Five individual champions taste victory again while Great Britain win five team gold medals in Lisbon

Five reigning champions successfully defended their titles at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Lisbon as Great Britain finished top of the medals table, winning no fewer than five of the seven team golds on offer.

The challenging, hilly course at the Bela Vista Park venue in the Portuguese capital tested competitors to the full but it was those with a strong cross country pedigree who once again came to the fore.

Turkey’s Yasemin Can, Dane Anna Emilie Møller, Frenchman Jimmy Gressier, Italy’s Nadia Battocletti and Norwegian star Jakob Ingebrigtsen all tasted victory again while the British contingent topped the team podium in the men’s and women’s senior and junior events, as well as claiming mixed relay gold for a second time and team bronze in the under-23 women’s race.

Yasemin Can to the four with another senior women’s gold

Just about everywhere you looked, history was being made during a senior women’s event which became something of a procession for Yasemin Can.

The Kenyan-born former European 5000m and 10,000m champion maintained her domination of this event, making it four wins a row at these championships – the first woman ever to do so.

The result did not look to be in doubt right from the early stages and she ultimately enjoyed a winning margin of 15 seconds, clocking 26:52 for the 8225m course.

Behind her came Norwegian Karoline Grovdal, who had four consecutive bronze medals to her name but upgraded to silver on this occasion and in the process became the most decorated female athlete in the history of the European Cross Country Championships.

Sweden’s Samrawit Mengsteab was a distant third in 27:43, just managing to hold off Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack who ran 27:45 on what was her record-breaking 16th European Cross appearance.

For Britain, UK trials winner Jess Judd was first home in sixth with 28:05, two seconds ahead of Charlotte Arter, who matched her seventh place finish from Tilburg last year. With the first three athletes to score in the teams standings, Abbie Donnelly’s 13th place in 28:40 cemented Britain’s gold medal as she was followed in 15th by Amy Griffiths (28:50), Jenny Nesbitt (29th in 29:18) and Kate Avery (30th in 29:23). Ireland finished runners up, 15 points adrift of Britain with 41 and two ahead of host nation Portugal.

Grovdal had made the early running before Can took over but the Norwegian was delighted with her fifth consecutive medal. “I think you can say I’m the queen of cross country in Europe,” said the 29-year-old. “This was very good today – it was my fifth medal in a row now. I was thinking I had to follow Yasemin Can and try to stay with her for as long as I could, so I tried this time and I’m very happy with silver – it’s one step up!”

Judd responded to the healthy contingent of travelling British fans and admitted to suffering in the closing stages. “Seeing all the British support out on the course was amazing,” said Judd (pictured below left with her team-mates). “It really helped me around the course. I felt like I entered hell on that last lap, but we put all the work in for moments like that, so I’m so happy. This is a really nice and close-knit team, so I’m pleased we could win the gold.”

Robel Fsiha springs a senior men’s surprise

Filip Ingebrigtsen returned to defend his title from Tilburg but it was Robel Fsiha who ultimately won the race for gold.

The Eritrean-born Swedish athlete, who was first European finisher at this year’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships in March, won a duel with 2016 champion and last year’s bronze medallist Aras Kaya in convincing fashion as he completed the 10,225m course in 29:59, with Kaya coming home 11 seconds behind in 30:11.

Bronze went to Italy’s European 10,000m bronze medallist Yeman Crippa, who clocked 30:21 to finish four seconds ahead of European 10,000m and half marathon record-holder Julien Wanders, who had charged to the front in the early stages but came up just short in his mission of becoming Switzerland’s first ever male European Cross medallist.

Andrew Butchart led the British charge and his hard effort was rewarded with fifth place in 30:38, while trials winner Ben Connor’s ninth place in 30:47 and Kris Jones’ ultimately crucial 22nd in 31:23 ensured the team gold with 36 points, just two fewer than Belgium, while Spain were third with 45 points.

Patrick Dever’s 26th in 31:29, team captain Adam Hickey’s 31:46 for 36th and Tom Evans’ 44th in 32:04 completed the British performance, while Ingebrigtsen had to settle for 12th in 30:57.

“Firstly, I’m buzzing for the team, to get a gold medal is incredible,” said Butchart, individual bronze medallist in 2017. “Individually, it is hard. I’ll take fifth place on such a hard course. It didn’t really suit me on paper but I’m happy with how I did.”

He added: “It was chaotic – there were a lot of bodies in such a small space. It was a matter of trying to get through as many people as you could and once you were at the front, hanging on for as long as you could. I was so close yet so far. This course is so short and tight, it feels like you are miles away from a medal but you are actually pretty close, but that is cross country.

“There is something special about the European Cross Country Championships, it’s exciting, it’s exhilarating.”

Jimmy Gressier keeps his feet to land under-23 hat-trick

Jimmy Gressier landed face first in the mud last year when his knee-sliding celebrations in Tilburg went awry. With the Lisbon conditions somewhat drier, there was instead something closer to a victory march as the Frenchman completed a hat-trick of under-23 men’s European Cross Country titles.

He had time to milk the applause of the crowd before slowing to a walk over the closing metres and grabbing the finish tape after what proved to be an emphatic victory.

The 22-year clocked 24:17 for the 8225m course, coming home seven seconds in front of Serbia’s Elzan Bibic, with Spaniard Abdessaman Oukhelfen taking bronze in 24:34.

Mahamed Mahamed was the first Briton home in eighth in 24:56, while Alex Yee was 12th in 24:59 and Sol Sweeney 29th in 25:32.

