BATHURST – Uganda retained the senior men’s title at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships Bathurst 23 as Jacob Kiplimo claimed gold to overthrow Josua Cheptegei.
The 22-year-old finished second in the senior men’s race in Aarhus four years ago – the event where ASP Cheptegei won world title – at a time he was only 18 years – then. But Kiplimo became a first world champion at senior level 18 months later after winning gold at the World Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia.
In the years that followed, though, he was beaten into bronze over 10,000m at the Olympic Games in 2021 and at the World Championships in 2022.
But on Saturday in Bathurst – Kiplimo’s brilliance shone through, conquering an incredibly strong field and defying the stormy conditions that broke out just a few minutes into the race.
Kiplimo and compatriot Joshua Cheptegei – the defending champion, held back on the first lap, while their Ugandan teammates Isaac Kibet, Samuel Kibet and Martin Kiprotich ran at the front of the pack. Kenya’s Geoffrey Kamworor – the two-time winner of the senior men’s title, was tucked behind the leading trio with the first lap covered in 6:09.
The pace increased slightly on the second lap, whittling the lead pack down to 15 men with most of the big contenders in it. Kiprotich still led with Kamworor close behind while Kiplimo and Cheptegei ran towards the back of the pack. Ethiopian cross-country champion Berihu Aregawi was just a stride ahead of Kiplimo, and Burundi’s Rodrigue Kwizera – current leader on the World Athletics Cross Country Tour – was right at the rear of the group.
About half way into the race, Cheptegei took close order and moved to the front of the pack, running level with Kamworor.
Kenya’s Daniel Simiu Ebenyo was also close by, along with Kiplimo and Aregawi. Kwizera, meanwhile, was starting to lose contact with the lead group, and Olympic 10,000m champion Selemon Barega of Ethiopia was beginning to show signs of discomfort.
But as the temperatures started to drop, the race started to heat up. The two former winners, Kamworor and Cheptegei, still looked good out in front. They, along with Kiplimo and Aregawi, eventually formed a breakaway quartet. Former world half marathon record-holder Kbiwott Kandie led the chase pack, which was five seconds adrift of the leaders by the end of the fourth lap.
But Kiplimo, who has considerable mountain-running experience, was clearly still full of running, despite the challenging course and he made a break on the final lap. By the time he reached the ‘billabong’ – the muddy section of the course just before one of the most challenging climbs – he had a two-second lead over Cheptegei, with Aregawi and Kamworor just one second behind the Ugandan duo.
Kiplimo maintained that lead as he emerged from the vineyard and had extended it to seven seconds by the time he reached the ‘mountain straight’ part of the course. By this time, Aregawi had moved past Cheptegei into second place, while Kamworor was five seconds adrift of the defending champion.
As he charged down the penultimate downhill stretch, double Commonwealth champion Kiplimo could sense that victory was his. He turned and ran through the tyre section still with a comfortable lead, then eased round the final bend, took one last glance behind him to ensure his lead was safe, and then started celebrating some 50 metres out from the finish.
He crossed the line in 29:17 – a remarkably quick time for 10km given the difficulty of the course – with Aregawi, a World Cross debutant – taking silver in 29:26. Cheptegei just about held on for bronze ahead of a fast-finishing Kamworor, both men timed at 29:37. Kandie remained in fifth, some 20 seconds adrift of the leading quartet.
Despite missing out on an individual medal, Kamworor found some consolation in the fact he led Kenya to gold – his first senior men’s team title in five World Cross appearances. Ethiopia took silver and Uganda earned bronze.
The same three nations have now filled the podium in the senior men’s team competition for the three most recent editions of the World Cross, albeit in a different order each time.
“The course was really good,” said Kiplimo. “Even with lots of wind, it was really intense. I think for me it was really good because there are lots of hills where we train in Uganda. It was not easy but I did my best.”
Aregawi, meanwhile, was delighted to earn his first senior global medal. Back in 2018 he won the African U18 title over 3000m, and then earned two silver medals at the Youth Olympic Games later that year. In 2021 he won the Diamond League 5000m title and set a world 5km record on the roads, but missed out on a 10,000m at the Olympic Games.
He improved his PBs at 3000m, 5000m and 10,000m in 2022 but was once again shy of a medal at the World Championships in Oregon. But he will be leaving Bathurst with individual and team silver medals.
“The conditions were tough,” he said. “It was hot on the first lap, and then it changed to windy. This championship was very difficult and tough, but I am really pleased.”
Cheptegei was also pleased, given the circumstances.
“I think it was a good race, especially coming back from injury,” said the world 5000m and 10,000m record-holder. “I didn’t have the best preparation, but I’m grateful to come here and finish on the podium. Now I can be reassured I can go focus on the track soon, and especially the coming World Championships.”
Uganda Police Chief – IGP Martin Okoth Ochola was quick in celebrating in Cheptegei performance through a message posted on the force’s facebook handle.