20 DEC 2013 Preview Brussels, Belgium

Hannes the big home hope in Brussels

Pieter-Jan Hannes winning the 2013 SPAR European Cross Country Championships under 23 title (Getty Images)Pieter-Jan Hannes winning the 2013 SPAR European Cross Country Championships under 23 title (Getty Images) © Copyright

The last IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting of 2013 will again be the traditional finale to the year in this discipline, the Iris Lotto Crosscup in Brussels, and the focus of attention on Sunday (22) will be Belgium’s newly crowned European under-23 cross-country champion Pieter-Jan Hannes.

Hannes was an impressive winner in Belgrade two weeks ago, running away from his opponents on the last 1.5km lap in the 8km race and was far enough in front coming into the home straight that he was able to wave to the crowd and salute them with some extravagant antics.

However, he is unlikely to be able to afford such luxuries in front of his family and friends on his home soil as he will be up against three of his compatriots who finished in the top 10 of the senior men’s race and helped Belgium to an unexpected team silver medal: Jeroen D‘Hoedt, Bashir Abdi and Koen Naert, as well as Belgium's 2011 European cross-country champion Atelaw Bekele.

"Belgrade was fantastic, but I’m now concentrating on the future," said Hannes. "I’m looking forward to the race in Brussels. The competition there will be similar to that in Belgrade, so I will have to give the best of myself."

After the New Year, Hannes will wind back and participate only in short cross-country races. "I want to prepare for the summer," he added. "The European Championships in Zurich is a major goal and I want to go for a medal in the 1500m there."

Also in the Brussels men's race is Great Britain’s Andy Vernon, who just edged out D‘Hoedt in a frantic sprint for the bronze medal in Belgrade.

From further afield comes Bahrain’s Kenyan-born Albert Rop, who set an Asian 5000m record of 12:51.96 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco this summer, the second fastest time in the world this year over this distance.  

Kenya’s Patrick Ereng, a prolific racer this winter and a winner of several races in Switzerland, and his compatriot Alex Kibet will also be on the startline in Brussels.

Hassan looking to make another cross-border raid

The senior women’s race in Brussels will see Ireland’s 2011 and 2012 European cross-country champion Fionnuala Britton return to action after being kept out of the medals in Belgrade, where she went bidding for an unprecedented hat-trick of women’s titles but finished fourth.

She will line up against local star, Belgium’s Almensh Belete, who finished two places behind Britton in the Serbian capital.

However, the mantle of being the slight favourite, despite the experience and expertise of Britton and Belete on demanding courses, should possibly go to the Netherlands’ prodigiously talented 20-year-old European under-23 cross-country champion Sifan Hassan.

Hassan was not only a convincing winner in her category in Belgrade but also beat Portugal’s Dulce Felix, the European 10,000m champion and Belgrade bronze medallist by 20 seconds in another Belgian race last month.

Kenya will be represented in the women’s race by Cynthia Kosgei, Gladys Kiprotich and Caroline Nyakagwa.

In total, more than 6000 runners in all categories are expected to compete in various races around the Park van Laken, which was the venue for the 2004 IAAF World Cross Country Championships and 2008 European Cross Country Championships.

A special tribute will be made at the meeting to the legendary Gaston Roelants, who will next year will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his 1964 Olympic 3000m steeplechase title. Roelants can rightly be said to be one of Europe’s greatest ever cross-country runners after winning the forerunner to the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, the International Cross Country Championships, four times in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Phil Minshull for the IAAF