13 Thoughts on World XC: Has the Decline Begun for Cheptegei? American Drought Continues, Kenyan Women Live up to Hype

BELGRADE, Serbia – Beatrice Chebet and Jacob Kiplimo repeated as World Cross Country champions on Saturday as the Kenyan women absolutely dominated, going 1-2-3-4-5.

We recapped the races in a separate article here. Below are our post-race thoughts on the 2024 World Athletics Cross Country Championships along with some post-race interviews. More interviews here.

The Kenyan women lived up to the hype

Prior to the race, we wrote about how Kenya’s women’s team was a DREAM TEAM — so good that it would have been viewed as a bizarre fantasy lineup coming from a surreal dream just a decade ago. A sub-30 10k woman was projected not to score for them. They certainly lived up to expectations. In the end, their first non-scorer was 10k road WR holder Agnes Ngetich (28:46 pb), who ended up 5th despite leading much of the race.

Kenya did not just sweep the top five places, they totally crushed the rest of the world. The gap from Kenya’s #5 Ngetich to the top non-Kenya, Uganda’s Sarah Chelangat, was a massive 33 seconds. In that respect, Kenya was even more dominant than in 2017. In that race, Kenya went one better than today by sweeping the top six places, but the gap from their #5 in that race to the top non-Kenyan was just 18 seconds.

Lilian Rengeruk was the only woman to be part of both teams. She earned the silver medal six years ago in Kampala, finished 12th in 2019 in Aarhus and was the silver medalist this year. She did not run at World XC last year as she was serving a 10-month suspension after testing positive for the hormone therapy drug Letrozole.

Beatrice Chebet adds another title…can she win the big one in Paris this summer?

BELGRADE, SERBIA – MARCH 30: Beatrice Chebet of Kenya poses with a flag after winnig in the women’s senior race
(Photo by © Adam Nurkiewicz for World Athletics)

Though Chebet was the silver medalist in the 5,000 at the 2022 Worlds, she entered last year’s race in Bathurst a bit under the radar as Letesenbet Gidey was soaking up most of the attention. Chebet felt more pressure today as defending champion, but handled it just fine and now has two World XC titles at the age of 24.

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Chebet did not come in with a fixed strategy, but rather a mantra: persevere. She knew that to win this race, she had to be ready for anything. But the race dynamics played to her strengths as there were still five women together on the final lap. In that scenario, Chebet, with her 14:05 5k pb and two 5k medals on the track, was going to be favored.

We asked Chebet afterwards whether she is a good hot weather runner and she said she’s not great when it’s hot but is good when it is warm. Perhaps that is part of the key to her success because she considered today’s conditions merely “warm” rather than “hot.” She also said that today’s race was easier than her two previous victories at World XC – the U20 race on a hilly Aarhus course in 2019 and the senior race in hot and hilly Bathurst last year.

“The weather was good,” Chebet said with a smile. “It’s like Kenya. Very sunny. The obstacles were not that hard. Maybe some small challenges but better than any other cross country I’ve run. I ran in Denmark – very tough. I ran in Australia – very tough. But today was very good.”

Chebet has now won three global titles in 14 months – 2023 World XC, 2023 World road 5k, 2024 World XC. The question now is whether she can add an Olympic title on the track after earning silver and bronze in the 5,000 at the last two Worlds.

Agnes Ngetich fails to medal two months after running 28:46 for 10k on the roads

It will be interesting to see what happens to Ngetich moving forward. Last year after winning bronze at World XC, on the track, she ran 14:36 and was 6th at Worlds in the 10,000 but that was when she had a 30:30 10k pb. 

If she’d won gold today, we would be expecting her to challenge for gold at the Olympics given her gaudy 28:46 10k pb. But since she didn’t even medal, it’s hard to know what to expect. And while we don’t want to read too much into one race run in hot conditions, it’s fair to say that thoughts she’d be some unbeatable dominant force on the track no longer exist. 

Those who believe the roads are now faster than the track in distance races also gained some ammunition for their argument today. Ngetich ran 28:46 on the streets of Valencia in January, while Emmaculate Anyango ran 28:57 in the same race. Neither medalled today. It’s possible they may not have been at their best in Belgrade (the third-placer in Valencia, Lilian Rengeruk, ran 29:32 in that race and took silver today). But the reality is some of the top talents like Sifan Hassan or Letesenbet Gidey who have run under 29:10 on the track likely could also break 29:00 on the roads if they were in top shape.

Like Beatrice Chebet, Jacob Kiplimo ran a smart race and was ready for anything

Chebet and Kiplimo are among the best runners in the world on the track, so it is not a shock that they would be good at cross country as well. But they’re not merely good. Both athletes are great cross country runners, with Chebet going gold (U20 race)-gold-gold in her three World XC appearances and Kiplimo going gold (U20 race)-silver-gold-gold in his four appearances.

