News & Updates

18 February 2023 • Cross Country

New Zealand secure four top ten team placings at World Cross

Catherine Lund produces the top individual display for New Zealand at the 2023 World Cross Country Championships. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images for World Athletics )

The New Zealand team performed with pride at the 2023 World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, Australia today (Sat 18 Feb) by claiming four top ten team finishes and a number of noteworthy top 50 individual placings in a race dubbed “the toughest endurance race in the world.”

Competing on a brutally tough 2km circuit at the Mount Panorama Motorsport track in temperatures which hovered around the mid 30C, it was a supreme test for the 26-strong Kiwi team many of whom can be pleased with their efforts.  

New Zealand kick-started their quest at the spiritual home of Australian motorsport by claiming tenth in the 4x2km mixed team relay.

In a race run at breakneck speed from the gun, the Kiwis opted for star miler Sam Tanner (Athletics Tauranga) to run the opening leg. The 22-year-old Kiwi – who last weekend in New York ran a blistering 3:51.70 indoor mile – settled into a good early rhythm and sat fourth halfway around the 2km course. He lost a little ground up one of the demanding but finishing with his trademark kick sprint finished hauled New Zealand up to fifth with a 5:49 leg to sit eight seconds behind first leg leaders South Africa.

National mile champion Rebekah Greene (Hill City University) produced a rock solid second leg on the demanding track to ensure New Zealand sat seventh and still in contention for a top six placing at the halfway stage. Eric Speakman (Napier Harriers) running in the Silver Singlet concluded his 2km effort with the Kiwis positioned eighth. On anchor Anneke Grogan (North Harbour Bays) – who was making her World Cross Country Championship debut 40 years after her mum, Glenys Grogan, made her maiden  World Cross Country appearance – brought New Zealand home in tenth in a time of 25:08.

Kenyan retained their mixed relay crown stopping the clock in 23:14 – seven seconds clear of old rivals Ethiopia. Host nation Australia toasted a bronze medal in 23:26.

Tanner described the 2km course which comprised sweeping and sharp hills, a mud pit, a billabong and a vineyard as “unrelenting” but he had a blast.

“It was a massive change from racing on the indoor circuit, but it was really good fun,” said Tanner, who last competed in a cross country race since at the New Zealand Cross Country Challenge in Dunedin in August 2020. “I’m proud of the team, we all gave it a good crack.

“I just finished behind Ollie Hoare (Commonwealth 1500m champion) who ran a 3:50 mile last week. I was really pleased with our performance. We finished behind the likes of Kenyan and Ethiopia, who are stronger, but considering I’ve come off the indoor circuit I think it is pretty good run.”

Cameron Avery (Christchurch Avon) and Matt Baxter (Egmont Athletics) both claimed top 50 placings to help the New Zealand to ninth place in the 10km senior men’s race – a best Kiwi team performance in the senior men’s long course race at a World Cross Country Championships for 39 years. Avery, the national mountain running champion, has a skill set which was perfectly suited to the demands of the brutally tough course on Mount Panorama and he produced a top-quality run.

Starting out in oppressive humidity, which mid-race turned into a heavy thunderstorm, Avery assumed the role as lead Kiwi on lap two and made a big move from lap three to four as he advanced eight places to 46th. He then slipped one further place in 47th but can be proud of his efforts as can the fast-finishing Matt Baxter who finished one spot and five seconds further back in 48th having finished with a wet sail to catapult seven positions up the overall standings on the final lap. For Baxter, the men’s team captain, it was a second successive top 50 finish at the World Cross Country Championships after he placed 46th at the previous edition in Aarhus, Denmark in 2019.

World orienteering champion Tim Robertson (Hutt Valley Harriers) had a solid run on his international senior running debut, crossing the finish line in 61st. National 3000m and 10,000m champion Julian Oakley (Athletics Tauranga) was the final Kiwi scorer in 66nd. New Zealand Cross Country champion Matt Taylor (North Harbour Bays) crossed the line in 84th. Oli Chignell (Hill City University) had an issue with his quad and was forced to stop around half distance.   

An ecstatic Avery said: “I told my family that to finish in the top 60 would be in ideal day for me, so I was rapt to get a top 50 finish which is a good indicator of my fitness right now. I have had some races recently when I was not proud of myself when I crossed the line, but today I was proud of myself.

“My coach, Chris Pilone, has been specifically preparing me for this race for a long time and everything clicked into place today. I think in the races where I’ve struggled, it has been more mental than physical when I’ve got myself in my negative mindset, but today I focused on just getting into a good rhythm on a rhythm breaking course. I was not one of the guys charging through the field, but I wasn’t fading either. I kept on a good solid pace which put me in good stead because I never felt that I was travelling beyond myself.”

