The staging of the world cross-country championships in Bathurst has given rise to a surreal feeling.
While cities like Paris, New York, Boston and Budapest were among the first 43 locations in world cross-country championships history, a town just shy of 40,000 people is this weekend the meeting place for many of the best middle-distance and long-distance runners in the world.
Among them are Joshua Cheptegei, Geoffrey Kamworor, Letesenbet Gidey and Beatrice Chebet — superstar athletes who combine for a massive haul of Olympic triumphs, world cross-country gold medals and world records.
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They’ve touched down in Sydney, travelled beyond the Blue Mountains and settled for several days on sweeping plains.
All eyes are on a sacred landmark in Australian sport — Mount Panorama, made famous by motorsport champions like Peter Brock, Larry Perkins and Mark Skaife.
Few men and women have enjoyed as much world cross-country success as Kenyan legend Paul Tergat, the World Athletics ambassador for this edition of the prestigious event.
Tergat, who won five world cross-country titles between 1995 and 1999, lauded the decision to hand the iconic event to the country New South Wales town of Bathurst.
“I wanted to congratulate World Athletics for organising such an event in such a place like this,” Tergat said at Mount Panorama on Friday.
“You see, traditionally, we’ve been organising events in big cities, where mass populations live. So this one is very unique. Less than 40,000 people live around this place.
“I’m hoping that with this … even my own small town in the near future … people will maybe want to see the top sports stars coming and competing.
“So now it has given me an opportunity to maybe think about bidding for where I’m coming from so that the whole world can be able to see that,” Tergat added with a laugh.
Cheptegei is the hot favourite to clinch victory in the men’s senior race, run over 10km.
The Ugandan is the defending world cross-country champion, 5000m and 10,000m world-record holder, and reigning Olympic winner over 5000m.
One of his chief rivals is Kenya’s Kamworor, a three-time world cross-country champion.
When Tergat was asked about the looming match-up, the former marathon world-record holder diverted attention away from the brilliant Africans and in the direction of the course — five 2km laps featuring an uphill start, a billabong, a vineyard and a chicane formed by tyres.
“This course itself … it is not even about them (Cheptegei and Kamworor); it’s about the course,” Tergat said.
“This is a motor-racing course,” the 53-year-old added with a beaming smile and a laugh.
“So I’m encouraging the athletes … tomorrow it’s your big day. You’re battling with your colleagues, but also remember the course itself.”
Jack Rayner and Brett Robinson are considered Australia’s best in the men’s senior field, while Rose Davies and Leanne Pompeani are expected to lead the way for Australia in the women’s senior race, also run over 10km.
Australian quartet Jessica Hull, Abbey Caldwell, Stewart McSweyn and Oliver Hoare form an exceptional 4x2km mixed relay team.
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