The challenge in cross country is that you have to be ready for anything – hills in Aarhus, wind in Bathurst, heat in Serbia (even in March). Kiplimo embraces that aspect of the sport.

“You have to accept,” Kiplimo said. “Cold or wind or hot, you have to accept everything.”

Has Joshua Cheptegei started to decline?

2019 world XC champ Joshua Cheptegei failed to medal today. He also struggled in his marathon debut (2:08:59) in Valencia in December (admittedly, he went out in a crazy 60:36). As a result, it’s fair to ask if he’s started to decline.

Now considering that Joshua Cheptegei is the 5000 and 10,000 WR holder and is the reigning 10,000 world champ (he’s actually won the last three) and reigning Olympic 5000 champ, it would be foolish to write him off for this summer’s Olympics. After all, Cheptegei was beaten at World XC last year (3rd) and still won the world title on the track.

But consider these facts. Joshua Cheptegei is now 27 years of age. Do you know how old both Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele were when they won their last gold medals on the track? 


To be honest, actual age isn’t all that important to us as Mo Farah didn’t even win his first global track medal until he was 28. What may be more important is the length of time a distance track star has been winning medals.

Time Elapsed Between First Track Medal and Last Gold Medal
Haile Gebrselassie – 7 years (1993-2000)
Mo Farah – 6 years (2011-2017)
Kenenisa Bekele – 6 years (2003-2009)

The last three kings of the distance on the track all had a reign that lasted 6-7 years. 

Well Joshua Cheptegei won his first track medal back in 2017 (silver in the 10,000), meaning seven years have now passed (he didn’t win his first gold until 2019 whereas the other three all won gold during the first year they won a track medal).

Update: This section initially said Haile Gebrselassie won his first track medal in 1993 and his last in 2000. In fact, he earned bronze in 2001 and silver in 2003, but his last gold medal came in 2000.

The US drought at World XC continues

Coming into this one, we were hopeful that Weini Kelati, who just ran 30:33 for 10,000, could end the US 13-year drought of not having a top 10 women’s finisher at World XC and that Anthony Rotich, who recently ran 27:08, could end the US men’s seven-year drought of not having a top 20 finisher (seen years sounds longer than it is as there were only two World XCs held during that time frame). However, after a brave run, Kelati ended up 15th while Rotich was 22nd after running in the top 20 for the first two laps.

Kelati and Rotich were of course born in Africa. The top non-African born finishers in the senior races were as follows.

Women: Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal of Norway – The winner of the last 3 European XC titles and the winner of the 2024 NYC Half Marathon was 14th. It was great to see Grøvdal in the World XC results (this was only her second time racing the event and first finish) as she’s the most decorated woman in European XC history with nine medals.

Men: Aaron Las Heras of Spain – The former Wake Forest and current NAU runner, who was 18th at NCAA XC for NAU in the fall, ended up 17th today at World XC, a five-spot improvement on last year. He still has outdoor eligibility and is excited for the track season, which he dreams will end at the Olympic final.

Kelati perseveres despite adversity

Kelati, as she promised on Friday, showed no fear and went out with the leaders through two laps. Kelati was dropped midway through the third lap but looked to be hanging on pretty well and was in seventh with a lap to run, 24 seconds behind the leaders.

But Kelati said she started to feel after three laps and after four laps in the 80+ sunshine, she knew it would be a rough finish.

“One lap to go, I was completely dead,” Kelati said. “My body was really hot, my legs were really shaking. I [couldn’t] control my legs.”

Kelati had to be taken to the medical tent afterwards and did not remember much from the minutes after the race. But she said she was proud of achieving her pre-race goal of top 15 – the best result for an American, man or woman, since Aliphine Tuliamuk was 15th in 2017 – and proud that she ran aggressively.

“At some point, I feel like oh my god, this is not working for me, but I’m glad I did it,” Kelati said.

Rotich & Bor Battle to top-25 finishes

Coming into today’s race, Anthony Rotich had not run a workout in over two weeks as he tried to recover from a 27:08 10,000m pb at The TEN on March 16. Rotich went out with the lead pack and was only two seconds off the lead after two laps but said he did not feel great over the final two laps (even though he actually moved up from 24th after three laps to 22nd by the finish).

“The first three laps, I thought I had it in my legs, but my legs failed me,” Rotich said. “I think from the 10k I did two weeks ago, after three laps I realized that my legs were not fully recovered.”

Bor also ran The TEN, clocking 27:42, but said he was not pleased with that performance and that it was tough to be at his best because he had been working a full-time job in the Army in the leadup. Bor was feeling better today, but his shoe began to fall apart with two laps to go, though he impressively hung on to finish 25th.

Bor, who was 5th in the last Olympic Trials in the 5,000, had been stationed in Fort Huachuca in Arizona recently but has now received permission from his unit to relocate to Colorado to train full-time ahead of the Olympic Trials – something he is very grateful for and excited about.

Overall, the US finished 7th in the team standings with 120 points as Ahmed Muhumed (36th) and Christian Allen (37th) rounded out the scoring.

