2024 World XC Women’s Preview: Kenya’s DREAM TEAM Looks To DOMINATE

Beatrice Chebet Aims for Repeat Against Breakout Star Agnes Ngetich - Chebet won world titles in XC and on the road last year; Ngetich is coming off a 28:46 10k WR in Valencia

The women’s race at last year’s World Cross Country Championships featured one of the most iconic moments in the event’s 51-year history when a spent Letesenbet Gidey collapsed meters from the finish line as Beatrice Chebet sprinted by to claim victory. Gidey is one of the most talented runners in the history of the sport, a world record holder at 5,000m, 10,000m, and the half marathon and a two-time world U20 champion in cross country. But on a hot and humid afternoon in Bathurst, Gidey barely miscalculated her effort and was punished for it, harshly. A reminder of just how difficult the title of world cross country champion is to earn.

Gidey is not returning to chase the title in 2024, and Sifan Hassan, a surprise addition to the field, has withdrawn from the race as she needs more time to recover from March 3’s Tokyo Marathon. That means a ninth straight Kenyan victory in the individual race is virtually assured. The question is whether Kenya can pull off a 1-2-3 sweep or perhaps even replicate the most dominant team performance in WXC history: Kenya’s unfathomable 1-2-3-4-5-6 finish in Kampala in 2017.

That 2017 team was so good that Faith Kipyegon, coming off an Olympic 1500m title, was its #6 runner. It will be impossible for the 2024 version, led by defending champion Beatrice Chebet and 28:46 10k woman Agnes Ngetich, to top that performance. But they should still put on a show, and the individual battle between Chebet, Ngetich, and fellow sub-29:00 10k performer Emmaculate Anyango figures to be fierce.

Outside of the Kenyans, Ethiopia’s Girmawit Gebrzihair (64:14 half marathon), Norway’s Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal (three straight Euro XC titles), 2022 steeple world champ Norah Jeruto of Kazakhstan (back after her provisional suspension for whereabouts failures was overturned), and American half marathon record holder Weini Kelati (66:25 pb) will all be in the mix for top-10 finishes. Here’s what you need to know about the women’s race at World XC, plus a look at the mixed relay, where Kenya is the heavy favorite.

Race details

What: 2024 World Athletics Cross Country Championships
When: Saturday, March 30, 2024
Where: Friendship Park, Belgrade, Serbia
How to watch in the US: Live on CNBC/Peacock
*Course map *TV/streaming information

Schedule (all times US Eastern)

6:00 a.m. Women’s U20 race
6:35 Men’s U20 race
7:15 Mixed relay
7:45 Women’s senior race
8:30 Men’s senior race
12 noon ET: LetsRun.com Live Reaction Show From Belgrade – This is tentative but we think we’ll break down the action for you at 12 noon ET. To catch is on demand as a podcast, join our Supporters Club.

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Meet the Kenyan dream team, where a 28:57 10k might only be good enough for third

The Kenyan team that will line up in Belgrade on Saturday is one of the most formidable in the history of this meet, a mix of proven veterans and emerging talent. Just look at the resumes of the six women on the squad, listed in order of finish at the Kenyan trials on March 2:

