in the top five with the three other scoring members finishing in the top 25. That’s doable, but very tough in what is annually a very deep race. It all depends on whether Kipchirchir, Chelanga and Kebenei can build on their domestic form and deliver against the world’s best. Chelanga has already done that, literally — he won the World’s Best 10K on February 26, clocking 28:19 to take down a solid field.
The US’s Ace In The Hole – Might Olympic Silver Medallist Paul Chelimo Run?
One thing we would love to see is Paul Chelimo run this race. And guess what Chelimo is here in Uganda to run on the U.S.’s 4x2k relay team and his coach Scott Simmons told us that he’s in fantastic 10k shape and itching to run the 10k at World XC. Unfortunately, Chelimo didn’t run USA XC (he raced on the track at Camel City instead), and thus was not selected to the 10k squad. We can’t in good conscience recommend that one of the other U.S. runners give up their spot — everyone in the men’s 10k squad not only earned their sport by qualifying but proved their commitment by signing up to represent their country in Uganda in a year where many of the U.S.’s top talents on both sides elected to stay home. But man, it’s hard not to think that an Olympic medallist like Chelimo could put this team over the top and help them potentially contend for the gold.
So if someone like Fauble or Dunbar agrees to swap places with Chelimo and run the 4 x 2k and let Chelimo run the 10k, the US’s odds for both an individual and team medal go way up.
In case you didn’t read our article from yesterday – LRC U.S. Champ Leonard Korir Says the American Men Can Win Team Gold at World XC – the US men have never won team gold and their last individual senior men’s medal was won by Alberto Salazar way back in 1982.
Other teams/individuals to watch
World XC is always very deep, so it’s hard to mention every single athlete or team that could run well. We’ve done our best to hit the highlights below.
- Eritrea has finished in the top four in each of the past five editions, and while their squad doesn’t boast the gaudy PRs of the Kenyan or Ethiopian teams, there is talent here. The man to watch is 19-year-old Aron Kifle, who ran 27:26 to earn World U20 silver in the 10,000 last summer and won the Eritrean XC Champs on February 18 by a commanding 32 seconds. Goitom Kifle was 7th at World XC in 2013, while Samsom Gebreyohannes was 8th at the World Half Marathon Champs in 2014. Both of them declined in the most recent editions of those races (Kifle was 23rd at World XC in 2015, Gebreyohannes was 24th at the World Half in 2016), but at their best, the Eritreans could certainly earn a medal.
- Host Uganda has also put forth a strong team in hopes of securing its second team medal in the past four editions. Joshua Cheptegei (6th Olympic 10k, 2014 World Junior 10k champ) is one of the world’s top 5k/10k men and is the Ugandan champion, winning that race in January by 22 seconds. A week later, he won the Juan Muguerza XC meet in Spain over a field that included Olympic steeple champ Conseslus Kipruto. Cheptegei is a serious gold medal threat. Olympic marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich will run World XC for the first time since taking 6th in 2011, while Timothy Toroitich finished 5th in this race in 2013 (though only 27th two years ago). Philip Kipyeko has run 13:10 for 5,000 meters and was 25th in 2015; he went out in the heats in the 5k in Rio.
- Bahrain took bronze in 2015, and they return their top three from that squad: Aweke Ayalew (who won in Seville earlier this year), Albert Rop (who ran an Asian indoor 5k record of 13:09 in Birmingham but was only 15th at the Discovery XC meet in Eldoret in January) and El Hassan Elabbassi. In addition, Hassan Chani was 20th in 2015, the best sixth man in the field, and he returns as well. Bahrain lacks a true superstar, so if they are to medal, it will likely come in a similar fashion to 2015, where they placed all six finishers between 10th and 20th.
- Turkey has had the individual champ at Euro XC in each of the past three years, but reigning champ Aras Kaya won’t be in Uganda as Turkey is only sending one man: Euro 10k champ Polat Kemboi Arikan. Arikan was second at Euro XC in December but he hasn’t raced since; he was 22nd at World XC two years ago.
- NCAA XC champ Patrick Tiernan is in the field, representing Australia. The NCAA champ almost never runs World XC as it falls between the indoor and outdoor seasons, but Tiernan went pro after NCAA XC, which means that he can run this race. Tiernan told Spikes he wasn’t quite sure what he was capable of in Kampala, and while he may not be in the same shape he was in November, it will be very interesting to see where he stacks up against the world’s best.
Once Again, Where Is Europe?
Guess how many Europeans will be in the men’s senior race on Sunday?
14. That’s the total number of individuals, not the number of countries.
European entrants for WXC Senior Men 10K: ESP-6, DEN-4, FRA-2, BEL & TUR-1 (both Kenyan-born).
— Dan Lilot (@Lilot1TrackMind) March 21, 2017
The British Men Forfeit
Only Spain is sending a full squad, with Denmark the only other nation capable of showing up in the team scoring. We’re particularly disturbed that Great Britain, with its proud history in athletics, isn’t sending a single senior man to Kampala despite winning the European Championships in December and despite the fact that they colonized Uganda. SHAMEFUL.
Euro bronze medallists Turkey is only entering one man in the senior race, as they’ve put their best runners on the 4x2k relay. Overall, entries are way up from two years ago (once you subtract reserves, there are 154 senior men entered in 2017 compared to 110 in 2015), and while European entries are also up, that’s only because they were embarrassingly low to begin with (just 11 senior men in 2015). The top European (Turkey’s Arikan) was only 22nd in 2015, but it’s a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg problem: does Europe send few teams to World XC because they run poorly, or do they run poorly at World XC because they send few teams?
So Who’s Going to Win?
If Geoffrey Kamworor is 100%, he wins this race, but there are doubts about his fitness considering he hasn’t run a great race since his sub-13 at the Pre Classic 10 months ago. But no man has repeated at World XC since 2006, and if Kamworor is not 100%, we like his countryman Leonard Barsoton to keep the Kenyan win streak going but the feel-good story for the locals would be if Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei took home the gold. Eritrea’s Aron Kifle and the U.S.’s Leonard Korir should all be in the medal hunt (as will Paul Chelimo if he somehow ends up in the race), along with Ethiopians Muktar Edris, Getaneh Molla and Abadi Hadis.
Teamwise, it’s hard to say which squad should be favored; this isn’t like the NCAA, where the teams race multiple times per year during the season. Ethiopia or Kenya is a safe bet considering it’s been 37 years since a nation other than those two won team gold, but there’s not much between them on paper. Neither is a lock for victory, however, and if some of their unproven runners struggle in the heat, we wouldn’t be totally shocked to see one of those squads slide to third or fourth. That would buck history, though, as both countries have medalled in each of the past six editions of these championships. With Bahrain, Uganda and the United States all sending strong teams, it will be harder than usual to get on the podium this year. We’ll give Uganda the inside track to the third medal given that they’re running at home, but the Americans’ projected scorers are all in very good form, and a U.S. medal would not surprise us at all.