They may not have matched their unprecedented top-six sweep from 2017, but Hellen Obiri ensured the senior women’s crown stayed with Kenya, winning at the IAAF/Mikkeller World Cross Country Championships Aarhus 2019.
By doing so, the world 5000m champion became the first woman in history to win senior world titles indoors, outdoors and at cross country. The only man to achieve such a feat is Kenenisa Bekele.
“It is really special,” smiled Obiri after completing the 10.24km course in 36:14. “It was my debut IAAF World Cross Country Championships and my only chance to do it. I now don’t need to do any more cross country.”
Obiri arrived in Aarhus in good form, having clocked 29:59 for 10km at the end of December and winning at the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting in Elgoibar in January and at the Kenyan Cross Country Championships last month.
The 29-year-old had clearly also thought about her tactics ahead of this weekend. She led the race from the early stages and could be seen visibly leaning into the hill as she tackled the climb up the Moesgaard Museum roof on each lap.
“I thought you must look down, as you don’t want to look up to see where you are going and at how difficult the hill is,” she revealed of her technique. “I knew it wasn’t going to be a test of speed, as it was a tough hill. It was all about mind games.”
At the end of the second of five laps, a group of five had already broken away, led by Obiri in 14:16, with sub-2:22 marathon runner Dera Dida, world U20 steeplechase silver medallist Peruth Chemutai, steeplechase world record-holder Beatrice Chepkoech and two-time world U20 cross-country champion Letesenbet Gidey in close procession.
Chepkoech was the first to drop off and at the end of the third lap it was still Obiri, Ethiopian Trials winner Dida, Chemutai and Gidey. Further back, home nation hope and European U23 cross-country champion Anna Emilie Moller was working her way through the field and now up to 18th.
By the fourth lap, Obiri and the Ethiopian pair had broken away but the Ugandan duo of Rachael Chebet and Chemutai were chasing hard. Obiri was continuing to push the pace, determined not to relinquish pole position, pushing on and leading into the hills and relaxing on the downhills.
On the final lap it was down to Obiri versus Dida. Would it be the speed of the 5000m specialist or the strength of the marathon runner that ruled supreme?
A few minutes later the world had the answer, as it was Obiri who strode freely to the finish line first, reached in 36:14, two seconds ahead of Dida, with 20-year-old Gidey third in 36:24. Chebet and Chemutai were fourth and fifth in 36:47 and 36:49, with Ethiopian Tsehay Gemechu sixth in 36:56. Chepkoech was seventh, with teammate Eve Cherona eighth. 21-year-old Moller moved up to 15th by the finish.
Dida and Gidey were happy with silver and bronze. “It was a very good race for me, it was a surprise to take the silver medal,” said Dida. “The competition was very good but it took place in a nice surrounding.”
After winning the U20 title at the past two World Cross Country Championships, Gidey had hoped to win but was full of smiles and explained she had enjoyed the race. “The course was okay with mud, soil and sand, but a little difficult,” she said. “Aarhus is a smart city and the weather was okay.”
With many of her family and supporters in attendance, Moller was relieved to run well. “It was probably the hardest race I have ever tried and to come this high up, I am happy,” she said. “I had a fight with two Africans and I told myself, ‘I want to beat them’ and I actually did. I am very satisfied with my performance today. Thank you to everyone who came out and made day special.”
Kenya and Ethiopia have occupied the top two spots in the team race at every edition of these championships since 2002 and the trend continued in Aarhus with Ethiopia taking victory with 21 points ahead of Kenya (25). Uganda took the bronze with 36 points, matching the three podium positions from 2015.