Norwegians Jakob and Filip strike gold in Tilburg, while British side finishes fourth in medal table and under-20 women take top spot on the team podium
The Ingebrigtsen family have had much to celebrate in 2018 and they rounded off a remarkable year in the style to which the athletics world is becoming accustomed when brothers Jakob and Filip took under-20 and senior men’s individual gold at the 25th European Cross Country Championships in Tilburg, Holland.
There was also British success at the Beekse Bergen Safari Park resort venue but perhaps not quite to the level expected as the team finished fourth in the medal table.
Every GB age group side took home a team medal, the under-20 women successfully defending their team title, while both senior men and women landed team silver, as did the under-23 and under-20 men’s line-ups, while the under-23 women won bronze.
Yet there were no individual British medals, while there was disappointment at the end of an eventful day which featured ever-changing conditions and regular torrential downpours when the mixed relay side finished fourth in defence of their crown from 12 months ago.
Previous editions of the European Cross have been somewhat controversially dominated by the Kenyan-born athletes who transferred allegiance to compete for Turkey. They didn’t have things their own way this time around, however.
Defending champion Kaan Kigen Ozbilen, 2016 champion Aras Kaya and Polat Kemboi Arikan, runner-up two years ago, featured heavily and did take the team title but Filip Ingebrigtsen shone with an accomplished run in what was a fascinating race.
The Norwegian was content to sit at the back of a large lead pack in the early stages but calmly moved to the front of that group after around 3000m, ahead of Kaya and Spain’s Adel Mechaal, last year’s silver medallist.
As the race charged through the twisting, challenging course, a sparring match developed between Ingebrigtsen, Kaya, Arikan, Ozbilen and Belgium’s Isaac Kimeli, who was running extremely well and would not be shaken off.
The healthy watching crowd looked on to see who would land the knockout blow and with last year’s runner-up Mechaal dropped and Ozbilen tiring, the fight to the finish came down to Kaya, Kimeli and Ingebrigtsen as they took the bell.
Filip had been the only one of the three brothers not to have won individual European Cross gold at this point but sibling rivalry is what drives them on and he joined Henrik and Jakob when he won his battle for the line with Kimeli, finishing in 28:28.45 for a course which was officially 10.3km, three seconds ahead of the Belgian and seven clear of third-placed Kaya.
Marc Scott was leading Briton in ninth in 29:21, while 12th-placed Kris Jones, called up in place of the injured Andy Vernon, and Dewi Griffiths in 13th spot helped seal the team silver.
Ingebrigtsen was understandably thrilled with his win, the 2016 European 1500m champion saying: “I try to improve the weak side of my running, and this is one way of doing this. I wanted to run a decent race. I competed a couple of times at under-23 and under-20 and I never finished in the top 20.
“To come here and win the senior race with this level of athletes, is something I didn’t dream of before. I stayed with the first group and one after one they started to drop. And yeah, a second gold medal for the family today. We come from the west coast of Norway, it’s always windy and rainy over there. So perhaps, it’s not a coincidence.”
Yasemin Can is perhaps more used to her European Cross Country victories taking on more of a processional nature, following her total domination last year and in 2016.
The Kenyan-born Turk had to work extremely hard to make it a hat-trick of gold medals, however.
There was something very familiar about seeing Can hit the front and begin to pull away from a group which contained home favourite Susan Krumins, European steeplechase silver medallist Fabienne Schlumpf of Switzerland and Norway’s Karoline Grovdal.
However the Swiss athlete began to close the gap and brought what had been a sizeable gap to the leader down to a mere second as the field went through 5.5km of the 8.3km event.
The pair, showing vastly different running styles and with Schlumpf carefully picking her way through the mud, went stride for stride, while the battle for bronze came down to Krumins and Grovdal.
There was still little to split the leaders as they hit the final straight but Can had just enough, winning in 26:05, a second ahead of Schlumpf. Grovdal had managed to close right in but ran out of course, finishing in 26:07.
Behind, the Great Britain side packed very well, taking the spots from 7th to 10th to secure their team silver behind Holland and ahead of Germany. Charlotte Arter was first in the blanket British finish in 26:57, followed by Melissa Courtney in 26:59 while Pippa Woolven’s 27:02 was the last to score in the team standings.
Jess Piasecki was 10th in 27:03, with team captain Kate Avery 15th and Verity Ockenden 20th.
“Great Britain have always had great success at these championships as a team, so you always want to get on the podium,” said Arter. “Obviously, we are always striving for that gold medal, but silver as a team, in what I think is a really strong competition, I am really happy with that.”
Jimmy Gressier is a colourful character and the Frenchman produced some theatrics as he took two tricolore flags and tried, but failed, to slide on his knees across the muddy finish line – ending up flat on his face as he took a very, very convincing win.
