The first international cross country championship for women was held in 1931, and thirteen more times through 1972. England won 12 of these early championships, losing only in 1968 and 1969 (to the United States). American Doris Brown won five consecutive individual titles between 1967 and 1971.
Beginning in 1973, the IAAF began hosting the renamed World Cross Country Championships each year. In 1975, the New Zealand men and United States women won, marking the first championships by non European countries. In 1981 an African nation (Ethiopia) won the mens race for the first time, and a decade later an African nation (Kenya) won the womens race for the first time. Ethiopia or Kenya has captured every mens title since 1981 and every womens title since 2001. Through 2010, Kenya has won 40 World Cross Country Championships and Ethiopia has won 23.