World Athletics President Sebastian Coe underlined the importance of the World Athletics Cross Country Championships on the eve of this year’s event in Belgrade on 30 March.

Speaking at the pre-event press conference at Belgrade’s Town Hall, Coe explained how cross-country running is often a springboard to success on other surfaces.

“I’m delighted to be joined by these great athletes today, and I’m grateful they’ve made time to help spread the important message,” said Coe. “Cross country is an integral part in the development pathway for many endurance athletes.

“I’m particularly pleased to be at our second World Athletics Series event of the year, following the World Indoor Championships in Glasgow just a few weeks ago. I’m delighted that our second World Championships of 2024 will be here in Belgrade – a city we’re now becoming very familiar with. In recent years it has served not just European Athletics but World Athletics very well.

“We gave Belgrade a very compacted timeframe to deliver these championships, but from the very outset the commitment was immediate and instant,” added Coe. “I’m looking forward to watching almost 500 athletes from about 50 teams compete tomorrow, many of whom will be looking to use this as a platform towards the Olympic Games in Paris later this year.”

Aleksandar Šapic, the Mayor of Belgrade, spoke of his pride in welcoming the world to his city.

“I’m very honoured and glad that we’ve been given the opportunity to host one of biggest world-class athletics events,” he said. “It’s the fourth time Belgrade has hosted a big athletics competition, following on from the 2013 European Cross, the 2017 European Indoors, and the 2022 World Indoor Championships. I’d like to wish all athletes a beautiful stay in Belgrade and I hope you all achieve great results in tomorrow’s races.”

Serbian Athletics Federation President Veselin Jevrosimović was also delighted to be hosting another major athletics event.

“Serbia is the only country in the world that has hosted two World Championships within the past two years,” he said. “Along with the 2013 European Cross and 2017 European Indoors, all of our events were praised for their high level of organisation, and I have no doubt tomorrow’s championships will be the same.”

Defending senior women’s champion Beatrice Chebet explained how her victory in Bathurst last year set her up for the best season of her career to date.

“My 2023 season was a great one,” said the Kenyan. “It started in Australia, winning the world cross-country title, which motivated me a lot and set me up for the rest of the year. I went on to win the 5000m bronze medal in Budapest, then in Riga I won the 5km and at the end of the year I broke the world 5km record in Barcelona.

“Kenya has a strong team here, so hopefully we’ll return home with more medals and the team title.”

Defending senior men’s champion Jacob Kiplimo is also hopeful of returning to his home country with more medals.

The Ugandan won the U20 title on home soil in Kampala in 2017, then earned senior silver in 2019 before winning gold in Bathurst last year.

“I have done a lot of training for this event and I’m excited to race tomorrow,” he said. “I think it will be a good race, and hopefully we’ll see the Ugandan flag flying during the medal ceremonies.”

Three-time European cross-country champion Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal said she’s excited to be contesting her first World Cross since 2010.

“I love cross country and I’ve done a lot of European championships, and this time the World Cross is in Europe so it was an easy event for me to attend,” said the Norwegian. “I want to test my form and see how my winter training has been going.

“It’s difficult for me to pick a favourite surface,” she added. “Cross country is something I’ve always enjoyed and been good at, but I also like to chase times, which leads me more to the road and track.”

Serbia’s European indoor 3000m bronze medallist Elzan Bibic explained how he’s looking forward to competing on a global stage on home soil.

“I’m really proud that my country is hosting another world-class competition, and it’s a pleasure to compete in front of a home crowd,” said Bibic. “I’m glad we’ve gathered this many champions for the event.

“I’ll be running the first leg for Serbia in the mixed relay,” he added. “We’ll do our best and aim to finish in the top half.

“I hope all of the runners and coaches enjoy the competition.” – WORLD ATHLETICS

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