Jakob Ingebrigtsen is among the leading athletes at the Spar European Cross Country Championships on the outskirts of Dublin this weekend
All good things come to those who wait. Back in 2001 Dublin was forced to abandon the World Cross Country Championships due to foot-and-mouth disease and it was held instead in Ostend in Belgium. One year later, though, the Irish capital belatedly staged the event at Leopardstown Racecourse with Paula Radcliffe and Kenenisa Bekele among the winners.
Now, 20 years on, history is repeating itself with Dublin’s efforts last year to host the European Cross Country Championships scuppered by Covid, which means the meeting is going ahead this Sunday (Dec 12).
“Despite the recent new Covid-19 variant, we are looking forward to hosting the event once again,” says Liam Hennessy, chair of the local organising committee, “and we are confident the event will go ahead in all safety for athletes and spectators alike, respecting the stringent safety norms applicable in Ireland.”
The European Cross Country Championships was last held in Dublin in 2009 and is remembered for Hayley Yelling winning an emotional second title five years after her first senior women’s crown. The men’s race, meanwhile, saw Mo Farah and nine-time winner Sergey Lebed beaten by Alemayehu Bezabeh of Spain.
This weekend the event takes place at the Sport Ireland Campus with Olympic 1500m champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway headlining the individual entries whereas the battle for team honours will be led by Great Britain & Northern Ireland.
Since the first Euro Cross in Alnwick in 1994, GB athletes have won twice as many medals as their nearest rival (Russia) and three times as many golds.
As usual, therefore, the British team will be looking to make the podium and the squad is led by Jess Judd and Jack Rowe. To find out how they qualified click here for our GB trials coverage and click here for the team announcement.
Host nation Ireland also have a strong team with Olympian Ciara Mageean part of their mixed relay quartet, teenage super-talent Nick Griggs in the under-20 men’s race and two-time senior women’s winner Fionnuala McCormack in the squad as well just seven days after running 2:23:58 at the Valencia Marathon.
How to watch
BBC is covering the event live for UK viewers on its red button and website from 9.55am on Sunday. In addition, European Athletics is streaming the action on YouTube. Locally, it will be televised on RTE 1 and RTE Player. If you live nearby, tickets are only €8 each with under-16s allowed in free. Don’t forget the AW social media coverage too.
Here is our breakdown of each race…
Jakob Ingebrigtsen is the man to beat. Not only did he run a European record to win the Olympic 1500m crown in Tokyo this year but he has won the last four Euro Cross under-20 men’s titles.
Now aged 21, he is skipping the under-23 age group at this event to try to win his first senior crown. And if he manages it, he will be the second Ingebrigtsen to take this title after older brother Filip, who also competes on Sunday, won in 2018.
While Ingebrigtsen is the strong favourite, though, his winning lead is likely to be less than the all-time record 35-second margin of victory that Jon Brown enjoyed when he won the 1996 title in Charleroi.
His challengers include Aras Kaya of Turkey, who took gold in 2016 and then finished second last year to Robel Fsiha, a Swedish runner who later tested positive for drugs.
Jimmy Gressier of France will also be among Ingebrigtsen’s rivals. He has won the last three under-23 Euro Cross crowns but he will have to enjoy a perfect day on Sunday in Dublin if he is going to get into a position to carry out one of his trademark flamboyant finish-line celebrations.
Three-time European U23 cross country champion Jimmy Gressier will make his debut in the senior race for France at the upcoming Euro Cross Champs 🇫🇷
Will we be seeing more celebrations like this?
— AW (@AthleticsWeekly) December 1, 2021
Isaac Kimeli of Belgium won silver at the European Indoor 3000m behind Ingebrigtsen in March and was runner-up to Filip Ingebrigtsen at the Euro Cross in 2018. Yemane Crippa, a former winner of the European Cup 10,000m, leads Italian hopes.
Look out too for Spanish runners Adel Mechaal and Ayad Lamdassem, both of whom have won individual medals and team gold in the past. Certainly, with Abdessamad Oukhelfen and Carlos Mayo as well they will be tough to beat in the team contest.
Reigning team champions, however, are Britain and they have a strong squad in Dublin led by Jack Rowe and Andy Butchart.
With Jakob Ingebrigtsen bypassing this age group and Gressier moving into the senior ranks, the medals are wide open.
