Edinburgh welcomed the world yesterday. The world replied by chattering its teeth in a variety of languages.

The tented village reverberated to the sound of a Scottish summer: the rattle of rain on a roof. Outside, there was the most dramatic of settings, populated by a cast of eccentric extras. It was early morning in the shadow of the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the majesty of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships beckoned.

There was greatness around Arthur's Seat yesterday in the shape of athletes of class and renown but the natural amphitheatre was crowded, too, with a variety that reflected the global nature of the occasion.

Tirunesh Dibaba and Kenenisa Bekele, both of Ethiopia, won the women's and men's titles respectively. Bekele even had the gall to do so in Alf Tupper style. He lost his shoe, went back for it and still romped home.

Yet this was more than an athletics meeting; it was an occasion. It was a function, too, where someone had forgotten to turn on the heating. The guests turned up, to be greeted in typical Scottish fashion with a blast of wind and rain and a hearty clap on the shoulder.

Scottish youngsters carried the banners of countries such as Yemen, Chile and Turkmenistan for whom the medal podium could have been on Everest, never mind in the shadow of Arthur's Seat, for all they were concerned. They had come to compete, not win. Thousands had come to watch. This was a spectacle enjoyed by those such as head of states, diplomats and the unnamed Scottish toddler who enjoyed the mud so much that only his teeth were white. He will be identified by his dental records. And presumably by his parents who watched in dismay, then laughter.

The envoy and the puddle dancer were surrounded by a mass of colour and noise. There was the Nigerian wearing a See You Jimmy wig. There was Sheboom, the band of women drummers from Glasgow, who invigorated the world championships with their noise and are now heading for a gig at a Glasgow open day. Today the world, tomorrow Ruchill.

There was the clump of spectators perched on a hill all wearing German hats. "Do you speak English," I gently inquired. "Well almost," one replied. "We're from Greenock." German hats off, then, to Alan, Stevie and others from Greenock Glenpark Harriers who had adopted Susanne Hahn, the only German representative at the championships, and who finished 33rd in her race.

If the spectators were colourful, so were the competitors. There was Nandipha Dywili who ran round the course wearing a bunnet that made her resemble an extra from a Stella Artois ad and with no shoes. There could be no explanation for the hat. The lack of footwear is probably explained by having to travel from South Africa through Terminal 5 at Heathrow. There was also Gaylord Silly, the only Seychellian in the athletes' village.

Above all, though, there was Bekele. Holyrood Park is an extraordinary arena and it witnessed an extraordinary performance from a legend of the sporting world. The route of the race crept up Haggis Knowe, a knoll surrounded by higher vantage points. These were occupied by hundred of spectators. They peered down on the runners with the fascination normally the preserve of birds of prey targeting small mammals.

The onlookers became noisily animated, though, as the athletes tackled the cruel, cruel hill. The natural grandstand exploded with a mixture of sounds. A growling roar was overlaid on the defiant playing of a lone piper and the clanging of Swiss cow bells. It was a sort of mixture of Hampden, the Tour de France and the White Heather Club.

The crest of the knowe was the most privileged of viewing spots in sport. Standing in a small gully, a rush of noise was passed on like a baton in a relay race. It heralded the advent of the leading group. And, of course, of Bekele. He flashed by so quickly in his green vest and red shorts that he could have been a painting by Jackson Pollock such was the blur of colour. Yet for one nano-second in a hillside in Edinburgh, one was standing within inches of one of the greatest sportsmen who has ever lived. It produced a sensation akin to walking into the local snug bar and discovering Pele playing dominoes.

The effect was made all the greater by the realisation that this human phenomenon had made the equivalent of a cross country pit stop in re-arranging his footwear. This news had crept up the hill like some kind of chilling mist. There was a moment of despair in the crowd at the realisation that the Ethiopian racing god might be deprived of reclaiming his world title by the most human of accidents.

It was almost immediately replaced by a surge of faith as Bekele swept up the incline. His isolation in the field was complete. The spectators, though, signalled that he was not alone in Holyrood Park.

The sun, too, joined the party. It could not eclipse Bekele or induce languor in a frantic, cheering crowd. Perhaps it was merely nature's way of embracing human genius with all the warmth that a Scottish March could muster.