Endurance may be the key component when it comes to success at this discipline, but at the European Cross Country Championships in Tilburg, the Netherlands on Sunday (9), senior champions Filip Ingebrigtsen and Yasemin Can showed it also helps to have little speed.
They utilised impressive sprint finishes to send the senior titles back to Norway and Turkey respectively, their victories highlighting a splendid day of racing at the Beekse Bergen Safari Park, where the Dutch fans turned out in their droves.
Following Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s victory in the U20 men’s race, older brother Filip, a world bronze medallist over 1500m, kept up the family pride in the senior men’s 10,300m contest. The 25-year-old ran at the front for much of the race alongside Kaan Kigen Ozbilen (the defending champion), Ozbilen’s fellow Turk Aras Kaya and Belgium’s Isaac Kimeli.
But the longer the race went on, the more it was clear it was playing into the hands of Ingebrigtsen, whose finishing speed is renowned. On the final lap he emerged from the wooded area at the front of the field with just Kimeli for company, but the Belgium was never going to have what was required to live with Ingebrigtsen, who surged clear in the home straight to win his first European cross country title in 28:49.
“This is for sure not my distance,” admitted Ingebrigtsen. “I was trying to improve the weak side of my running, and this is one way of doing it. To come here and win the senior race with this level of athletes is something I didn´t dream of before.”
Kimeli took a splendid silver in second in 28:52, with Kaya taking bronze in 28:56 and helping Turkey to gold in the team race over Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Yasemin Can lived up to her favourite’s tag in the women’s 8,300m race, leading for most of the race before holding off a spirited challenge from Switzerland’s Fabienne Schlumpf to win by one second in 26:05. Norway’s Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal claimed bronze a further one second back in 26:07, with Dutch athletes Susan Krumins and Jip Vastenburg next in to land the home nation a memorable victory in the team event.
“The race wasn’t very easy, mostly because of the wind,” said Can. “I wasn’t a hundred percent this season but now I’m coming back. I felt the pressure as defending champion.”
Jakob Ingebrigtsen collects third straight U20 crown
The underage races were highlighted by Jakob Ingebrigtsen continuing his year of dominance, the Norwegian winning his third straight U20 men’s title with another facile performance that oozed class. He spent much of the race marking his main competitors and running with the confidence we’ve come to expect from the world-class 18-year-old, though with a little over one lap remaining he allowed Spain’s Ouassim Oumaiz to build a 10-metre lead.
Oumaiz, who had high-fived Ingebrigtsen earlier in the race, began to wave to the crowd and rally the atmosphere, but the Spaniard’s smiling stopped abruptly when Ingebrigtsen appeared on his shoulder moments later.
The Norwegian swiftly left his rival far behind as he surged clear to take victory in 18:00, nine seconds clear of Oumaiz, with Serbia’s Elzan Bibic claiming bronze in 18:11. Norway took the team title with 28 points.
“It was a tough race,” said Ingebrigtsen. “I’ve never done anything like this before, so it’s fun to compete in these conditions. With the mud it was difficult to get in the rhythm.”
On his rival’s mid-race antics, Ingebrigtsen admitted they only added to the fun. “It’s important when people come to watch that we show we’re appreciative,” he said. “I think he wanted me to get in front and be the pacemaker, but I gave him a high-five and he seemed satisfied with it.”
Gressier successfully defends U23 title
France’s Jimmy Gressier was also operating in a very different class to his peers in the men’s U23 race, coasting to his second straight victory in 23:37, 12 seconds clear of Germany’s Samuel Fitwi, with France’s Hugo Hay finishing third in 23:48.
“The biggest difference compared to last year is the fact that I was the one who was chasing then and this year I was the one getting chased,” said Gressier, who had so much in hand that he ran up the home straight carrying two French flags before sliding across the line on his knees, which didn’t go entirely as planned as he face-planted into the finishing tape.
France took the team event with an astonishing tally of just 11 points ahead of Great Britain and Spain.
Denmark’s Anna Emilie Moller claimed the women’s U23 title with a superlative finishing kick, the 21-year-old surging clear of long-time leader Anna Gehring of Germany in the home straight to win by two seconds in 20:34. Poland’s Weronika Pyzik took third with 20:46, with the team title going to Germany on 22 points ahead of Spain (25).
“I kept patient the whole race – I knew I shouldn’t do the work,” said Moller. “Anna looked very strong and I thought she would keep running away from me, but in the end I realised I was getting closer and I knew that I have a sprint in the end. I didn’t think I would win today.”
Battocletti kicks to women’s U20 gold
In the U20 women’s race, Italy’s Nadia Battocletti unveiled an impressive change of pace to kick to victory off the final turn, the 18-year-old coming home in 13:46, one second clear of race favourite Delia Sclabas of Switzerland. Turkey’s Inci Kalkan took the bronze with 13:48.
“It was a difficult race, not only because of the weather but also because of the strong opponents,” said Battocletti. “They are all very strong athletes. I didn´t expect to win, but I dreamed about it.”
Ireland’s Sarah Healy saw her challenge all but ended when she fell with a little over a lap to run, the 17-year-old battling on to finish ninth. The British were clear winners in the team event with just 23 points to beat the Netherlands (28).
The mixed relay saw Spain emerge victorious in a race that boiled down to a duel between them and France. Their quartet of Saul Ordonez, Esther Guerrero, Victor Ruiz and Solange Andreia Pereira held off the French by two seconds to win the 4x1500m race in 16:10, with Belarus coming through strongly for third in 16:21. The British medal hopes were ended on the first leg after a fall, but they recovered to finish fourth in 16:24.
“It has been really amazing, even in the mud,” said Guerrero of Spain. “It was awesome.”
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF