The 2022 European Cross Country Championships, held in Venaria Reale, showcased six outstanding individual champions, four of whom are set to defend their titles at the upcoming event in Laeken Park, Brussels, on December 10th. This year's championships are marked by a historic change: for the first time, both men and women competitors will cover an equal distance of 9 kilometers, symbolizing a significant step towards equality in the sport. This adjustment in the race format adds an extra layer of excitement and anticipation as athletes prepare to tackle the same challenging course, regardless of gender.
Women’s senior race:
Defending champion Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal will be seeking her third individual European Cross Country senior title and the tenth individual medal in her career. Grovdal will be aiming to become just the second woman in the history of the European Cross Championships to win three straight gold medals in the senior women’s race. If Grovdal wins a medal in Brussels, she will improve her collection to ten individual medals. Only Sergiy Lebid reached the podium more times in the history of these championships winning 12 individual medals, including nine gold medals.
The Norwegian athlete won the first medal of her career at these championships, when she claimed silver in the under 20 race in San Giorgio su Legnano in 2006 behind three-time winner Stephanie Twell. She won the under 20 gold medal in Dublin 2009. At senior level she won two gold medals in Dublin 2021 and Turin 2022, silver in Lisbon 2019 and four bronze medals in Hyères 2015, Chia 2016, Samorin 2017 and Tilburg 2018.
Last year Grovdal edged Konstanze Klosterhalfen on the downhill section of the difficult course of the Mandria Park in Venaria Reale in the final 400 metres.
Just three women won two titles in the history of the European Cross Country Championships: Paula Radcliffe (1998 and 2003), Hailey Yelling (2004 and 2009) and Fionnuala McCormack (2011 and 2012). Yasemin Can holds the record as a four-time winner from 2016 to 2019.
Grovdal will face Italy’s Nadia Battocletti, who won a total of four golds at these championships (two at under 20 level in Tilburg 2018 and Lisbon 2019 and two in the under 23 category in Dublin 2021 and Venaria Reale 2022). If Battocletti wins in Brussels, she would become the first female athlete in European Cross Country Championships to win titles at under 20, under 23 and senior level. The Italian athlete broke Roberta Brunet’s national record in the 5000 metres with 14:41.30 at the London Diamond League meeting last July and finished fifth in the 5 km with a national record of 14:45 at the World Road Running Championships in Riga last October. Battocletti finished third in Alcobendas in her first cross country race this season.
Italian cross country specialist Andrea Lalli is the only male athlete to achieve the feat of completing the collection when he won titles in each of the three categories (under 20 in San Giorgio su Legnano 2006, under 23 in Brussels in 2008 and senior in Szentendre near Budapest in 2012.
The Italian team will also feature Anna Arnaudo, who won the European under 23 cross country team gold medal and the European under 23 silver medal in the 10000 metres in 2021.
Fionnuala McCormack will make her 18th appearance at the European Cross Championships. The Irish athlete won two senior titles in 2011 and 2012. The record for most appearances is held by multiple European champion Sergiy Lebid, who took part at this event 19 times and won nine gold medals. McCormack recently qualified for her fifth Olympic Games by clocking 2:26:19 at the Valencia Marathon.
The Irish senior women’s team features twins Eilsih and Roisin Flanagan, who finished 11th and 12th in Venaria Reale last year, and Mary Mulhare. They won the European team bronze medal in Venaria Reale last year.
The British women’s senior team will feature Abbie Donnelly, who finished ninth at the 2022 European Championships in Venaria Reale and second to Megan Keith at the National Cross country Trials in Liverpool, and Jessica Warner Judd, who finished eighth in the 10000 metres at the World Championships in Budapest and won six team gold medals at the European Cross Championships. Warner Judd finished sixth in Lisbon 2019, fourth in Dublin 2021 and eighth in Venaria Reale 2022 in her previous appearances at these championships. Great Britain won the women’s team gold medal six times in the last ten editions.
The strong Spanish team features Olympic and world 1500 metres finalist Marta Perez and two-time European 3000 metres steeplechase finalist Irene Sanchez Escribano.
The German team will be led by 3000 metres steeplechase specialist Elena Burkard, who finished fifth in 2015 and ninth in 2019, triathlon specialist Lisa Tertsch, who studies economics at the University of Harvard, and Eva Dieterich.
The Belgian hopes will be carried by Belgian cross country champion Chloe Herbiet and specialists Lisa Rooms and Imana Truyers.
