Debutants lead the way as Aussies show true grit at World Athletics Cross Country

Australia has continued its rich tradition in distance running at the 2024 World Athletics Cross Country Championships, with strong team performances across the board led by the nation’s senior men as debutants Haftu Strintzos and Edward Marks steered Australia to fifth position in Belgrade, Serbia.


After breaking the tape at the Australian Cross Country Trials last month, Strintzos (VIC, Craig Mottram) delivered a statement performance upon his debut in the green and gold, placing 23rd in the field of 111 runners, demonstrating his prowess and potential on the international stage.


“It was pretty competitive out there. I was pretty confident going out there with so many veterans of racing in our team, even without any World Cross Country experience in the past,” Strintzos said.


“It was a true cross country course. I went out pretty hard and I was pretty ambitious as we all were, but I’m pretty proud of how we held ourselves as a team.”


Fellow debutant Marks (VIC, Collis Birmingham) was hot on the heels of his fellow Australian debutant in 24th place over five laps of the two-kilometre course, as Olympians Liam Adams (VIC, Ken Hall) and Patrick Tiernan (QLD, Alistair and Amy Cragg) made it four Australians in the top 30, placing 29th and 30th respectively.


Andre Waring (VIC, Steve Dinneen) added to the team’s strong showing with a 46th place finish, as Zach Facioni (VIC, Craig Mottram) rounded out the Australians in 51st place.


The collective efforts of the top-four Australian placings secured the nation a top-five finish in the teams event, claiming fifth overall with 106 points behind powerhouse countries Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Spain.


“I won’t lie, I didn’t know how we would fare as a team, but it was really inspiring out there. It shows just what a great place Australian distance running is in. It’s something we as a team and as a country should be really proud of,” Tiernan said.


Taking in the team aspect of the purest form of distance running, Facioni reflected on the brutal contest:


“We all have something to be proud of today. The beauty of cross country is that it is bigger than any one individual athlete. We had some amazing individual performances today but as a team, we really stepped up and that was something really cool to see.”


In her first Australian team since 2019, Paige Campbell (NSW, Dick Telford) was valiant in her pursuit of a top-20 finish in the Women’s 10km race, racing boldly when registering a 31st placing in her climb back to the top of Australia’s distance ranks.


34-year-old Melissa Duncan (VIC), the only other Australian in the Women’s open field, finished 53rd overall, as a sweep of Kenyans took the first five places with Beatrice Chebet successfully defending her global title.


Leaning on her experience from the Bathurst iteration of the Championships last year, Gabrielle Schmidt (QLD, Kerry Schrieber) was the highest placed Australian junior in the Women’s Under 20 6km, assisting the junior women’s team to seventh place overall on 138 points.


The rising star was proud to hold her own amongst the might of the East African nations, finishing her race in 21st place overall, despite the scorching conditions.


Over three laps of the course, 15-year-old Sienna Bush (QLD, Melanie Black) impressed battling her way to 36th place, in front of Western Australian Charli-Rose Carlyon (Dick Telford) who finished 38th overall – one place higher than at her debut in Bathurst.


Alexandra Schulz (VIC, Liz Matthews) added to the Australian team point score in 43rd place, while Gretta Johnson (QLD, Chris Gale & Lizel Moore) and Emma de Jong (VIC, Karen Moir) rounded out the results with 53rd and 55th place respectively.


A gruelling battle over 8km saw Jack Coomber (QLD, Jayden Russ) lead the way for the Under 20 men, as the boy from Brisbane raced to 34th place – improving upon his 49th place from 2023.


Racing aggressively over the first lap, Coomber finished three places ahead of fellow Queenslander and training partner Charlie Moore (37th), while Commonwealth Youth Games representative Ky Hehir (WA, Matthew Ramsden) tussled for 44th place.


Logan Tickell (VIC, Andrew Buchanan) finished in 51st place, as fellow debutants Padraig Heffernan (QLD, Ben Norton) and Seth Mahony (QLD, Jayden Russ) completed the course in 53rd and 60th place respectively.


By Sascha Ryner, Athletics Australia
Posted: 31/3/2024

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