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March 24, 2017

2017 IAAF World Cross Country Kampala: Who To Watch

Kampala 2017 is here, finally. The most competitive XC meet in the world in my opinion is NCAA XC, the most entertaining (in-person) meet in the world is the Great Edinburgh XC meet. This Sunday will play host to what Cross Country would look like if it were an Olympic Sport. Referred to as the ‘Pearl of Africa’, Uganda will be the 42nd site of World XC, sitting at an altitude of about 1100m.

Every edition of World XC has it’s own spice and Uganda be kidding me if you thought the competition wouldn’t be hot in Kampala. To kick it off, no country other than Ethiopia or Kenya has won a senior men’s team title since 1980 (Kenya-24, Ethiopia-9). The U.S. senior men have won six silver medals as a team, but have never eclipsed gold status at World XC. On the women’s side, the Kenyan and Ethiopian women have both won 11 times, respectively. The Soviet Union won eight women’s titles and the U.S. has six. But enough trivia facts, let’s get down to business of who to watch during this Sunday’s event (Saturday night if you live in Hawaii).

Senior Women

Even though the Kenyan women didn’t win the title in 2015, they are REALLY packing heat for this weekend’s race. Their suspected top five lineup has the following ages: Faith Kipyegon-23, Agnes Tirop-21,  Alice Aprot-23, Lillian Kaisat-19, Margaret Wambui-21. Between them all there’s Between this bunch there’s two Olympic Medals (Kipyegon 1500m gold, Wambui 800m bronze), African Titles, World XC titles, the accolades go on and on. They look to take back the team title after Ethiopia struck down their streak two years ago. The Ethiopian women will still put up a fight, but I’m not sure if they can bite a big enough chunk out of the Kenyan women’s top bunch. I suspect a slew of Bahraini women to be sticking their noses in it as well as America’s Aliphine Bolton.

Senior Men

The last man to win back-to-back World XC titles was distance king, Kenenisa Bekele back when he won each respective race from 2002-2006. Geoffrey Kamworror is looking to follow up his title from 2015. Kamworor, only 25 years old, has won two world titles in the half marathon (’14, ’15) and holds an insane range of sub-13 5000m, sub-27 10000m and a 58:54 half marathon best. He’s told local media that he’s not under pressure and has prepared well for the race. (Kenyan always say that before any race, really) It won’t be a cup of tea for Kamworor though, as I think he’ll face some stiff competition from one of his training mates, Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda) and a few Ethiopians, Getaneh Molla, Muktar Edris and Ibrahim Jelian. Not known hugely on the world stage, Molla quietly has four Ethiopian National titles (two XC, two 5000m). Side note: I can’t wait to see the U.S. men surprisingly snag a team medal. (Our projections from Isaac Wood don’t forecast that.)

Juniors

For the men, there may not be a lot of big names in the race yet, but history has shown that those who fare well in a junior race have some promise as a senior. Bekele, Kipchoge and miler Asbel Kiprop did their time at this level and are still on top. The U.S. hasn’t had an individual medal in this event since a young Dathan Ritzenhein stormed to a bronze medal in 2001. It would be cool if that happened again, you never know..but I won’t put money on it. Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea and Uganda look really hard to break up.

Mixed Relay:

THERE WILL BE A WORLD RECORD SET IN THIS EVENT. FACT.

I was fortunate enough to be at the Edinburgh XC Meet this past January and I got to see first hand how this whole mixed relay thing works. In Scotland, it was a mixed 4x1K relay, similar but different than Kampala and it was epic. This Sunday, we’ll see a 4x2K relay.

There’s a few things that I like about this relay, it could be the best race or the worst race of the day..it’s very unpredictable (I literally have no idea how this will go down).

-The baton is a wristband that runners will hand-off after battling over 2000m.

-Teams can enter their runners in any order they want, male vs. male, female vs. female, maybe Asbel Kiprop vs Genzebe Dibaba..who knows! (In Scotland it wasn’t as open with the order being male-female-male-female)

-There’s a lot of prize money up for grabs (well before you consider that it will be split four-ways). $30,000 to be exact, with first place receiving $12,000 and money going four teams deep.

Rather than give you any predictions on the relay ( it’s literally impossible given there’s any order for everyone) I’ll toss out some names of heavy hitters in this race with a dozen teams. Kiprop and Dibaba will star for Kenya and Ethiopia respectively. 5000m silver medalist Paul Chelimo and Yasemin Can of Turkey are also budding stars.

When does this all take place: (All time’s local to Uganda on 3/26)

Mixed Relay: 14:00

Jr. Women: 14:30

Jr. Men: 15:10

Senior Women: 15:55

Senior Men: 16:55

Stream Info here.

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