Yves Sikubwabo of Quebec City, QC will be representing Canada at the mixed relay in Aarhus, Denmark as part of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. Pictured here in 2017, he had just won the U Sport national championships in Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, BC. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall.

© Copyright – 2019 – Athletics Illustrated

The International Association of Athletics Federations, under the direction of President Sebastian Coe, are looking to make cross-country the crown jewel of athletics again – it’s been a long time.

Once an all-star type environment where the best middle-distance and long-distance athletes would gather to compete in cross-country, the event has languished over the past 20 or more years, nearly becoming an all-Africa meet. Part of the changes includes adding a festival-like environment, going to new markets and creating tougher courses that harken back to the event’s glory days. For the 2019 IAAF meet taking place in Aarhus, Denmark, the course will be more difficult and will include a route that will require runners to run over the roof of a museum, via ramps.

A relay was added in the 2017 edition. Canada will field a team for the first time in Aarhus.

For the relay, Athletics Canada selected six athletes. The eight-kilometre relay will take place on March 30 – a day that will feature five different cross country races.

John Gay will be representing Canada for the first ever Team Canada mixed relay. He is pictured here after winning the Vikes Invitational in 2018 in Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, BC. photo credit: Christopher Kelsall.

“The mixed relay allows more of Canada’s distance runners the opportunity to test themselves against international competition. And since all of the athletes on the team have international experience, we strongly believe a Top 8 finish is promising even with the world’s most dominant distance running nations taking part,” said John Lofranco, head coach of Canada’s IAAF World Cross Country team.

Two men and two women will make up each team, who will each run one loop of the course, in any order they wish. The baton will be a wrist band passed to a teammate during a 20-metre long exchange zone.

Kenya won in 2017, finishing in the time of 22:22. John Gay and Regan Yee both of Greater Vancouver are named to the team.

“The World Cross Country Championships have been described as the greatest footrace on earth, and to be part of that is very exciting. The addition of a Canadian mixed relay team adds to the excitement, as it will be the first time Canadian men and women compete in the same race at the senior cross country level,” said Gay. “The concept of a race that is mid-distance in length, while ruggedly cross country in nature, will make for some thrilling action. As a steeplechase specialist, the distance and terrain will cater well to my strengths. I’m excited to race hard and make Canada’s first foray into the mixed relay an outstanding success.”

“We used to run a mixed cross country relay when I was in university (Lake Padden Relays) to kick-off the season and I loved it,” said Yee. “Relays really pull teams together in a sport that can be very individual, which is the aspect of relays that I enjoy the most.” When asked what it will be like to compete in the mixed relay for Canada, Yee added “it’s an incredible feeling to be at the start line knowing you are representing Canada and that there are family, friends and even strangers back home supporting you. I can’t wait to get out there and make ‘em proud.”

Justin Kent after winning the 2018 GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon’s 8K road race in Victoria, BC. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall.

As Gay alluded to, “world cross country starts fast and gets even faster as the race progresses,” said Lofranco. “There is not a lot of time to make-up lost ground, so we’ll be pushing the Canadian team to get up front and hang on. It is sure to be a physical race, so they will need to stand their ground.”

It’s not just the fierce competition the mixed relay team will face, but an unprecedented course that has 75 metres of elevation, looping through grass and open woodland that will see athletes pass through sand pits and mud. The course peaks as it takes the runners up the steep grass roof of the Moesgaard Museum. Overall, it is a challenging course that will take cross-country back to its roots.

Representing Canada in the mixed relay at the 2019 IAAF World Cross Country Championships will be Vancouver area runners except for Yves Sikubwabo:

Athlete Hometown Coach Club
Lindsay Carson Burnaby, B.C. Mark Bomba Langley Mustangs
Erica Digby Vancouver, B.C. Richard Lee Mile2Marathon
John Gay Vancouver, B.C. Chris Johnson Vancouver Thunderbirds
Justin Kent Burnaby, B.C. Richard Lee / Scott Kent Coastal Track Club
Yves Sikubwabo Quebec, Que. Félix-Antoine Lapointe C.A. Université Laval
Regan Yee Vancouver, B.C. Mark Bomba Langley Mustangs

For more information on the 2019 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, visit www.iaaf.org.