France took team gold ahead of Italy and Germany, who finished four points clear of the British line-up.

For Gressier, the European U23 5000m and 10,000m champion, it was a fine end to another impressive year.

“I felt great and I knew I had to be patient so I go for it at the right time without making it too hard for myself,” he said. “I kept telling myself to be calm and to be in control. I finished again with my aeroplane move, it’s a great celebration and a great way to finish – especially after what happened last year in Tilburg.”

Anna Emilie Møller dominates to make it an under-23 double

Denmark’s Anna Emilie Møller had been favourite for this race and she lived up to that billing, taking full command of a contest she won by 39 seconds to land her second consecutive under-23 women’s gold.

The British-based athlete who trains in Twickenham is the reigning under-23 European 3000m steeplechase and 5000m champion and capped a fine year in style as she won over the 6225m course in 20:30, some way in front of The Netherlands’ Jasmijn Lau (21:09) and Irishwoman Stephanie Cotter (21:15).

“It feels amazing to win again, I love winning,” said Møller, who was seventh in the 3000m steeplechase at the IAAF World championships in Doha. “It’s all you want to do as an athlete so I’m pleased the race went the way I hoped for. You never know how it will develop and anything can happen.”

Great Britain took the team bronze behind The Netherlands and Ireland, with Bronwen Owen first scorer in seventh in 21:35, backed up by Amelie Quirk’s 15th place in 21:57 and Poppy Tank’s 18th in 22:07.

Four for Jakob Ingebrigtsen as he bids farewell to junior ranks

As the senior 1500m and 5000m European champion, it does still seem odd to see Jakob Ingebrigtsen lining up in a junior event but, given he is still only 19, that is perhaps more a sign of his continually growing stature.

The Norwegian would clearly have much rather been a part of the men’s senior race but he still stuck firmly to his task in the U20 men’s event which opened the day’s racing in Lisbon. There was little surprise about him recording a fourth consecutive medal in this event – he first announced his potential when winning in Chia in 2016 – as Ingebrigtsen clocked 18:20 over 6225m to win by 38 seconds from Ayetullah Aslanhan of Turkey.

Eritrean-born Efrem Gidey, competing for Ireland having first arrived in the country as a refugee two years ago, was third in 19:01.

“It was a fun race,” said Ingebrigtsen. “It looked like it was going to be a difficult race, but after the first lap you already know who’s bringing it and who’s not. I’m already looking forward to racing in the future. Of course I remember my first win, it’s always the first (win) and the one I’m most proud of. After a couple of years you feel like you’ve been there and done it all but now I’m looking forward to not being in the junior category anymore.”

Great Britain’s path to team gold was paved by the American-based Charles Hicks, who studies at Stanford University but spent the first 12 years of his life growing up in England before his family moved Stateside. The 18-year-old impressed with fifth place in 19:05, with Matt Willis ninth in 19:19 and Zak Mahamed completing the scorers with 19:20 for 11th.

The British team finished on 25 points, 13 ahead of Norway, while Portugal were given bronze ahead of Ireland after both teams finished on 39 points.

“It is a brilliant experience which hasn’t really settled in for me yet,” said Hicks. “I feel incredibly honoured to have been given this opportunity. I’m absolutely over the moon.”

Nadia Battocletti does it again

After becoming the first Italian woman to win any medal at the European Cross Country Championships when she struck gold last year, Nadia Battocletti was always going to struggle top that achievement in terms of emotion. She was still very clearly proud to finish top of the podium again after a close fought battle in the under-20 women’s race, however.

Covering the 4225m course in 13:58, she held off the attentions of Slovenia’s Klara Lukan (14:01) and Portugal’s Mariana Machado (14:10).

“It was probably better the first time but I’m very happy about this win,” said Battocletti. “I didn’t feel much pressure coming here but I hope I will continue to win like this in the future.”

Izzy Fry was sixth in 14:33 as Britain won their first team gold of the day, with UK trials winner Saskia Millard 11th in 14:37 and Amelia Samuels four seconds behind in 12th.

There had been an initial wait to see who had won team the team honours after Britain and Italy both scored 29 points, but it was the British who got the verdict and France took bronze with 38 points.

“The first two laps were very quick,” said Fry. “I was just trying to hang in there. The hills were really tough, a lot tougher than we were expecting yesterday. We all ran really well so we are happy with the result and win team gold.”

Mixed fortunes as British relay team recapture gold 

Sandwiched in between the under-23 and senior races came the senior mixed relay, being staged for the third time at these championships. After winning the inaugural gold in Samorin two years ago, there had been disappointment for Great Britain in Tilburg last year when they could only manage fourth.

This time around, however, the team seemed fully intent on winning that title back and got the job done convincingly.

A strong start over the first 1500m leg from Sarah McDonald – a member of that 2017 gold-winning team – meant she handed over to James McMurray level with Belarus.

Britain were to establish a lead they would not relinquish as Alex Bell added to their advantage on leg three and Jonathan Davies held on to the healthy lead as the tape was broken in 17:55, with Belarus second in 18:01 and France third in 18:05.

“It was a lot warmer than Samorin but a lot hillier,” said McDonald. “The race spaced out a bit, so we weren’t altogether at the changeover which gave the rest of the team a good shot to keep building on that momentum. It was a bit nerve-wracking as it’s a long time since I’ve been on the start line, but it was good to be back and winning the gold medal.”

» The December 12 issue of AW will be packed with in-depth reports and coverage from Lisbon

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