In our region it may be, but it was still a long trip before the Australian team arrive in Guiyang (CHN) for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
Having travelled all day Wednesday – some setting out in the wee small hours of the morning – it was into the early hours of Thursday before the 22 athletes arrived at the team hotel.
Late injury withdrawals (Harry Summers, Vic, open men; Kate Spencer, NSW, open women) excepted, Australia will field full teams in the four championship races on Saturday.
Leading the way on experience will be Liam Adams (Vic), who will be competing in his seventh IAAF World Cross-Country Championships having made his debut in Mombasa (KEN) in 2007. That pales behind Steve Moneghetti’s record number of appearances, but Adams’ total will be increasingly hard to match now that the championships are on a two-yearly cycle.
On the senior women’s side, Victoria Mitchell (NSW) will be competing in her fourth championship. Mitchell, 32, will also carry the most impressive competitive record into the race having been part of the two women’s teams which have won Australia’s only team medals in world cross-country.
And if you want a little more history, it is there in the shape of Ben Kelly (Vic), competing in his first championships in the junior men’s race. Kelly is coached by Chris Wardlaw, who was a member of Australia’s first-ever team to the world cross-country back in 1975. Another member of that team was Lavinia Petrie, who last year was honoured by the IAAF as its female Masters Athlete of the Year.
Kelly and his junior, and senior, teammates face a huge challenge on Saturday against the east African teams from Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Eritrea who have dominated the titles since they started to compete in the early 1980s.
Some will be up to the challenge, others will disappoint. That is the nature of an event which still has credible claims to be the toughest race in the world. But the unique nature of the team scoring means that in world cross-country you must fight for every place.
Up to six can run; the first four count in the scoring team but each athlete counts in the individual result. That means a vital edge in the team points can be gained by fifth and sixth runners pushing scoring finishers back in the placings. Often medals are decided by such slender margins.
Overall strength of teams varies from championship to championship, but a team score of under 100 points – an average of 25th place – is the minimum requirement to challenge for a medal. Chances are boosted immeasurably if at least one team member can get in the top 10.
Benita Willis is Australia’s only individual medallist, with her magnificent win in the women’s long race in Brussels in 2004. Willis was also a scoring member of both women’s teams which won medals, in the short race Fukuoka in 2006 and the long race in Edinburgh two years later. From 1997 till 2006 inclusive long (12k men, 8k women) and short (4k) were contested at the championships, but it reverted back to a single long race in 2007.
With the caveat that world cross-country form – both your own team, and the other nations – is notoriously hard to judge, the senior women’s team looks best chance for a top six finish on Saturday.
Mitchell won the trial and has run well at 5000m and in the steeplechase in the past two weeks at the Sydney Track Classic and Melbourne IWC meeting. Jess Trengove (SA) chased her home in second. Gemma Maini (Vic) has slashed her personal bests on the track recently and Emily Brichacek (ACT) was 11th in the junior race back in 2009.
Courtney Powell (Vic) won the national and the Oceania championships last year, so there is the basis for a strong team performance.
Although Collis Birmingham, eighth two years ago, is not available this time, the men’s team will be capably led by 23rd place-getter Adams, running his seventh championships. David McNeill (Vic) won the trial impressively, with James Nipperess (NSW) and Mitchel Brown (Vic) close up. Brett Robinson (Vic) is in top track form.
The junior races are even harder to pick at the best of times. Morgan McDonald (NSW) is one of those rare young men who will get two cracks at the juniors. He finished 33rd in a field of 113 two years ago in Bydgoszcz (POL).
In the junior women, Jessica Hull (NSW) and Sophie Eckel (SA) were first two in the trial, with nothing between them. If the team can bunch up well, a good result can be obtained.
For more information on the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, including entry lists and timetables, please click here.
AUSTRALIA AT THE IAAF WORLD CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS
The IAAF inaugurated the championships in 1973, taking over the former International Cross-Country Championships which began in 1903. Australia first competed in Rabat, Morocco in 1975, sending a full men’s and women’s teams.
From 1971 till 1985 Australia competed every two years, from then on annually until the championships went to a two-year cycle after 2011.
Senior men and women and junior men have been on the program since the beginning. The junior women’s championship was first contested in Stavanger in 1989.
AUSTRALIA AT GUIYANG 2015
12km (open): Liam Adams (Vic), Mitchel Brown (Vic), David McNeill (Vic), James Nipperess (NSW), Brett Robinson (Vic)
8km (junior): Bryce Anderson (Vic), Charlie Hunter (NSW), Ben Kelly (Vic), Morgan McDonald (NSW), Nathan Pearce (Vic), Matthew Ramsden (WA)
8km (open): Emily Brichacek (ACT), Genna Maini (Vic), Victoria Mitchell (NSW), Courtney Powell (Vic), Jessica Trengove (SA)
6km (junior): Sophie Eckel (SA), Jessica Hull (NSW), Amy McCormick (WA), Leanne Pompeani (ACT), Karlie Swanson (NSW), Brianna Thomas (Qld)
Benita Willis won the women’s long race in 2004. No other individual medals.
The highest men’s finish was Steve Moneghetti fourth in 1989.
Highest junior men: Craig Mottram – 18th 1999.
Highest junior women: Susie Power – 5th 1993
Others best performances within top 10:
Jackie Perkins – 5th 1989; Krishna Stanton 8th 1987
Rob de Castella – 6th 1983; Collis Birmingham – 8th 2013; Craig Mottram 5th (short) 2002
Susie Power – 5th (junior) 1993; Suzy Walsham – 9th (junior) 1989; Melissa Rollison – 9th (junior) 2002
Senior Women – 3rd (short) 2006, 3rd 2008
Highest team finish
Senior Men – 4th 1983
Junior Women – 4th 2002
Junior Men – 4th 1986