A Kenyan or Ethiopian has won the top IAAF World Cross Country Championships men’s individual title in 24 of the last 30 years.
The two nations’ record in the team event is even more intimidating- won all from 1986 to 2015. The story is increasingly similar in the women and junior events, with the Kenyans and Ethiopians dominating the past decade.
The story could however change six days from now when Uganda hosts the 42nd IAAF World Cross Country Championships Kampala 2017.
Uganda has come close to taking the individual men’s gold once before through Moses Kipsiro in 2009 and will not get a better chance to take charge than this year at their own Kololo Independence Grounds on March 26.
“We have a selected a very strong team. We we want to challenge the dominant sides…we will give them a run for their money,” promised Uganda athletics chief Domenic Otucet.
There are many reasons why the Ugandans are confident. Three of them are Joshua Cheptegei, Stephen Kiprotich and Timothy Toroitich.
Stephen Kiprotich has in the last five years shown the Kenyans and Ethiopians can be beaten at their own game. This he did in the marathon at the 2012 Olympic and 2013 world champions, all preceded by a sixth place showing at the 2011 World Cross championships in Spain.
At Uganda’s trials for this year’s event, he showed he can still match the change of pace from the marathon to the cross country, by finishing 5th.
All the stars, fresh from IAAF Cross Country Permit series November 2016 to February 2017, will travel to Kampala with a familiar name to look out for – Timothy Toroitich.
Before breaking off the circuit in November to prepare for Kampala 2017, Toroitich had swept to victory in the second leg race of the 2016-17 IAAF Cross Country Permit series.
Two weeks earlier, Toroitich finished second in the opening race of the winter’s IAAF Cross Country Permit series behind Bahrain’s Aweke Ayalew.
Toroitich finished fifth in the world cross country championships in 2013, and was eighth in the 10,000m at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015. He will captain Uganda’ s 28-man team.
Joshua Cheptegei destroyed a strong field to win the senior men’s gold at the National Cross Country Championships in Kampala in January to show he will be the man to watch on Sunday.
Defending champion Phillip Kipyeko set the early pace at the Kampala trials, but when Cheptegei took charge in the second of five laps at Kololo, the battle for everyone else remained for second place.
Cheptegei is the 2014 world U20 10,000m champion and 2015 African junior cross-country gold medallist. The 20-year-old doubled at last year’s Olympic Games, finishing sixth in the 10,000m and eighth in the 5000m.
Kampala attracts 557
This year’s cross country is the biggest cross country in over ten years having attracted 60 countries and 557 athletes.
The challenging course has been developed to have both natural and man-made uphill which give the runners a clear view of Kampala City as they negotiate to battle for the cross country honours.
Lenard Barsoton (left), Bedan Kariuki and World Cross Country champion Geoffrey Kamworor compete on February 18, 2017 in the Kenyan capital.Japan-based Kenyan Leonard Barsoton will lead the Kenyan challenge after he recently ended a four-year wait with a come-from-behind victory at the world cross country championships trials at the Nairobi Uhuru gardens ground.
Barsoton was trailing third in the final lap of the men’s senior 10 kilometre behind reigning world cross champion Geoffrey Kamworor and world silver medallist Bedan Karoki.
But the 22-year-old gathered enough strength on the last 500 metres to outpace his two illustrious compatriots and sprint away to win the title in 28:56.3.
Barsoton and Cheptai will head a 24-member Kenyan team at the 2017 World Cross-country championships in Kampala, Uganda on March 26.
Kenya are seeking to wrestle the overall world title from arch-rivals Ethiopia.
The Kenya team also includes the men’s and women’s 10k defending champions Geoffrey Kamworor and Agnes Tirop and Olympians Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon, Alice Aprot and Hyvin Kiyeng.