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DOWN UNDER: Blowing Rock’s Colley helps USA team to No. 6 team finish at World Cross Country Championships

By David Rogers. BATHURST, NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA — With a thunder and lightening storm looming on the horizon, athletes from Uganda electrified the crowd on Feb. 18, taking the gold and silver medals in the Senior Men division of the World Cross Country Championship.

Organizers barely got that final event in before the storm swept through the infield of the Mount Panorama motor racing track that was host to the two-kilometer loop where the World XC Championships were staged.

After the race, Colley looks like he could run another 10k in 95 degree heat! Photo courtesy of Pete Rea, ZAP Endurance

In fact, according to ZAP Endurance head coach Pete Rea, as the main body of top runners was crossing the finish line, one by one, the race organizers were ushering the laggards off the course because of the approaching lightening.

Blowing Rock’s Andrew Colley was the third USA team member to complete the five laps of the the Senior Men race, at No. 36 (31:44), behind Sam Chelanga (No. 21, 31:04) and Emmanuel Bor (No. 32, 31:37). Teammate Anthony Rotich completed the scoring quartet for the USA, crossing the line at No. 45 (32:11). The four American athletes’ performance meant that the USA earned sixth place in the team competition.

Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo surged past teammate and defending champion Joshua Cheptegei, Kenya’s Geoffrey Kamworor and Ethiopia’s Berihu Aregawi roughly a third of the way into the final of the five laps and distanced himself from there and leaving it to others to sort out the order of the runners up. Kiplimo took gold with a time of 29:17. While Kamworor was among the leaders for the entire race, Aregawi surprised the field late to take the silver medal in 29:26. Cheptegei outlasted Kamworor to claim the bronze in 29:37, with Kamworor a fraction of a second behind.

The World Cross Country Championships included five races, a Mixed Relay (two men and two women from each country), Under20 Women, Under20 Men, Senior Women, and Senior Men. Each race traversed the same 2-kilometer course, although the number of laps were different for each division. The course had some interesting features, specially crafted, including The Chicane, The Boomerang, Through The Vines (AKA “The Vineyard”), Bondi Beach and The Billabong, each with their own special elements.

Arguably the most onerous is the challenge of Bondi Beach, basically a sand pit, and The Boomerang, with a long uphill ascent, but not only the messiest but perhaps the most dangerous is The Billabong, a long mud pit. While there were no crocodiles such as frequent a good number of natural billabongs, we did see a couple of athletes lose their footing and fall into the muck as they entered.

One of the uniquely Australian sights seen by ZAP Endurance head coach Pete Rea was a kangaroo looking about at all of the commotion in its natural habitat.

With temperatures hovering near 95 degrees and 50 percent humidity, the Mixed Relay saw Kenya get the day’s first gold medal, with Ethiopia and Australia taking silver and bronze, respectively. The U.S. team finished No. 5 from among the 15 countries with at least four runners to comprise a team.

In the Under20 Women’s race, two Ethiopian athletes took gold and silver, while Kenya claimed bronze. The USA’s Ellie Shea (No. 10), Irene Riggs (No. 12), and Karrie Baloga (No. 13) were in the hunt and led the American team to a team bronze medal. The fourth scorer for the USA was Zariel Macchia at No. 19, putting all four in the top 20 among the more than 60 entries.

In the Under20 Men’s race, the African nations again dominated. The top 15 places were held by Kenya, Ethiopia, or Uganda athletes. The USA’s Emilio Young was the first non-African athlete across the finish line, at No. 16, leading the American team to a bronze medal as a team.

A billabong is a large body of water that gets separated from a primary river flow due to storm or flood, frequently attracting crocodiles to the habitat. For the World XC Championships in Bathurst, this billabong challenge is basically a asking the runners to trek through a mud pit. Photo by Pete Rea, ZAP Endurance


High Drama at the Finish for the Senior Women

In one of the most unusual finishes perhaps in the history of the World Cross Country Championships, held since 1973, Kenya’s Beatrice Chebet and Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey ran in a pack of five leaders for at good part of the race, then began to separate themselves with one lap to to, with Chebet seeming to try and break away. But Gidey stayed right with the Kenyan, took a quick look at her watch, and started to drive for the lead.

If one variety of pathway was too busy with competing runners, the followers could choose a different ‘variety’ to follow. Photo Pete Rea, ZAP Endurance

Gidey surged decisively into the lead on the uphill portion of the final lap leading to what is called The Boomerang section, and appeared to take command. She kept expanding her lead over Chebet, who looked like she was going to settle for the silver medal as she put more distance on the third and fourth runners.

Gidey, who had won the Under20 race at the World Championships twice before, stretched her lead over Chebet to almost five seconds and what was estimated at 50 yards as she descended down a long, downhill straightway before making a nimble 180-degree right turn and entered a section called, “The Chicane.” Weaving her way between the alternating twelve rows of tires, Gidey looked almost fresh as she started the last uphill climb. Once to the top, the course makes two 90-degree left turns and onto a long straightaway downhill to the finish.

Toward the top of the uphill, Chebet accelerated and closed the gap slightly as Gidey made her first, then second 90-degree turns. Looking over her shoulder one last time, Gidey still seemed to have the race under control, one-third of the way down the finishing stretch.

Suddenly, Chebet was seen flying down the homestretch and as she appeared ready to overtake Gidey with only some 50 feet left before the finish, the Ethiopian suddenly stumbled and fell to the ground — and laid there as Chebet sprinted on by to claim gold. Then, with Gidey still lying on the ground, Ethiopian teammate Tsigie Gebreselama and Kenya ‘s Agnes Janet Ngetich raced on by to capture silver and bronze. Gidey remained prostrate on the ground until two bystanders sprinted onto the course to pick her up, allowing her to be the fourth athlete to cross the finish line, but she was later disqualified for having received the assistance.

ZAP head coach Pete Rea and ZAP team member Andrew Colley — also the No. 2 qualifier for the USA team at the World Cross Country Championships — relax for a moment afte Colley’s No. 36 finish on Feb. 18. Photo courtesy of ZAP Endurance
USA team members Andrew Colley (left) and Sam Chelanga warm up before the 2023 World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia on Feb. 18. Photo courtesy of Pete Rea, ZAP Endurance

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