What To Watch At The 2024 World Cross Country Championships

By David Melly

March 28, 2024

Great news, running fans! You don’t have to wait until August to watch more global championship medals be awarded.

Until the IOC comes to its senses and adds cross country as a Winter Olympics sport, the highest level of competition on grass is this weekend in Belgrade, Serbia. The 2024 World Cross Country Championships take place on Saturday with five races: men’s and women’s 10ks, men’s and women’s U20 8ks, and a mixed-gender 4x1500m relay. The course in Belgrade is relatively flat and runnable, but some unseasonably warm spring weather (with race-day temperatures possibly nearing 80F) will be tough going for anyone coming from a Northern Hemisphere winter climate.

2022 champions Beatrice Chebet of Kenya and Jacob Kiplimo of Uganda are back in action to defend their titles, but they’ll face stiff competition. The American contingent is headlined by Weini Kelati, fresh off a big 10,000m PB and (earlier this winter) an American record in the half marathon.

A full schedule of events and results can be found here. The first races kick off at 6:00 a.m. E.T. (11 a.m. local) and the men’s and women’s senior races will begin at 7:45 a.m. The races will be streamed live on Peacock (subscription required) in the U.S. and on the World Athletics YouTube channel in many other countries.

Weini KelatiWeini Kelati

Flynn Hopkins Photography / @the.athlete.collection

Women’s Senior Race: Kenya Brings The Heavy Hitters

It’s hard to argue that defending champion Beatrice Chebet isn’t the favorite in this race, but it’s possible. Chebet had a phenomenal 2023 season, beginning with the World XC title and ending with a world record of 14:13 in the road 5km (with a 14:05.92 PB and a World bronze medal in the 5000m in between), but she was only fourth at the Kenyan Cross Country Championships earlier this month. The athlete who won, Agnes Jebet Ngetich, is coming into Belgrade with the best start to the year of anyone, clocking a 28:46 road 10km world record in Valencia before her national XC title. Ngetich isn't as big a name as Chebet, but she did finish 6th in the 10,000m Budapest in her World Championship debut and clocked PBs at 3,000m, 5000m, and 10,000m last year. It’s clear Ngetich has ascended to another level, as her 5,000m PB on the track coming into 2023 was only 15:07.34 and she hit halfway in Valencia in 14:13.

If Chebet or Ngetich doesn’t take the victory, it’s possible that another accomplished Kenyan may as the team is completely stacked. The most likely challengers are Lilian Kasait Rengeruk and Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi, who both won silver medals at the World Road Running Championships last fall and have plenty of championship experience across a range of surfaces. Rengeruk finished 3rd at World XC back in 2017 and Kipkemboi has two World medals on the track. The biggest challenger from outside Kenya may be Ethiopia’s Girmawit Gebrzihair, who won their XC trials and doesn’t have a long championship resume but does sport PBs of 64:14 in the half and 30:23.69 in the 10,000m.

Athletes with an outside shot at a medal or, more likely, top-10 finish include American Weini Kelati, Brit Jessica Warner-Judd, and Norwegian Karoline Grovdal.

Team USA will also feature steeplechaser-slash-mountain-runner Allie Ostrander and 15:09.60 5000m runner Abby Nichols. The team title is Kenya’s to lose, but if either Ethiopia or Uganda falters with their fourth runner (unlike domestic cross-country, World XC only scores top 4), teams like USA or Great Britain could sneak into the medals.

Jacob KiplimoJacob Kiplimo

Flynn Hopkins Photography / @the.athlete.collection

Men’s Senior Race: Another Ugandan Battle Royale

Distance running fans have grown accustomed to the Ugandan duo of Jacob Kiplimo and Joshua Cheptegei slugging it out over various surfaces and competitions, and we’re likely in for another battle royale between the stars. Kiplimo is the defending champ and Cheptegei won the title in 2019, and with eight global medals on the track between them, they’ve got the hardware to match anyone in the field. But Kiplimo and Cheptegei will again have to contend with Ethiopian Berihu Aregawi, the world record holder on the roads at 5km and a stalwart on the Diamond League circuit who took second at this race in 2023, beating Cheptegei.

While the Kenyans don’t have quite the firepower up top that they do in the women’s race, they will have a fighting shot at one or more medals thanks to World half marathon champion Sebastian Sawe and 12:46 man Nicholas Kipkorir. Kipkorir doesn’t have the world’s most consistent championship resume, only finishing 8th in the 10,000m in Budapest and failing to make the 5,000m final, but he did pick up a bronze medal at the World Road Running Championships in the 5km.

