Today (10) marks the one month to go countdown to the SPAR European Cross Cross Country Championships in Brussels where Europe’s finest middle and long distance runners will assemble in Laeken Park in the heart of the Belgian capital.
The championships will be streamed from start to finish on the All-Athletics platform through the European Athletics website and will be accompanied by expert English-language commentary.
A brief history…
The SPAR European Cross Country Championships dates back to 1994 at a time when European runners were becoming less competitive against the rising East African superpowers at the World Cross Country Championships.
The first two editions were held in Alnwick in north-east England in the shadow of Alnwick Castle before the championships travelled to Charleroi in 1996, one of two prior occasions the championships have been staged in Belgium.
For the first three editions, the timetable consisted solely of senior individual and team races before U20 races were added to the programme as medal events in 1997 having been a demonstration event in Charleroi 1996.
Next to be added to the programme were the U23 races in 2007 before a mixed relay was introduced in 2017 to incentivise the continent’s middle distance runners.
And another landmark will be reached in Brussels. For the first time in SPAR European Cross Country Championships history, men and women will run the same distances across the age-groups: 5km for U20s, 7km for U23s and 9km for seniors.
Who is coming?
On the same evening he was crowned men’s European Athlete of the Year, Jakob Ingebrigtsen confirmed he intends to lace up his cross country spikes and defend his title in the senior men’s race.
And if he prevails, Ingebrigtsen will become just the second athlete after eventual nine-time winner Serhiy Lebid from Ukraine to win this title on three occasions.
Ingebrigtsen, who has never been beaten at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships, is likely to be joined on the start-line by another reigning European champion in Yemaneberhan Crippa, the 10,000m champion from Munich 2022.
Like Ingebrigtsen, Crippa seldom misses these championships and the Italian has also accrued an enviable medal haul over the last decade. He preceded Ingebrigtsen as U20 champion in 2015-16 before winning his first senior medal with bronze in 2019. Can he improve this year?
His Italian teammate Nadia Battocletti will also go in search of her first senior medal next month. The 23-year-old crowned her glorious age-group career by retaining her U23 title in front of her home fans in Turin last December to complement her pair of U20 titles from 2018-19.
But standing in her way in the senior ranks is likely to be the reigning two-time champion Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal from Norway who is also targeting a hat-trick of individual titles, a feat which has only been achieved by eventual four-time champion Yasemin Can from Türkiye.
At the other end of the career spectrum, European U20 1500m and 5000m champion Niels Laros looks set to make the short trip from his training base in the Netherlands to Brussels for his debut in the U20 race at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships.
Illness forced Laros to withdraw from a dramatic and eventful U20 race last year which saw Nick Griggs’ legs crumble on the approach to the finish having built up a seemingly unassailable lead on the steep downhill section on the last lap.
After losing out in the closing metres to Great Britain’s Will Barnicoat, can Griggs cap his U20 career in style by winning the title which narrowly and cruelly alluded him twelve months ago?
The most successful nation at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships is Great Britain with 75 gold medals and 177 medals in total.
The most successful male athlete in championship history is Ukraine’s Serhiy Lebid who has won nine individual titles and 12 medals in total.
The most successful female athlete in championship history is Norway’s Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal who has won nine individual medals including U20 gold in 2009 and senior gold in 2021-22.
The most appearances made by an athlete at these championships is also Lebid who competed 19 times between 1994 and 2013.
The most appearances made by a female athlete is Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack who has competed in 17 editions between 2001 and 2021.
The biggest winning margin in a senior race was in 1996 when Great Britain’s Jon Brown won by 35 seconds ahead of Paulo Guerra.
The smallest winning margin in a senior race was in 2014. Türkiye’s Polat Arikan Kemboi and Ali Kaya shared the same time of 32:19 while Brits Gemma Steel and Kate Avery were first and second in 28:27.
The biggest winning margin across all age-groups was in 2019 when Denmark’s Anne Emilie Møller defended her title in the U23 women’s 6.3km, winning by 39 seconds.