Eduardo Menacho of Spain stands out as the reigning European under-23 10,000m champion. Britain’s Charles Hicks will also be looking to get into the mix after some fine recent form on the US collegiate circuit recently for Stanford University.
At the last championships two years ago in Lisbon, Hicks led the GB team to gold in the under-20 men’s race.
He does not turn 17 until December 18 but the talented Nick Griggs is a big medal hope for Ireland as he tackles the junior men’s race.
Griggs won the European under-20 3000m title in Tallinn during the summer and since then captured the Mini London Marathon crown among other things.
The 16-year-old is not the only European under-20 champion in Dublin either this weekend. Pol Oriach of Spain won the steeplechase gold in Tallinn and ran 3:37.67 for 1500m in the summer aged 18.
Then there is Joel Ibler Lillesø of Denmark, the European under-20 5000m champion, plus David Cantero of Spain, who won silver behind Lillesø in Tallinn in July.
It is hard to look beyond Yasemin Can in this race. Since switching nationality from Kenya to Turkey in 2016 she has won four consecutive Euro Cross titles. There might have been more, too, if the 2020 event had not been called off.
Challengers include Anna Emilie Møller of Denmark – the big local star at the 2019 World Cross in Aarhus when she placed a fine 15th in the women’s race.
Konstanze Klosterhalfen has won golds in the under-20 women’s race at the Euro Cross in the past and holds German records from one mile through to 10,000m. Now 24, she is returning from injury and is has looked in fine form lately.
If Klosterhalfen claims gold, too, it will have been thanks to the help of Irish running legend Sonia O’Sullivan. Klosterhalfen has been based in south-west London recently and has been advised by former world cross-country champion O’Sullivan in the lead up to the event.
Ireland does however have its own contenders too in this race. Most notably there is Fionnuala McCormick, the 2011 and 2012 winner who will be racing in the Euro Cross for the 17th time, although we’ll find out on Sunday whether last weekend’s Valencia Marathon is still in her legs.
As for Britain’s hopes, they look to be led by trials winner Jess Judd as the team defend their title from Lisbon 2019 with four of the six who triumphed on that occasion.
Nadia Battocletti won the under-20 title in 2018 and 2019 but the Italian is now tackling the under-23 event after having turned 21 in April this year.
She has already tasted European under-23 gold this year as well as she won the 5000m track title this summer and also took first place in the European Team Championships at 5000m.
British hopes are led by Amelia Quirk and the GB team includes several members of the team who won under-20 gold two years ago – Izzy Fry, Saskia Millard and Amelia Samuels.
The host nation, meanwhile, includes Sarah Healy, the former European under-18 1500m and 3000m champion.
Like the under-20 men’s event, this race features multiple European junior winners from the track in Tallinn earlier this year. They include Norway’s Ingeborg Ostgard, Finland’s Ilona Mononen and Spain’s Carla Dominguez, the gold medallists in the 1500m, 3000m and 5000m respectively in the Estonian capital in July.
Ostgard has looked in particularly good form after winning the Nordic cross-country title recently.
Look out too for Sofia Thogersen of Denmark, as she won the European under-20 3000m silver aged 16 in Tallinn behind Mononen.
Also in contention are likely to be Greta Varga of Hungary, Ina Halle Haugen of Norway, Emma Heckel of Germany and Megan Keith, the latter of whom will be hoping to lead Britain to its 17th team victory in the last 21 editions of this race.
Olympic 800m finalist Alexandra Bell was part of the GB team who won gold in this event in Lisbon in 2019 and she return this weekend as part of a team who are defending their title in this relatively new event.
Spain will be keen to get revenge, though, with Esther Guerrero and Victor Ruiz from their 2018 winning team in their squad.
Belarus and France will be looking to make an impact too. Belarus won silver behind Britain in 2019 and bronze in 2018, whereas France took bronze in 2019 and silver in 2018.
10am – Under-20 men (6km)
10.28am – Under-20 women (4km)
10.50am – Under-23 men (8km)
11.23am – Under-23 women (6km)
12.21pm – Mixed relay (4x1500m)
1.13pm – Senior men (10km)
1.53pm – Senior women (8km)
» Keep an eye out for news and updates on the AW social media channels and website this weekend