Letesenbet Gidey collapses with just metres to go when holding a seemingly winning lead in the senior women’s race in Bathurst, allowing Beatrice Chebet to storm through for gold
In the 50-year history of the World Cross Country Championships there have rarely been more dramatic moments than the finish of the women’s race at the 2023 event in Bathurst. Despite holding a sizeable lead into the home straight, Letesenbet Gidey collapsed just metres from the line as Beatrice Chebet blasted past to take the title.
The Ethiopian arrived in Bathurst as world record-holder at 5000m, 10,000m and half-marathon. She is also reigning world 10,000m champion. Certainly she is not short of stamina as her half-marathon best is a phenomenal 62:57.
So when Gidey broke away from Chebet with about four minutes of racing left, she looked certain to add the senior crown to the under-20 titles she won in 2015 and 2017.
Gidey held a lead of six seconds as she zig-zagged through the tyres with roughly 400m to go and around five seconds coming through the final bend approaching the finish, but on the last downhill stretch she looked exhausted and began to stagger before suddenly collapsing to the ground with about 30 metres to go.
Not quite believing her fortune, Chebet showed no mercy by storming past at almost the exact moment the Ethiopian hit the ground. Stupidly, a couple of Ethiopians then broke on to the course to help Gidey up, leading to her being disqualified.
It helped Kenya secure team gold by six points from Ethiopia, with Uganda third. Ethiopia’s curse in this race in recent years continues, too, as their last winner was Tirunesh Dibaba back in 2008.
Chebet, who won world silver and Commonwealth gold at 5000m last year, clocked 33:48 over this gruelling 10km course as silver went to Tsigie Gebreselama of Ethiopia in 33:56, with Agnes Ngetich of Kenya third in 34:00.
“I didn’t expect to win but she was slowing,” Chebet said. “I saw my chance and I decided to kick. I felt she didn’t have any more. I knew she couldn’t threaten me. I knew I had the potential to go on and win. I was still feeling strong. I knew I could do it.”
Chebet is used to winning exciting finishes as well as she took under-20 world cross gold in Aarhus four years ago when three athletes crossed the line in a blanket finish. Now aged 22, she has been in good form lately as well with victory in the Cinque Mulini race in Italy earlier this year.
“This win has given me strength and courage and potential,” Chebet added. “I am very happy to win, it was not easy. I have won this race as a junior and now as a senior. It was a matter of endurance and believing in myself.”
READ MORE: World Cross coverage from Bathurst
Nozomi Tanaka of Japan was first non-African home in 14th.
Abbie Donnelly was first Brit home in 24th in 35:53, one place ahead of Amelia Quirk.
Poppy Tank was 32nd and Megan Keith 52nd as the British team finished in sixth place – and top Europeans – behind the fourth-placed Australians and fifth-placed Americans.
Donnelly said: “I’ve never run in these conditions – I’m much more used to snow, ice, rain – so I am really pleased with how we did. Perhaps I’ll learn to love the heat now. I do feel proud as it was a really long journey, but this has made the 27-hour journey worthwhile. We timed it well and were able to pick off some athletes on that last lap despite the tiredness.”
Quirk, who had an injury-hit spell in the early part of the winter, added: “The Billabong [section] was hard, but I did manage to go through and even overtake a few there. It was particularly pleasing to overtake some Aussies there as the crowd were very loud and supportive of all of us. I went out conservatively after speaking with my coach. We really took it on out there and we’ve nothing left and that’s how it should be.”
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