He covered 8.3km in 23:37 after slowly turning the screw on Germany’s Samuel Fitwi. The Eritrean refugee had no answer to the defending champion’s relentless pursuit of another title and came home eight seconds behind the winner. Third place went to France’s Hugo Hay in 23:48 as his nation took the team prize, while Patrick Dever was fifth in 24:05, Emile Cairess eighth and Mahamed Mahamed 17th to take silver for Britain ahead of Spain.
The celebration didn't go according to plan but his performance was brilliant!
— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) December 9, 2018
Anna-Emilie Moller is a proud Dane but, given that she is a student runner with St Mary’s University in Twickenham and is coached by Mick Woods, part of her European victory was made in Britain.
Germany’s Anna Gehring had made a break to improve on the silver medal she won two years ago but Moller reeled her in before kicking away with a large grin on her face as she broke the tape for the 6.3km contest in 20:34, two seconds ahead of Gehring as Poland’s Weronika Pyzik came home a further 10 seconds adrift.
Britain’s Amy Griffiths had looked to be on course for an individual medal after looking good alongside the frontrunners until a slip which proved costly and meant she ultimately had to settle for seventh place. Poppy Tank’s ninth and Abbie Donnelly’s 17th meant there was at least the consolation of team bronze, with gold and silver going to Germany and Spain respectively.
Jakob Ingebrigtsen just makes things look so easy. Not content with becoming the youngest ever senior male European Champion, when he won not just the 1500m but also the 5000m in Berlin this summer, he produced another run full of maturity to take his third consecutive European Cross gold medal.
For all Spain’s Ouassim Oumaiz made a lot of the running and played to the crowd, urging them to roar him on and at one stage even exchanging a high five with Ingebrigtsen, the Norwegian’s quiet assurance came to the surface again and there was an inevitability about him finishing the day as champion once more.
In the end there was a nine-second winning margin, with 6.3km covered in 18:00, while the prominent Serbian Elzan Bibic was third in 18:11.
“It was a tough race,” said Ingebrigtsen. “The course was really tough. It’s fun for me to compete in these conditions. With all the mud it was difficult to get in the rhythm. It was tougher than expected, but it was fun.”
Britain’s team silver came thanks to Jake Heyward’s fourth place in 18:16, Isaac Akers’ 12th – although a slip cost him a shot at the individual podium – and Matt Willis’ 14th. Norway took team gold, with Germany in bronze medal position.
Heyward, fourth behind Ingebrigtsen in the 1500m at the world under-20 championships earlier this year, said: “Obviously it is really difficult missing out yet again, but, at the same time, I am a track runner. It was a proper cross country course this time – the European Champs in the past have been fast and suited to long distance runners.
“It was good to be able to come to the European Cross Country and show that I have got that strength. It wasn’t quite enough today, but I dug in deep for the team and I am glad we could come away with the team silver.”
The day got off to a gold medal-winning start for Britain, as the under-20 women (above) successfully defended their team title.
Italy’s Nadia Batocletti was the individual victor, outsprinting Swiss Delia Sclabas to take gold by a second in 13:46, while Turkey’s Inci Kalkan was a further second back in third.
Britain’s Amelia Quirk battled to fifth, but it was perhaps a case of what could have been for her after she tripped over fallen Irish athlete Sarah Healy and was winded. The Bracknell athlete recovered her composure enough to cover the 4.3km course in 13:57, followed three seconds later by seventh-placed Khahisa Mhlanga and Grace Brock in 11th (14:05).
Cari Hughes (13th), Anna Macfadyen (20th) and Tiffany Penfold (36th) completed the victorious British line-up.
“It went off quite fast but I was feeling quite comfortable at that point,” said Quirk. “The Irish girl went down right in front of me and I fell on top of her and then someone fell on top of me. I gave it my best shot and it was okay.
“I actually went down in Liverpool [British trials] but nearer the start, but I know the quicker I get up the less places I am going to lose. The race was moving so quickly at that point, so I knew it was probably changing as I had fallen and when I got back up there were different people around me. It was a shame because I felt if I hadn’t have fallen I could have got a medal.”
Senior mixed relay
This event was a popular introduction to the European Cross last year and hopes had been high that Britain would retain their title.
First leg runner Jamie Williamson certainly had the side in contention but a fall near the end of the first leg meant they had to play catch-up from thereon in.
Alex Bell did move Britain into third place at the second handover, behind France and Spain, a position maintained by Phil Sesemann ahead of the final leg.
Jess Judd gave it all she could over the closing 1450m but was denied a podium spot as Belarus took bronze in 16:21 by three seconds. Gold went to Spain in 16:10, two seconds ahead of France.
» More in-depth reports and photographs in the December 13 issue of AW magazine