The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed to see such fun,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

I’m no ‘dish’, maybe, but last time I was in Denmark, I did run away with a spoon. Still got it, too.

Back in the mists of time, I twice visited Copenhagen. It was on the second occasion that I acquired the spoon. I can’t clearly recall whether a knife and fork originally accompanied it, though I assume they did. If that was the case, both are long gone.

Why the spoon didn’t go at the same time, again, is something I can’t explain. But it hung on and has been living amongst our kitchen cutlery ever since. If it has sentimental value, it has acquired it only through survival. The spoon has become a respected member of our household and the family (largely) indulge my right to exclusive use of it for my WeetBix (it helps that I sulk when they don’t).

This week I was back in Copenhagen for a two-day visit en route to the world cross-country championships in Aarhus. Denmark’s capital is a compact city, devoid of hills, which makes it ideal for exploration by foot or the bicycle, which is pretty much the universal mode of transport.

Athletically, Denmark used to be part of the Scandinavia circuit back in the day with major meetings in both Copenhagen and Aarhus, the country’s second-largest city. ‘Clarkie’ raced there – in truth, it is easier to list the places Ron did not race rather than the ones he did; so, too, did the likes of Graham Crouch, Ken Hall and Dave Fitzsimons.

The one performance I thought I could definitely remember amongst all that was a win by Gerard Barrett over 10,000 metres in Aarhus. Turns out the provenance of that performance is about as dodgy as the origins of my spoon. Looking through the almanacs of Australian performances on Athletics Australia’s website shows that Barrett in fact won a 10,000 in Copenhagen on 11 August, 1979, so I guess that’s the one.

Anyway, a large team of Australians will have the chance to do something memorable in Aarhus this weekend. Let’s hope plenty of them do, for this shapes up as a memorable cross-country.

We travelled up from Copenhagen by train, arriving at midday on race eve. Within a couple of hours we were out at the course at Moesgaard Museum, a course which pretty well justifies everything that has been written about it.

Tough? A walk around the course was hard enough. The start is uphill, the finish downhill and everything in between is either one, or the other. If you’re a Victorian winter athlete, think of either of the past two course used for the 8km cross-country – Wandin North and St Anne’s Winery at Myrniong – and you’ll get the idea. Nationally – maybe the course at Maleny on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast hinterland.

It’s the sort of course on which the tough will thrive, others will fall by the wayside. And, to modify Dylan’s Times, they are a’changin lyrics, if you do stop swimming you will sink like a stone. A last-lap blow-up of the kind suffered by Joshua Cheptegei two years ago in Kampala could see someone quite easily lose a couple of minutes and 50 places.

The uphill start dictates that the charge off the line will not be as fast as in previous years (though the energy cost may well be as high, even higher), and once most of the initial climbing is done it is a matter of up and down as the course winds its way around the crest of the hill – sharp drops followed by steep climbs. Then it’s into the tricked-up hazards – the water splash, the mud and sand pits – before the museum roof, even steeper than it looks.

Coming down off the roof will be no picnic, as it’s a very tight downhill curve into either the next lap or a 70-metre downhill sprint to the finish.

There’s a couple of elements you might quibble with: a 10m-wide sand section near the top of the roof climb seems a case of adding insult to injury, while the relatively short 15-20 metres between the finish line and a television/photographers stand might cause pile-ups as runners sprint through the line.

Overall, though, it is going to be an exciting experience for everyone involved. For the athletes, aching quads for a week. For the spectators – well, it’s the sort of course where you could get very tired just watching.

Will these championships throw up shock winners. Could this twisting, testing course shake, or even break, the east African hegemony of recent times. For the first time in a long while, it is not just the competitors who are wondering just what tomorrow will bring.