There are no championships quite like the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. Steven Mills takes a look at some photographic gems from the event’s colourful history.

1973 – Waregem, Belgium

A small handful of nations and less than 300 runners took part in the first ever edition of the championships, which won by Pekka Paivarinta from Finland.

The men’s race was eventful to say the least. It was disrupted by protesters who forced joint leader Neil Cusack from Ireland to drop out. Spain’s Mariano Haro was even pushed into a ditch, but he somehow recovered to finish just 0.1sec behind the Finn in the closest finish in the event's history.  

1973 WXC SPIKES ()

1979 – Limerick, Ireland

Another course invasion was just about averted at the 1979 edition of the championships. An estimated 25,000 boisterous fans packed around Green Park Racecourse in Limerick to watch Ireland’s John Treacy retain his title on home-soil.  

“I was terrified they would knock me over or that so many would come onto the course that it would be impossible for the others to finish,” remembered Treacy, who required a police escort to leave the course. 

1979 WXC SPIKES ()

1981 – Madrid, Spain

Ethiopia looked set to leave Madrid with a clean sweep on their world cross debut as their leading runners surged to the front en masse with the finish-line in sight. Yet they somehow managed to come home with just one medal. 

The finish might have been close by, but they had also committed a gross miscalculation. Officials gestured to the bemused Ethiopian contingent that there was still a lap to go, with only Mohamed Kedir, who finished second to Craig Virgin, maintaining his position while his team-mates faded out of contention.

Their blushes were saved in part as they still came away with the team title, while Kedir made amends with individual and team gold the following year in 1982.

The senior men's race at the 1981 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Madrid (Mark Shearman)

1983 – Gateshead, United Kingdom

Marathon pioneer Grete Waitz might have felt more at home on a longer course, but the legendary Norwegian ground out her fifth title over 4km in the women’s senior race – a still-standing record – in Gateshead in 1983. 

The senior race has almost doubled in distance since Waitz was at her pomp, but her winning margin of 46 seconds over a 4.8km course in 1980 remains the largest to date. 

1983 WXC SPIKES ()

1989 – Stavanger, Norway

“Miles and miles of never ending mud and water" was how Athletics Weekly described the course for the 1989 World Cross Country Championships in Stavanger.

Kenyan strongman John Ngugi ploughed through the heavy-underfoot conditions to win his fourth title ahead of Tim Hutchings on a course to please the traditionalists.

1989 WXC SPIKES ()

1993 – Amorebieta, Spain

The Kenyan women only made their debut in 1987, but their runners quickly left an indelible print on the champs. Not a pair of spikes between them – and all aged 17 or under – the Kenyans swept the top four places in the junior women's race.  

1993 WXC SPIKES ()

1998 – Marrakech, Morocco

Twelve months after a recreational park in the centre of Turin in 1997 hosted the champs, an olive grove in Marrakech provided one of the most contrasting settings. 

The crowd, including camels and the odd vulture, watched on with interest as Sonia O'Sullivan won the long course and the newly-introduced (but since discontinued) short course titles, while Paul Tergat won a fourth men’s senior title on the bounce. 

1998 WXC SPIKES ()

2001 – Ostend, Belgium

After a myriad of near misses, Paula Radcliffe finally claimed the senior long course title on some of the worst underfoot conditions possible in Ostend in 2001. 

The manner of her win surprised almost everyone, as Radcliffe kept favourite Gete Wami at bay on the long finishing straight for victory on her eighth attempt.

2001 WXC SPIKES ()

2007 – Mombasa, Kenya

The question of how to beat Kenenisa Bekele, whose dominance of the world cross in the mid-2000s is akin to Usain Bolt's in the sprints over the last decade, had perennially eluded his rivals until Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese found the winning formula in Mombasa eight years ago.

On a punishingly hot and humid day, Tadese's attritional front-running tactics brought the most bemedalled runner in world cross history to a standstill – all to the relish of a partisan Kenyan crowd who cheered Ethiopian Bekele’s demise with as much gusto as their home wins. 

2007 WXC SPIKES ()

2008 – Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Tirunesh Dibaba overcame a mid-race stitch, and some sizeable pre-race distractions, to regain her title on a demanding course in Edinburgh in 2008. 

“I didn’t warm up a lot,” admitted Dibaba, although her lack of focus was certainly forgivable. “I was watching Genzebe’s race and I was very anxious for her, more anxious than I was for myself.”

Following the example set by younger sis, Tirunesh matched Genzebe’s efforts with individual, as well as team gold. 

2008 WXC SPIKES ()