A true test of cross country running awaited a record number of participants at the 25th SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Tilburg on Sunday (9) at the Beekse Bergen Safari Park.
The firm and solid ground in Samorin twelve months ago was replaced by soft and muddy underfoot conditions in Tilburg and the course was especially churned up for the senior races and the mixed relay.
In the first event of the day which took place in teeming rain, there was a first for Italy as Nadia Battocletti became the first Italian woman to win a gold medal in European Cross Country Championships history, winning the U20 race ahead of European U20 3000m champion Delia Sclabas from Switzerland.
While Italy picked up their first gold medal on the women’s side, Jakob Ingebrigtsen picked up his third on the men’s side in the U20 race. The 18-year-old eased clear on the last lap, opening up a nine second gap on Spain’s Ouassim Oumaiz. Ingebrigtsen also led Norway to the team title.
In the first of the U23 races, Denmark’s Anna Emilie Moller beat Germany’s Anna Gehring in a sprint finish. This was Moller’s second U23 title after winning the 3000m steeplechase title at the 2017 European Athletics U23 Championships - a title which she is eligible to defend next year.
Jimmy Gressier looked imperious all the way through the U23 men’s race - that is, until the final few metres. The reigning champion had amassed enough of a margin to showboat but his attempted knee slide through the finish-line didn’t go entirely to plan, stalling on the ground and falling face-first through the tape.
But not only did Gressier become the first athlete to win back-to-back titles in the U23 race, he also led France to a successful defence of their team title.
Yasemin Can has been the dominant force in the senior women’s race since 2016 but this title nearly slipped out of her hands. The Turk won by 15 seconds last year but her winning advantage in Tilburg was slashed to one second, fending off a two-pronged attack in the finishing straight from Switzerland’s Fabienne Schlumpf and Norway’s Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal.
European 10,000m silver medallist Susan Krumins was run out of the individual medals on the last lap but she did lead the hosts to the team title in the senior race, finishing fourth on home soil in her first appearance at the championships in a decade.
Filip Ingebrigtsen is renowned for his exploits over 1500m but the reigning world bronze medallist showed his repertoire extends all the way up to - and slightly beyond - 10 kilometres as well. Ingebrigtsen hadn’t distinguished himself in his previous appearances at the championships but he covered the rutted ground effortlessly before utilising his sprint finish to win the 10.3km title ahead of Belgium’s Isaac Kimeli and Turkey’s Aras Kaya.
The Spanish team for the mixed relay included three members of their bronze medal-winning team from last year. With Solange Pereira on anchor, they upgraded from bronze to gold ahead of France while Belarus took a surprise bronze medal - just their second medal in championship history.