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Inspired team performance by the Australians at the World Cross Country Championships

Sunday, 31 March 2019 | Rob Cumbrae-Stewart



No doubt inspired by the recent announcement that Australia will host the next edition of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, the Australians have recorded their best team result in 10 years at the championships, held in Aarhus, Denmark, last night. The open women were fifth in the teams – the highest place by any Australian team since 2008. In the juniors, Lauren Carey placed a brilliant 16th and in the men’s Sam Clifford was 30th - these were the highest places by Aussies for 10 years in their respective races. They are aged just 15 and 16 years respectively.


The first Aussies to test out the course were the under-20 women, in their 6km event. Sarah Schiffmann, aged 15 and the second youngest Australian in history to run at the world cross country joined the Africans at the head of the field. She later explained.

“They (the Africans) didn’t star fast at all. They waited until they got a group together then they took off. And I think I went a bit quick at the start, but it was a really good experience.”

After the first lap, Schiffmann and Lauren Carey were in about 30th place, 10 seconds behind the leaders. By lap two Carey was really moving up, now 16th, while Schiffmann paid for the early pace, was now in the mid-40s. Carey maintained her position to the finish where the 15 athletes ahead of her comprising two Japanese and 13 Africans.

“I’m so happy, it was the best feeling out there,” said Carey. “So many people were supporting and if they didn’t know who you were, were still calling out ‘go Australia, go Carey’ reading the last name on your bib.”

Schiffmann ran home strong picking up a few places, placing 42nd, while teammate Lucinda Crouch closed quicker to place 38th.

Schiffmann was positive about the performance. “Not as well as I would have liked but it was a really good experience running with the Africans.”

Abbey Caldwell (72th) and Nikita Moore (80th) completed the Australian team. 

We have to go back to Emily Brichacek’s 11th in 2009 to find a better result by an Aussie in this race.

In the team’s results they placed eighth (168 points) just behind Great Britain but ahead of France and China.

U20 women 6km results:

16th Lauren Carey N 22:02 - Highest place by an Aussie for 10 years

38th Lucinda Crouch Q 23:02

42nd Sarah Schiffmann N 23:11

72nd Abbey Caldwell V 24:12

80th Nikita Moore Q 24:32


The men’s U20 race was rather intriguing as the two leading Aussies at the finish, Sam Clifford and Jackson Sharp, started conservatively, passing the first lap in around 70th place. Over the next lap Sharp motored up to 34th, while Clifford advanced to 47th. On lap four, they continued to progress, not up to 31st and 38th receptively. Over the last lap they seemed to swap places as Clifford finished in 30th, while trials winner, Sharp was eight seconds behind in 36th.

“Being first Australian across the line in a world cross country event is so humbling,” said a modest Clifford. “It has been a dream of mine just to run at a world cross country, ever since I was 10 it has been a goal in my journey in athletics and now to be on the world stage is satisfying.”

He also explained the conservative start.

“At the start it was very argy-bargy on the first couple of laps, then your body got used to the conditions as you tried to get into a rhythm.”

Queenslander Chekole Getenet ran home strongly for 43rd, followed by Oli Raimond 78th and Tommy Campbell 85th.

For the 16-year-old Clifford it was a high-quality performance, and matched Carey’s achievement of the highest placed Aussie in the event for 10 years – since 2009. It bettered the 33rd in 2013 by current NCAA cross country champion from Sydney, Morgan McDonald.

The team was ninth (187 points) and like the women just behind the Brits. They were also ahead of France and Canada.

U20 men 8km results:

30th Sam Clifford T 26:25 – Highest place by an Aussie for 10 years

36th Jackson Sharp N  26:33

43rd Chekole Getenet Q 26:40

78th Oli Raimond N 27:55           

85th Tommy Campbell Q 28:14

5 Liam Gorman N DNF   


This was the strongest overall performance by the Aussies. Individually the leading Australian Melissa Duncan ran fairly consistently throughout the race, to placed 26th – the highest place by an Aussie since 2010. 

Duncan really enjoyed the experience today.

“I had so much fun. You can’t go out too aggressively, you have to be relaxed and enjoy it and that is the focus. I was in no man’s land on the third/fourth laps and I probably could have gone faster but I didn’t want to in case I lost it in the last lap. I was managing my energy. Knowing how much energy you have left was bit of a challenge on a course like that.”

One of the big improvers this summer, Paige Campbell, followed her usual pattern of starting conservatively and was in 57th place after the first lap, but she ran home strongly to placed 29th, just five seconds behind Duncan. There were more strong Aussie performances with Emily Brichacek 35th, Marnie Ponton 44th and Leanne Pompeani 45th, making it five in the top-50. Caitlin Adams was 69th.

Combined they placed fifth in the teams event, just edged by Great Britain 132 to 134 points. The top-3 were Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. Australia easily accounted for USA, Canada, France, Spain and Japan.

Duncan was not surprised with the great team result which was the best for over a decade.

“All week the whole Australian team responded really well very supportive of one another. We have a really good vibe throughout the team and that really helped because we wanted to help each other get through. Six of us are all best friends which is really nice. We didn’t know each other before this trip but we have got on really well and that team camaraderie has helped us do really well.”

Open women 10km results:

26th Melissa Duncan V 38:47  

29th Paige Campbell N 38:52      

35th Emily Brichacek A 39:18   

44th Marnie Ponton N 39:43

45th Leanne Pompeani A 39:46 

69th Caitlin Adams S 40:42     


The open men’s team, tipped as a medal prospect, were stuck a blow when one of the best in the team, Stewart McSweyn, had to withdraw on the morning of the race after spending the week in bed with a viral infection. However, that didn’t stop a strong team performance, placing eighth ahead of Great Britain and USA.

On the first lap, four of the Aussies ran together with just two seconds separating them all around 50th place. After another four laps of the 2km circuit, Brett Robinson and late selection, Matt Ramsden, had moved into the top-40 by the finish with Robinson 30th and Ramsden a surprising 39th. For Robinson it was a typical consistent and competitive result following his 28th and 29th in previous appearances. For Ramsden, a young, 1500m specialist, it was a surprisingly good result.

Open men 10km results:

30th Brett Robinson V 33:34

39th Matt Ramsden W 33:56

56th Harry Summers V 34:23

63rd Jack Rayner V 34:33

95th Jack Bruce Q 35:32

Out of his sick-bed to support his team mates, Stewart McSweyn spoke about the reason he was a non-starter.

“It is pretty disappointing. Any time you get a chance to represent Australia you want to be out there. The circumstances over the last week, with a virus, I was not able to race. It was a pretty easy decision in the end. I tried to go for a jog yesterday, but I struggled so it was pretty obvious on this cross-country course I wouldn’t be able to compete.”

Examining the overall results by the team, you are left with the confidence Australia will be able to secure a medal or two in Bathurst in two years from now.

Thanks to assistance by team management Susan Hobson & Lisa Verstraten who organised athletes quotes.

David Tarbotton for Athletics Australia


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