Australian and/or Villanova fans will be cheering on Patrick Tiernan, fresh off a 2:07:45 marathon PB in January, and American fans will be looking toward Emmanuel Bor, Anthony Rotich, or Ahmed Muhumed to clock a top-10 finish for Team USA. The battle for the team title will likely be closer than in the women’s race: Uganda’s low sticks serve them well, but they’ll likely need at least one more finisher in the top 10 to contend for gold. Kenya’s team is likely a bit weaker than last year, where they triumphed over Ethiopia by 10 points, but it will take a miracle for any other team to break up the grip those three nations have on the podium.

Kole MathisonKole Mathison

Flynn Hopkins Photography / @the.athlete.collection

U20 Races: Can Team USA Land On The Podium Again?

Winning a World junior title in cross-country is usually a sign of a great career ahead of you. Both champions in the 2023 senior race have won U20 titles in cross country (Kiplimo in 2017 and Chebet in 2019), and big names you know like Eliud Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele, and Faith Kipyegon have all won World U20 titles in XC. So while you may not be familiar with much of the entry list here outside of your home country’s stars, keep an eye on the winners as they may be doing a lot more winning on the senior level soon.

Team Kenya features U20 national champ Samuel Kibathi and U20 African XC champ Gideon Kipngetich doing battle with Ethiopian junior champ Abel Bekele and 27:08 10,000m runner Yismaw Dillu. The U.S. squad took a team bronze in this event last year and with Colorado freshman Kole Mathison returning alongside U.S. U20 champ Kevin Sanchez, the crew has an outside shot at another team medal.

On the women’s side, Ethiopia will be going for an incredible five-peat in the team competition led by U20 trials champ Yenawa Nbret, who’s run 14:44 for 5km on the roads and 8:44.47 for 3000m on the track. She’ll be joined by “veteran” Lemlem Nibret, who’s only 19 but finished 5th at this race last year. Kenya’s biggest name in this one is Nancy Cherop, the World junior bronze medalist at 3,000m, but even 6km may be a bit long for the middle distance-oriented Cherop, who’s run 4:09.90 for 1500m.

Three of the members of Team USA from 2023 are back in action trying to pick up another team bronze medal, led by Ellie Shea, who finished 10th in Bathurst, and 17-year-old Zariel Macchia, who finished 19th last year as a HS junior and won the USATF U20 title in January.

Katie IzzoKatie Izzo

Flynn Hopkins Photography / @the.athlete.collection

Mixed Relay: 800m And 5000m Runners Meet In The Middle

Anything can happen in the mixed-gender cross-country 4x1500m relay, a recent addition to the World XC Championships only in its 4th edition. Last year, host nation Australia fielded the best team on paper, which featured middle-distance studs like Olli Hoare and Jessica Hull, but while the quartet picked up a bronze medal, they were never quite in contention for the win.

Kenya will likely be looking to repeat as its team could feature 3 of the 4 legs from 2023 again (final entry declarations aren’t due until day of, so we don’t know for sure). Athletics Kenya’s decision to rely on 800m runner Emmanuel Wanyonyi to lead off worked out last time, so if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

The Ethiopians, on the other hand, are taking a slightly different approach with veteran 5000m runner Hagos Gebrhiwet running one of the four legs. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Gebrhiwet in the 10km race, but he’s elected to contest one of the 1500m legs instead. Similarly, Japan’s team features the ever-reliable Nozomi Tanaka, the middle-distance star who seems to race every weekend and has a 14:29.18 5000m PB from last summer.

The U.S. quartet features Kasey Knevelbaard, Ella Donaghu, and John Reniewicki representing the red, white, and blue after strong indoor performances and Katie Izzo dropping down in distance after spending some time on the European XC circuit and clocking a 1:10:43 half marathon PB in the fall. They’ll have their work cut out to crack the medals, but anything is possible in such a new and unpredictable event.

That’s all for now! Follow CITIUS MAG on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube to get live updates from the action this weekend and feel free to share this newsletter with a friend or two – just make sure they subscribe!

David Melly

David began contributing to CITIUS in 2018, and quickly cemented himself as an integral part of the team thanks to his quick wit, hot takes, undying love for the sport and willingness to get yelled at online.