World Athletics President Sebastian Coe and legendary distance runner Paul Tergat from Kenya have over the years emphasised on the importance of cross country races to athletes.
It goes without saying that athletes who have competed in cross country races have gone on to perform well to win championship medals and break records either on track or road running events.
Already the push by Coe to have cross country running back to Olympics has yielded fruits with the event set to be held at the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Games, having featured three times at the Games in 1912, 1920 and 1924.
It’s no wonder that Kenya was among the countries that World Athletics picked to host one of the World Cross Country Gold Tour races based on the country’s rich history not only at the World Cross Country Championships but also in events across the world especially in Europe.
Memorial Agnes Tirop World Cross Country Gold Tour now Sirikwa Classic World Cross Country Gold Tour is one of the 17 events in the 2022/23 Gold Tour that started in September last year and ends this month.
From the 42 editions of the World Cross Country Championships that was held for the first time in 1973, Kenya has won 16 individual senior men’s titles and 24 team titles. The senior women’s have eight individual and 12 team titles.
Legendary coach Patrick Sang reckons that two of the fundamental areas cross country running has helped athletes succeeded on track is strength and endurance.
He singled out legendary distance runners John Ngugi, Paul Tergat, Geoffrey Kamworor, Vivian Cheruiyot and Hellen Obiri among the athletes who have used cross country as a stepping stone to major victories.
Ngugi’s trailblazing performance in 5,000m at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games where he shot to the front and never looked back, is still something that is talked about to date. It’s the only victory Kenya has had in men’s 5,000m at the Olympics.
Ngugi had just won two of his five world cross country titles in 1986 and 1987.
Then came Tergat, who won five titles back-to-back from 1995 to 1999 on his way to bagging silver medals in 10,000m at the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games.
Just who can forget Tergat’s historic moments when he became the first Kenyan to break a marathon world record with a time of 2:04:55 in Berlin.
Cheruiyot won the 2011 World Cross Country title in Punta Umbria, Spain on her way to winning a double in 10,000m and 5,000m at the 2011 Daegu World Championships, defended her 10,000m title at 2015 Beijing before claiming her maiden Olympic 5,000m title at 2016 Rio Summer Games.
Obiri went for the 2019 World Cross Country crown before defending her world 5,000m title the same year in Doha. It’s the same year that Cheptegei won both the world cross and world 10,000m titles.