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New Zealand Team All Set For World Cross Challenge In Serbia

An 18-strong New Zealand team are all set to compete at the 2024 World Athletics Cross Country Championships in Belgrade, Serbia on Saturday-Sunday (30-31 March NZT) aiming for a positive showing in the race commonly regarded as the most competitive endurance race in the sport.

Attracting 485 entrants from 51 nations the latest edition of the 51-year-old event will provide a stern test for our athletes as they take to the start line at Friendship Park.

Five women will line up for the 10km senior women’s race led by reigning national cross country champion Anneke Arlidge, who last year competed in the New Zealand mixed relay team at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, Australia.

Arlidge, whose mum Glenys Kroon was a former New Zealand representative at the World Cross Country Championships, is joined on the team by 2023 senior women’s national cross country silver medallist Annika Pfitzinger who is also emulating her mum, Chrissie Pfitzinger, as a former World Cross Country Championship rep for New Zealand.

Also featuring in the New Zealand team are UK-based Kiwi Georgie Grgec, who last year posted a swift 10km road time of 32:25, Australian-based Caitlin McQuilken-Bell, who was fourth at the 2023 New Zealand Cross Country Championships, and former national 800m, 1500m and 10,000m champion Katherine Camp.

Among their chief opposition will be defending senior women’s World Cross Country champion Beatrice Chebet of Kenya. The New Zealand women will also be chasing a good result in the team competition with the top four Kiwi finishers contributing to the overall team position which is determined on the lowest aggregate of points.

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Grgec, 30, said: “I’ve long dreamed of making my debut in the Black Singlet and I can’t wait to compete. My preparations have gone well for World Cross, all I hope is I can give a good account of myself against what will be a world-class field in Belgrade.”

Recently minted New Zealand 5000m champion William Little is the sole New Zealand representative in the 10km senior men’s race. Little, who has enjoyed a breakout year also winning national mile and 3000m bronze medals, will face a stellar international field including the past champions; the Ugandan duo – Jacob Kiplimo and Joshua Cheptegei.

Little said: “My leg speed is there, but I know the fields are really strong. I just want to get amongst it and try to hold on. It’s exciting to compete at a World Cross Country Championships and I want to make my training group and my family proud.”

New Zealand boast a full complement of six athletes in both the men’s and women’s U20 races race. In the latter event – which is contested over 6km - national U20 cross country and 5000m champion Catherine Lund competes hoping to better her excellent 27th place finish in the women’s U20 race at the 2023 World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst. National U20 800m and 1500m gold medallist Boh Ritchie, who was 41st in the 2023 edition, also returns for her second World Cross appearance.

New Zealand U20 3000m and 5000m silver medallist Zara Geddes and national U20 3000m champion Poppy Martin also toe the line in the Serbian capital. The team is rounded out by national U18 1500m and 3000m silver medallist Siena Mackley and New Zealand Secondary Schools cross country bronze medallist Ava Sutherland.

Two of the U20 men’s team return for a second crack at the World Cross Country Championships having competed at the event in Bathurst last year. Matt Hill and Ellott Pugh, who finished top New Zealanders in 38th and 39th in Australia both compete while 2024 national U20 5000m champion George Wyllie is also selected.

Also comprising the New Zealand team in the 8km men’s U20 race are national secondary schools cross country and 1500m champion country champion Daniel Prescott and Az Cabusao and Lorcan Rabbitte, who finished third and fourth, respectively, in the U20 5000m earlier this month.

Team Leader Jason Cameron said: “The World Cross Country Championships has a huge history within New Zealand and we are delighted that 18 athletes will compete at the event including full men’s and women’s U20 teams. Belgrade will represent a massive challenge for our athletes, but we are capable of top ten finishes in the team events which will represent a performance to be proud of against the global endurance elite.”

The largely flat loop of 1887m – which includes a start and finish straight of 270m and 340m – also comprises two arch bridges, a hay maze and classic cross country obstacles including a hurdle and dirt/mud section.

***The first race on the programme the Women’s U20 takes place at 11pm (NZT) on Saturday 30 March with the final race the senior men’s event taking place from 1.30pm (NZT) on Sunday 31 March.

© Scoop Media

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