Athletics News

2024 World Athletics Cross Country: Reflections and Memories by Cathal Dennehy

2024 World Athletics Cross Country: Reflections and Memories by Cathal Dennehy

This article is from Cathal Dennehy about the World Cross Country event that took place last Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Belgrade, Serbia. Cathal Dennehy is one of our sport’s most prolific and well-traveled journalists, and this was his piece for RunBlogRun. 

2024 World Athletics Cross Country: Reflections and Memories by Cathal Dennehy

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before Beatrice Chebet is the world’s best female cross-country runner, and Jacob Kiplimo is the world’s best male cross-country runner. Kenya has the best depth, while Ethiopia and Uganda do their best to keep them honest.

And as for the rest of the world?

All that’s really left are slim pickings for the others who actually show up, while it’s becoming progressively more disappointing – if understandable – why so many choose to stay away.

The World Cross Country is deemed the most challenging race for a good reason. No matter the event, it’s a brutal, savage contest that starts fast and does not slow down. Even world-class athletes who have explicitly prepared are often chewed up and spat out, usually having a haunting, almost harrowing experience in the heat of this cauldron.

Jacob Kiplimo takes second World XC title, by Randy Miyazaki for Track and Field photo magazine.

In Belgrade on Saturday, the standard was just as vicious, the speed just as searing, the opportunities to contend for all but a handful of East Africans virtually non-existent. After the finish line, athletes from all over the world lay strewn on the grass, gasping for air, spattered in mud, and often looking beaten in body, mind, and spirit.

But that’s the beauty of this event. If what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, then close to 500 competitors will have walked away a little better and wiser.

But still, there are questions about this event’s future. If you’re from one of the distance-running superpowers, then all is just as you’d like it to be—the championships prove an ideal stage to showcase your supremacy to the world again.

However, monopolizing the top positions by a tiny cluster of countries leads to a decline in interest elsewhere. It’s possible to both admire the brilliance of the East Africans and acknowledge that their continued dominance is making the rest of the world slowly lose interest in this fabled event.

The Senior Women’s lead pack in Belgrade, Serbia, photo by Randy Miyazaki for Track and Field Photo Magazine

More and more, the leading distance runners from Europe…

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