Allie Ostrander meets her goal of finishing top 30 in her return to Team USA, which had its best finish since 2013

It had been more than four years since Ostrander’s last time wearing a US singlet, the 2019 Worlds on the track in Doha. Since then, Ostrander has endured a very public battle with injuries and an eating disorder and ended her contract with Brooks in 2021. But she has been back in form in 2024 and came into World XC with the aim of finishing top 30 and moving up throughout the race. She accomplished both, finishing 30th on the nose after coming through in 44th after three laps.

In addition to Kelati (15th) and Ostrander, Abby Nichols (33rd) and Emma Grace Hurley (35th) rounded out the scoring for USA for a total of 113 points. That was good for 4th in the team standings, the best showing by the US senior women at World XC since 2013. That’s an impressive run for a team that — on paper — did not look all strong outside of Kelati.

Assuming there was a healthy alternate available, Katie Izzo should not have been running the mixed relay for Team USA after breaking her foot at USA XC

When Katie Izzo grabbed the sash for the US in the 4 x 2k mixed relay, the Americans held a three-second lead on Great Britain for the bronze medal. But while Great Britain’s Bethan Morley ran a storming 5:49 anchor, Izzo could only manage 6:13 as the Americans fell all the way to 8th place.

It was not a great anchor leg, but Izzo should never have been in that position. Izzo broke the second metatarsal bone in her foot at the USA XC champs on January 20, an injury that caused her to miss five weeks of running. Someone with an injury that severe should not be running World XC, and it’s up to Izzo to let USATF know that (and if she did, then USATF should have made some calls to find a suitable replacement). It would have been different if Izzo had earned an individual spot, but in a team race you have three other athletes counting on you.

“It’s honestly a miracle that I even made it here,” Izzo said. “When I found out I was on the relay, I’m like, okay, I’ve gotta cross-train my butt off and every time I’d cross-train, I thought of this mixed-relay team…I did workouts to see if I could race this. Things indicated that I’d be good to race it, but obviously it’s hard to get all that fitness back.”

We’ll give credit to Izzo for doing her best for racing hard at a meet most Americans are happy to skip. And in fairness, some athletes are able to retain a lot of fitness through cross training and the US was certainly not guaranteed a medal even with a healthy anchor. The leg lengths varied because of the start and the finish, but below is how the other three US legs split compared to the rest of the 13-team field. The American star today was Nike Union Athletics Club’s Ella Donaghu, who outran everyone except for Japan’s 3:59 1500 woman Nozomi Tanaka on leg 2.

First leg: Kasey Knevelbaard, 6:25 (8th-fastest on his leg)
Second leg: Ella Donaghu, 5:35 (2nd-fastest)
Third leg: John Reniewicki, 5:08 (5th-fastest)
Fourth leg: Katie Izzo, 6:13 (9th-fastest)

Birri Abera anchors Ethiopia to relay silver with one shoe while GB earns first medal at World XC since 2013

There was a very odd sight at the final exchange of the mixed 4 x 2k relay. As Ethiopia’s Adehena Kasaye handed off to female anchor Birri Abera, he stepped on her left shoe and flat-tired her. Abera spent seven seconds trying to get the shoe on before giving up and deciding to run the entire leg with one shoe. Somehow she navigated the mud and other obstacles and split 5:52 – only eight seconds slower than winning anchor Purity Chepkirui of Kenya – to preserve Ethiopia’s silver medal.

Abera leaving the exchange zone sans-shoe

Behind her, Great Britain won the battle for bronze, which was the first medal of any kind by Great Britain since the U20 women took bronze back in 2013. GB was only 8th, 17 seconds out of a medal, after the first two legs by Thomas Keen and Alexandra Millard. But GB elected to run its strongest legs on three and four and made up a lot of ground thanks to 3:49 miler Adam Fogg (who had the second-fastest third leg) and anchor Bethan Morley (who had the third-fastest anchor leg).

Ellie Shea and Kevin Sanchez lead Team USA in the U20 races as a 15-year-old wins the women’s race

With former champions such as Tirunesh Dibaba, Faith Kipyegon, and Letesenbet Gidey, it’s worth paying attention to the winner of the women’s U20 race at World XC. Perhaps doubly so in 2024 considering the winner, Marta Alemayo of Ethiopia, is just 15 years old, officially. Almost nothing is known about Alemayo, who as we type this still does not even have a World Athletics profile, but she bears watching in the future, as does men’s U20 champ Samuel Kibathi of Kenya.

One year after taking bronze in both the men’s and women’s U20 races, the US women finished 4th and the men 7th. For the second year in a row, high schooler Ellie Shea led the American women, taking 15th today after she was 10th in Australia. Foot Locker runner-up Allie Zealand was 16th, 18 seconds behind Shea.

On the men’s side, Notre Dame freshman Kevin Sanchez was the top US finisher in 24th place.

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