  • Agnes Ngetich, 23 years old: Perhaps the next great global distance talent. Just ran a road world record of 28:46 for 10k on January 14. 3rd at 2023 World XC.
  • Emmaculate Anyango, 23 years old: Her emergence is even more surprising than Ngetich’s. Had pbs of 15:22/32:51 until five months ago, when she ran 30:01 for 10k in Lille. Then took 1+ minute off that pb by running 28:57 in Valencia on January 14.
  • Lilian Rengeruk, 26 years old: The only woman on both the 2017 and 2024 dream teams, Rengeruk has pbs of 8:25/14:23/29:32 (the latter coming in the same Valencia road race as Ngetich and Anyango). Rengeruk was 3rd at World XC in 2017 and 2nd at the world road 5k champs last year.
  • Beatrice Chebet, 24 years old: The most accomplished athlete on the team, Chebet is the reigning World XC champ and has earned silver and bronze in the 5,000 at the last two Worlds. Last year she ran 14:05 on the track to become the third-fastest woman in the history of the 5,000, then won the 5k at the world road champs in October.
  • Margaret Kipkemboi, 31 years old: Kipkemboi (8:21/14:23/29:50 pbs) has finished in the top 5 at the last four Worlds on the track, including 5k silver in 2019 and 10k bronze in 2022. Last year she earned silver at the World Half. She has not run World XC since 2015, when she finished 13th in Guiyang.
  • Cintia Chepngeno, 23 years old: Chepngeno, who DNF’d World XC last year, may be Kenya’s #6 runner, but Kenya’s #6 is better than almost any other country’s #2. In Valencia on January 14, she ran 30:08 for 10k. For reference, the US 10,000m record (on the track) is 30:03.
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Prior to the super shoe era, one would have thought that the 2024 Kenyan women’s roster was part of a bizarre dream. Think about it. In the year 2015, if you dreamed that there would be a women’s cross country team with its projected final scorer (four score at World XC) possessing a 14:05 5000 pb and a non-scorer at 29:50, that would have been a wild dream. At the time, the 5,000m WR was 14:11 and only one woman in history had broken 29:50. Now it’s reality.

It seems crazy that Chebet, coming off a year in which she won World XC and the world road 5k and ran 14:05 on the track, is not the overwhelming favorite in this race. But World XC is a 10k race and Agnes Ngetich just ran 28:46 for 10k. As good as Chebet is, she was only 3rd in the 5,000 at Worlds last year because she lost to a pair of freak talents in Faith Kipyegon and Sifan Hassan. Ngetich has a long way to go to match the accomplishments of Kipyegon and Hassan, but it’s possible that is the sort of talent we’re dealing with in Ngetich. Consider: Chebet is the world record holder for 5k on the roads, running 14:13 in Barcelona in December. When Ngetich ran her 28:46 10k in Valencia, she split 14:13 for her first 5k…and then ran 14:33 for her second 5k.

Ngetich also beat Chebet convincingly at the Kenyan trials earlier this month, though that race is not always the best indicator for World XC as some athletes prioritize simply making the team rather than winning. If Ngetich pushes the pace from the gun in Belgrade, it could be hard for Chebet to hang with her. But if she’s still there in the final mile, Chebet’s kick may be good enough to pull out the win.

It’s also possible that we view Ngetich’s 28:46 differently a few months from now. At the time, the performance was hard to explain, especially considering Anyango, a virtual unknown, was only 11 seconds back in 28:57. Are Ngetich and Anyango the next great Kenyan distance talents? Is sub-29:00 not as crazy as it sounds now that everyone has access to supershoes? Might one or both of them get popped for doping? (We addressed that topic in greater depth in January, but there is no evidence as of now to connect either to doping). Ngetich and Anyango have only raced once since Valencia, going 1-2 at the Kenyan XC trials. After World XC and the summer track season, we’ll have more context in which to place those astounding 10k performances.

For now, Ngetich heads to Belgrade as the favorite, with the chance to win her first global title on Saturday afternoon.

Best of the rest

Kenya’s 2017 dream team was the only women’s squad to go 1-2-3 in the history of World XC. The 2024 squad could be the second. Here are some of the most notable entries from other countries:

