Today (12) marks the one-month-to-go countdown to the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Fingal-Dublin in Ireland, a country with a particularly rich and proud cross country heritage.
John Tracey won back-to-back titles at the World Cross Country Championships in 1978 and 1979, the latter famously on home soil in Limerick in front of a raucous and partisan crowd of 25,000 fans, some of whom invaded the course. Sonia O’Sullivan also made history in 1998 by sweeping the short and long course titles at the World Cross Country Championships in Marrakech.
Alongside her four successive silver medals at the World Cross Country Championships, Catherina McKiernan made history by winning the inaugural European Cross Country Championships gold medal in Alnwick in 1994 while Fionnuala McCormack followed suit with victory in the senior women’s race in 2011.
McCormack successfully defended her individual title the following year and in doing so, the Irishwoman became the first woman to win back-to-back titles at the European Cross Country Championships, a feat which has since only been matched by Turkey’s Yasemin Can who could go for her fifth successive title next month.
McCormack just missed out on an individual medal at the last edition in Lisbon two years ago when she was outsprinted for the bronze medal on a savagely undulating course but the veteran of the Irish team led her country to silver in the team competition, one of four medals won by the Irish contingent in Lisbon which represented their best ever haul.
After a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic which decimated the cross country calendar in 2020, this year marks the 27th appearance of the SPAR European Cross Country Championships and all being well, McCormack will be extending her record number of appearances at the championships to 17.
But Ireland’s best chance of medals at this year’s European Cross Country Championships are likely to come in the men’s U20 and U23 races.
Still only 16, Nick Griggs easily dispatched his rivals over 3000m at the European Athletics U20 Championships in Tallinn - some of whom he will surely line up against again in the U20 race in Fingal-Dublin - while Darragh McElhinney will be looking to make an impact on his debut in the U23 race.
And there could be another brace of medals for the home contingent in the women’s U23 race as well. Stephanie Cotter is still eligible for this category after winning individual bronze and team silver in Lisbon in 2019. The team will be strengthened by the likely inclusion of Sarah Healy, the 1500/3000m champion at the 2018 European Athletics U18 Championships.
Ireland previously staged the European Cross Country Championships in 2009 although this year’s event will be held at a different venue. The Sport Ireland Campus is this year’s destination for Europe’s leading cross country exponents and a map of the course can be found here. Tickets for the event are now on sale and can also be purchased here.
All seven races will be streamed live on the European Athletics website and there will be comprehensive coverage of the championships across European Athletics’ digital platform.