I know the title is a big one, but the fact is, cross country is the ultimate race in the running world. While the United States and other countries have seem to quit on this race due to always getting destroyed, the winner of this race can fully hold the title of fastest man or woman on the planet. World Cross Country is the biggest race on earth for runners, and anyone who's anyone should be competing.
For those not up to speed, the World Cross Country Championships is hosted by the International Association of Athletic Federations. Started in 1973, the competition was hosted every year until 2011, and now has become a biennial event. The previous championships in 2011 were hosted by Spain in Punta Umbria, while this weekend’s race is set in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
What makes cross country such an amazing sport is the amount of athleticism involved in the race. While on the track it is an all-out blitz to see who can run the fastest around a flat, pristinely surfaced oval, cross country is no-holds-barred. Racecourses can involve mud pits, barriers, hills, climbs and flatland. The season is held in the winter for the northern hemisphere, so the elements definitely come in to play as well. Along with the difficulty of the race, the fact is, cross country is a team sport. Though individual places (especially individual champions) are rewarded, the cross country championships are a team race that awards an individual country as winner. For the past six championships, the Kenyan men have dominated for the overall title, while the women’s side is split evenly between Ethiopia and Kenya.
For this weekend's race on the men’s side, the runner to watch is Ethiopia’s Imane Merga. The reigning World Cross Country Champion is a perennially competitor. Along with a world cross title, he also has a myriad of Olympic and World Championship track medals as well. While his win in 2011 was unexpected, Merga definitely enters this weekend’s race with a bull’s-eye on his back.
On the women’s side, World Marathon Champion Edna Kiplagat is the main favorite. Though she bonked in this past year’s Olympic games, she has definitely shown her dominance over the 26.2 mile distance and cross country. She will be competing against fellow Kenyan Pasalia Jepkoech for the title. Both the men and women’s team battles will once again be a two-team duel between Kenya and Ethiopia.