At the front of the race, Jacob Kiplimo of Uganda upgraded on the silver medal he won four years in Aarhus to take gold in a time of 29:17 nine seconds clear of Berihu Aregawi of Ethiopia.

The New Zealand senior women’s team produced a strong collective effort to place tenth led home by mum-of-two Sarah Drought (Wellington Harriers), who finished a highly respectable 49th.

In a race of high drama, which witnessed long-time leader and World 10,000m champion Letesenbet Gidey collapse moments after she was caught and passed in the final 50m by eventual champion Beatrice Chebet of Kenya (33:48), the New Zealand packed well as a team.

From the first of the five 2km laps Drought was the lead Kiwi and she gamely stuck to her task to claim her top 50 prize. Behind, women’s team skipper Emily Roughan (Egmont Athletics) placed 54st – an improvement by 29 places on her performance at the 2019 edition of the event. Hannah Miller (Wellington Scottish) in 61st and Lisa Cross (TTT Runners) in 64th were the other two scoring athletes. Kerry White (Hamilton City Hawks) and Katherine Camp (University of Canterbury) placed 66th and 68th, respectively.

It was a strong team performance and one which left Drought, the number Kiwi today, immensely proud.

“To finish top 50 was my A goal if everything went and to finish first New Zealander I was over the moon. It was tough. I felt like I was going conservatively from the beginning, but I still felt cooked at 5km. I guess I was grinding it out and I tried to take it easier for a 2km and I lost a few places, but I stayed fairly neutral for the rest of the race, and I’m stoked to finish top 50.

“I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d done a fair bit of heat prep in the sauna, which was not the most enjoyable part of training, so I’m glad it paid off.

“A year ago, I wasn’t even thinking about getting the qualifier, so I’m very proud. It takes a lot of effort juggling work life with family life. I’ve had a lot of support from the whole community in Wellington, so it reflects well on everyone.”

Catherine Lund (Ariki) executed a smart tactical race and was rewarded by placing an outstanding 27th in the women’s U20 race as all three finishing Kiwis secured top 50 spots. Behind, Bella Earl (Owairaka) finished a highly respectable 36th with Boh Ritchie (Hamilton City Hawks), the New Zealand U20 cross country champion, next home in 42nd. The fourth Kiwi Mackenzie Morgan suffering from heat exhaustion unfortunately did not finish, so the New Zealand team did not register a score in the U20 women’s event.

Running at a blistering pace at the end of the first of three 2km laps at Mount Panorama, it was Earl in 38th who led the Kiwi challenge with Lund four places further back. However, Lund, the New Zealand U18 cross country champion, made a massive move on lap two advancing 12 places up the leader board to sit 30th at two-thirds distance. The 17-year-old maintained her inspired run on the final lap to move up three further places and stop the clock in 23:24. Senayet Getechew of Ethiopia 20:53 claimed the gold medal.

Lund, who is co-coached by Rebekah Greene, who competed in the mixed team relay for New Zealand, said: “I’m proud and pretty surprised with how I ran. The main concern before the race was the heat, so I ran under the hoses and I was completely drenched before the start.

“It was very hard, but there were a lot of downhills and I’m quite good at catching people on the downhill.”

Athletics Tauranga duo Matt Hill and Elliott Pugh prospered in the men’s U20 race to place 38th and 39th – the best finishing positions by Kiwis in this race at a World Cross Country Championships for 30 years. With Pakuranga AC pair Ronan Codyre finishing 51st and Angus Monro crossing the line 60th the Kiwi men placed tenth overall. Unfortunately, Christian De Vaal and Jamie Mora, also of the Pakuranga club, retired through heat exhaustion. This was particularly disappointing for De Vaal, who was positioned 21st leading into the final lap and poised for an outstanding result. Kenyan Ishmael Kipkurui won a tight battle for victory in 24:29.

It was, nonetheless, an excellent display by Hill, who only took up running 18 months ago and who wisely prepared for the challenge of competing in intense heat by regularly jumping into the sauna for 20 minutes after training sessions.

“I’m stoked, I couldn’t real ask for any better,” said Hill. “I was expecting to get smoked, but I’m really happy. It was hard on Christian (De Vaal) that he pulled out. I saw him lying down after the vines and I was urging him to get up and try and finish the race.

“I did a lot of work in the sauna and my coach, Andrew Lloyd, said it is the best training I can do for preparing for the heat. I really enjoyed the course I liked swerving in and out of like the tyres it was a cool twist and I felt in that section I could just sit behind people.”

New Zealand team manager in Bathurst John Bowden said: “I was really pleased with the performance of the team. We got four top ten placings in the team events and a number of top 50 individual placings. All the athletes will have learned a lot from the experience which I’m sure they will benefit their future careers.”

Full results here