For those of you who have been asking who is currently better between Kenya and Ethiopia in the world of IAAF World Cross Country Championships, this year’s edition – set for Sunday in Kampala, Uganda – will probably give you the answer.
So dominant have these two African nations been in cross country championships in the last three decades they are almost synonymous with athletics races.
Since 1973 when the IAAF World Cross Country Championships were inaugurated, replacing the International Cross Country Championships, both Kenya and Ethiopia have between them won a whopping 559 of the 996 possible medals.
The two nations have enjoyed a similar stranglehold on the junior men’s races since 1982 – in the senior men’s 12kms race, for instance, Kenya won the World Championships for an astonishing 18 years in a row, from 1986 through 2003.
Likewise, in the women’s category, only one other nation has won the long team race since 1991.
Kenyan athlete John Ngugi was the first man to win a record four consecutive titles between 1986 and 1989 and five titles overall.
Ethiopian runner Kenenisa Bekele is the only man to win both the short and long courses in the same year, which he did five years in a row, and whose win in 2008 gave him six long course championships.
Going into the 42nd edition in Kampala, the rivalry between the Kenya and Ethiopia is still profound.
Since 2007, we have never had any other winner from outside Africa, apart from one individual title that went to a Dutch woman in a junior category (U-20).
At the last event held in Guiyang, China, Kenya swept the senior individual titles with Geoffrey Kamworor enhancing his reputation as a runner for the big stage as he maintained his unbeaten championship record at the IAAF World Cross-Country Championships.
Agnes Jebet Tirop scooped the women’s senior (8km), establishing herself as a senior athlete for the first time after her runner-up medal in the junior race at the 2013 edition.
Despite Kenyans winning the senior races, Ethiopia, which claimed the junior races, won the most medals with 9 in total (4 gold, 2 silver and 3 bronze), while Bahrain (ironically entirely represented by Africans) was the only non-East African country to win a medal (bronze). Uganda also won one bronze medal.
Going even further back, the last non-Kenyan or Ethiopian winner in the under 20’s men’s teams event was from the United States and that was 36 years ago.
This year, however, much as the rivalry between the two East African giants is still severe, the huge prize money (a total US$310,000) staked by the IAAF, will further make the race even more competitive given that athletes are coming as far as UK, US, France and Spain.