  • Gimawit Gebrzihair, Ethiopia: Gebrzihair has been battling Kenyan star Beatrice Chebet since their junior days and has pbs of 30:23 on the track and 64:14 for the half, which ranks her #4 all-time. As the winner of the Ethiopian trials, Gebrzihair is the biggest threat to the Kenyans in Belgrade.
  • Rachael Chebet, Uganda: Chebet’s pbs aren’t all that fast (15:53/32:00/68:46) but she is a strong cross country runner, taking 4th at World XC in 2019 and winning the Ugandan trials by 25 seconds. But Chebet may have succeeded five years ago in part due to the rugged Aarhus course. Belgrade’s course is likely to be easier, which may work against Chebet.
  • Norah Jeruto, Kazakhstan: The last time most of the running world saw Jeruto, she was crushing all comers to win the 2022 steeple world title in Eugene in a championship record of 8:53. Jeruto ran one indoor race in 2023, then was provisionally suspended for the rest of the season due to a whereabouts violation. But in November, a World Athletics Disciplinary Tribunal lifted Jeruto’s suspension, clearing her to compete. Jeruto is not out of the woods yet — the AIU is appealing her case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport — but in the meantime, Jeruto is free to compete and is entered at World XC.
  • Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal, Norway: After dominating the European ranks with her third straight Euro XC title in December, Grøvdal is testing herself against the best in Belgrade and running World XC for the first time since 2010, when she was a DNF in Bydgoszcz. Grøvdal, who was 8th in the 5,000 at the 2022 Worlds but did not compete in Budapest last year, is coming off a victory at the NYC Half two weeks ago which she considers just as impressive as her European titles.
  • Weini Kelati, USA: It’s been years since an American with Kelati’s talent and current fitness has run at World XC. Does a 66:25 half and 30:33 10,000 translate to top 10 at World XC? For more on Kelati’s preparations, check out our pre-race profile: LRC With an American Record Under Her Belt, Weini Kelati Is Ready for the Big Stage of World XC
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Behind Kelati, Team USA is a bit weaker than usual due to it being an Olympic year. Emma Grace Hurley, who followed Atlanta Track Club coaches Andrew and Amy Begley to Indianapolis and is now sponsored by Asics, was 2nd at USA Cross, ahead of Tinman Elite’s Katie Camarena (coming off a 32:00 10k pb at The TEN) and a resurgent Allie Ostrander, the three-time NCAA steeple champ who is representing Team USA since the 2019 Worlds. Iowa State alum Cailie Logue (Dyestat has a feature on her here) and HOKA NAZ Elite’s Abby Nichols round out Team USA.

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Kenya expected to dominate mixed relay

Kenya has won two of the three 4 x 2k relays at World XC since the event was introduced in 2017 and will be heavy favorites to earn a third crown on Saturday. Reynold Cheruiyot, who was 2nd in the U20 race at World XC last year and ran 3:30 for 1500 on the track, is the best 2k runner in the race and ideally suited for an XC relay leg. He’s paired up with another stud in 1:42 800m man Emmanuel Wanyonyi, which should give Kenya a decided advantage on the men’s legs. The women’s legs, consisting of Virginia Nyambura (15:30 5k) and Purity Chepkirui (4:04 pb, 2021 World U20 1500 champ), are not as strong comparatively but should be plenty good enough for the win.

Ethiopia is the most likely challenger to Kenya’s supremacy. They have a big name available in the form of Hagos Gebrhiwet, though it’s annoying he’s not in the main event in Belgrade considering he’s coming off a year in which he ran pbs of 12:42/57:41. Ethiopia has not named its final four-person lineup, but the rest of the squad includes Adehena Kasaye (3:36), Taresa Tolosa (3:34), Birri Abera (4:08), Dahdi Dube (4:07), and Hiwot Mehari (4:04).

The US squad consists of Kasey Knevelbaard (Pan Am Games 5k champ, 6th at USAs in 3k) and Johnathan Reniewicki (3:51 mile this year indoors) as well as Ella Donaghu (15:06 5k pb this winter) and Katie Izzo, who was 8th at USA XC in a race in which she broke her foot. It’s not the strongest US team on paper, but in a race like this, being fit at the end of March is half the battle. Sneaking a bronze is not out of the question if Izzo is healed from her injury.

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