Athletics News

Who, what and when guide: World Cross Country Champs

Who, what and when guide: World Cross Country Champs

Everything you need to know about Saturday’s global event in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, including an early look at the course

It feels like summer has arrived early in Belgrade. The Serbian capital’s Park of Friendship – the venue for this weekend’s World Cross Country Championships – is blooming with daisies and dandelions. A fresh wind rips across the fields from the nearby Danube and Sava rivers. Under blue skies, temperatures are pleasant and forecast to rise even further ahead of the races on Saturday.

As cross-country courses go, the Park of Friendship isn’t the most exciting. This sizeable area of grassland to the east of the city is fairly flat and featureless. World Athletics are hard at work this week, though, constructing various obstacles to make it more challenging for the athletes and spectator-friendly for fans.

Some of the competitors are already in the city, too, with runners from Australia, New Zealand and Japan getting an early taste of the course on Wednesday (March 27) after long flights to Europe. They are excited by the prospect of running what some still maintain is “the toughest race in the world”, an event where milers meet marathoners in a showdown to discover the best all-round runner on the planet.

Australian runners check out the course

Many of the other teams are due to arrive on Thursday. This includes a British squad which is proudly one of a small number of ever-present nations to attend every edition of the modern World Cross since it began in 1973. The five-strong list of “World Cross ever-presents” is down to just four countries this year, however, with GB, France, Spain and the United States maintaining their streak but Italy now joining the list of countries who choose to give this event a miss.

It is five years since Aarhus in Denmark staged what Seb Coe described as a “watershed moment”. The course was imaginative and picturesque, with runners racing up the grassy roof of a Viking museum, whereas there were large crowds thanks to mass races taking place alongside the elite events.

World Cross in Aarhus in 2019

After a Covid-enforced hiatus, Bathurst in Australia took up the baton in decent style with an enjoyable championship 12 months ago. Given this, Belgrade has a couple of tough acts to follow, but before rushing to judgement don’t forget this week’s venue is very much World Athletics’ plan B due to the original event – in Croatia in mid-February – being pulled…

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