Hellen Obiri makes history with World Cross-Country gold

The Kenyan has now won World Indoor, World outdoor and World Cross-Country titles.

By Evelyn Watta

Hellen Obiri made history.

The Kenyan became the first female runner to win a World Indoor, World outdoor and World Cross-Country title, after a brave performance in Aarhus, Denmark.

The 29-year-old led nearly from the gun to the tape, setting the pace before pushing for the gold in her IAAF World Cross-Country debut.

“I am so happy, it was the only medal I missed in my cabinet.”

—Hellen Obiri, 5000m Olympic silver medallist

Hellen Obiri of Kenya celebrates winning the Women's Senior Final during the IAAF World Athletics Cross Country Championships on March 30, 2019 in Aarhus, Denmark.

Ticked the box

Obiri maintained control for most of the 36-minute race, before pulling away from Ethiopia’s Dera Dida in the home stretch, thanks to her famous finishing speed. Dida, a double World junior champion, took silver ahead of compatriot Letsenbet Gidey.

Obiri was delighted to have ticked the World Cross-Country box on a brutal course.

“I didn’t know I was going to win because the race was tough. I used my mind and decided to be patient," she said. "We had the Ethiopians in the races before and we saw they are strong on the hills.

“This was the last chance, I don’t think I’m going to go for another World Cross-Country,” she added.

Obiri now shifts focus to her world outdoor 5000m title defence in Doha, Qatar, in October.

She's considered the heir apparent to Olympic champion Vivian Cheruiyot, who has scaled up to the marathon.

Uganda make history

Joshua Cheptegei produced a brilliant performance to win gold in the senior men's race, Uganda’s first ever individual title at a World Cross-Country Championships.

“It’s really awesome to be the World Cross-Country champion. It means a lot because I missed this gold in Uganda,” said the 22-year-old. Cheptegei had a comfortable lead two years ago in Kampala in front of his home fans, but lost his pace and finished 30th.

The East Africans stamped their authority early on with Cheptegei and compatriot Jacob Kiplimo dropping the leading pack with their superb pace.

Only Kenya’s five-time World champion Geoffrey Kamworor managed to hang on.

The Aarhus course challenge

The most difficult sections for the field proved to be the steep inclines of the gruelling Aarhus course.

But that’s where the Ugandans ruled, their training from the hilly areas of Kapchorwa in the east of their landlocked nation paying off.

The Commonwealth Games 5000m and 10000m champion led a rare one-two finish for Uganda with Kiplimo, the 18-year-old, winning silver on his senior debut.

“If there was anyone who wanted this gold today it was me. I missed this gold in 2017," Cheptegei said delightedly, a brilliant result after a difficult past season.

The world outdoor silver medallist has just recovered from a nagging injury, and survived a car crash in December.

Favourite Kamworor, who was seeking his third back-back World Cross-Country title, settled for bronze.

Joshua Cheptegei and Jacob Kiplimo of Uganda and Geoffrey Kamworor of Kenya pose with their medals following the Men's Senior Final during the IAAF World Athletics Cross Country Championships on March 30, 2019 in Aarhus, Denmark.

Ethiopia and Kenya rule juniors

The balance of power shifted between Kenya and Ethiopia in the under-20 races.

It was a world-class men’s field that included Norway's three-time European junior cross-country champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen.

Milkesa Mengesha didn’t take any chances. The Ethiopian broke off early and boldly led a one-two finish for his country.

Tadese Worku and Uganda’s Oscar Chelimo rounded off the podium.

Ingebrigtsen, meanwhile, finished 12th.

Milkesa Mengesha of Ethiopia crosses the line to win the Men's U20 during the IAAF World Athletics Cross Country Championships on March 30, 2019 in Aarhus, Denmark.

The women’s race was a crowded field, with the two East Africa distance running powerhouses dominating from start to finish.

It was a sprint to the line with Beatrice Chebet touching the tape first, reclaiming a title Kenya last won six years ago.

Ethiopian pair Alemitu Tariku and Tsigie Gebreselama earned silver and bronze.

Beatrice Chebet of Kenya (C) crosses the line to win the Women's U20 Final as Alemitu Tariku of Ethiopia (R) reacts to coming second during the IAAF World Athletics Country Championships on March 30, 2019 in Aarhus, Denmark.