World Cross Crucible
Heat and Lightning at Mount Panorama
The long-awaited World Cross Country Championships, initially scheduled for 2021, then delayed to 2022 and again to 2023, finally got underway in Bathurst, Australia, on Saturday.
In the 50-year history of the World Cross, this is just the second time it has been held in Oceania and the first time it has been held in Australia. Aussie-inspired course features such as “Bondi Beach”, “The Billabong”, “The boomerang” and “The Vines” built off inspiration from the Danish-themed Aarhus course of 2019.
With 35°C heat, and World Athletics president Seb Coe promising “one of the toughest courses ever for a World Cross”, it was set to be a gruelling race around iconic Mount Panorama, home of the famous Bathurst 1000 touring car race.
“The star-studded Australian mixed relay team brought smiles to the crowd when they earned a historic bronze medal, helped in no small part by a heroic second-leg effort from Jessica Hull.”
The heat and the brutal track both took their toll, most dramatically in the women’s individual race, where Ethiopian favourite Letesenbet Gidey collapsed only metres from the finish line. Kenyan Beatrice Chebet flew past her to take gold. Supporters helped Gidey to finish in fourth place, only for her to be disqualified for the assistance.
Japanese U20 runner Hiroto Yoshioka was another casualty of the conditions, collapsing just shy of the finish line after leading early in his race.
The atmosphere was literally electric leading up to the men’s individual race in the late afternoon, with an imminent lightning storm causing the race to be brought forward by 20 minutes. Jacob Kiplimo became the new world champion when he claimed gold for Uganda by snatching the top place from his compatriot, the defending champ Joshua Cheptegei, who had to settle for silver.
A few hours earlier, the star-studded Australian mixed relay team – Oliver Hoare, Jessica Hull, Stewart McSweyn and Abbey Caldwell – had brought smiles to the crowd when they earned a historic bronze medal, helped in no small part by a heroic second-leg effort from Hull. The home crowd turned out strong to cheer her and her teammates on and this was, by far, the fan-favourite event, with supporters two-to-three deep at key spectating spots.