Men’s senior race:
Isaac Kimeli from Belgium is aiming to add his first European senior gold medal to the continental under 23 title from 2016. The 29-year-old Belgian athlete of Kenyan origin won two European cross country silver medals at junior level in 2013 and at senior level in Tilburg 2018 behind Filip Ingebrigtsen. Last February Kimeli won the Belgian Cross Country title on the same course where the European Championships take place this weekend.
Isaac Kimeli: “I stopped my outdoor season early so that I could immediately prepare for the European Cross Championships after my holiday. You will probably only experience a European Championship in your own country once in your entire career. That’s why I have trained specifically for it. I have consciously done training on cross country terrain, something I never did before. My training is going very well. I am slightly better than when I took bronze last year. I was able to complete all the training sessions and I am also mentally good. If I could win gold, I would write history in my country. That would be fantastic”.
The Belgian team, who also features Robin Hendrix and John Heeymans, will fight for a team medal.
Reigning European 10000 metres champion Yemaneberhan Crippa will make his eleventh appearance at the European Cross Country Championships. Crippa has won five individual medals, including two under 20 gold medals in 2014 and 2015, two under 23 bronze medals in 2016 and 2017 and the senior silver medal in 2019. The Italian star finished fourth two seconds behind Kimeli at the European Cross Championships Mandria Park in Venaria Reale leading Italy to team silver medal.
Crippa returned from a period of altitude training in Kenya to win the International Cross Country race at the Mandria Park on 19 November holding off his compatriot Pasquale Selvarolo by just one second. Selvarolo recently showed his good form when he improved his half marathon PB to 1:00:32 in Ravenna.
Selvarolo will be part of a strong Italian team, that features Iliaas Aouani, who broke the Italian marathon record with 2:07:16 in Barcelona, and Yassin Bouih, who won gold medal in the mixed relay at last year’s edition of the European Cross Country Championships at the Mandria Park.
France will chase their third consecutive team title following their triumphs in 2021 and 2022. Bastien Augusto and Yann Schrub will be looking to finish in the top 10 after placing sixth and seventh in Venaria Reale in 2022.
Augusto improved his PBs to 3:34.85 in the 1500 metres in Marseille and 27:40 in the 10 km on the road in Lille.
Schrub won the bronze medal in the 10000 metres at the European Championships in Munich in 2022 and was the first European runner with his ninth place over this distance at the World Championships in Budapest.
The French team will also feature Hugo Hay, who won under 23 silver and bronze medals at the 2017 and 2018 European Cross Country Championships behind his compatriot Jimmy Gressier. Hay finished fourth in the individual senior race in Dublin in 2021.
Spain will chase another team medal after finishing third last year. The Spanish team will feature 2021 seventh-place finisher Nassim Hassaous, Abdessamad Oukhelfen, who finished 10th at last year’s edition in Venaria Reale, Ouassim Oumaiz, European under 20 silver medallist in 2018, and Fernando Carro, European silver medalist in the 3000 metres steeplechase in Tilburg 2018.
Olympic 1500 metres champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen has pulled out of these championships due to a lower back injury. His older brother Henrik Ingebrigtsen will return to the Park of Laeken in Brussels, where he won the European under 20 team silver medal in 2008. Four years later Henrik won the European under 23 gold medal in Budapest and the gold medal in the 1500 metres at the European Championships in Helsinki 2012.
The British team will be led by international triathlete Hugo Milner, who won the British Trials on a muddy course in Liverpool, and Zakarya Mahamed, who won the individual under 23 silver medal in 2022.
Women’s under 23 race:
Megan Keith from Great Britain will chase her third individual title at the European Cross Country Championships. The British athlete won the European under 20 gold medal in Lisbon 2021 and the European under 23 silver medal behind Battocletti in Venaria Reale 2022. She also claimed the European Under 23 gold medal in the 5000 metres at last July’s European under 23 Championships in Espoo, where she broke away from her rivals with five laps to go.
Keith also led Great Britain to the European under 23 team gold last year in Venaria Reale. This year the British team is the strongest favourite for the gold medal, as it features Scotswoman Eloise Walker and last year’s bronze medallist Alexandra Millard, who are among the candidates for the individual medals.
Keith won the Cardiff International Cross Country race beating a strong international field by 17 seconds and the British Cross Country senior race in Liverpool with a gun-to-tape tactic.
Keith will take on Spain’s Maria Forero, who won the European under 20 individual gold medal in Venaria Reale 2022 and will make her debut in the under 23 category this year.
The best Nordic athletes are Ina Halle Haugen from Norway and Nathalie Blomqvist and last year’s under 20 individual bronze medallist Ilona Mononen from Finland.
Greta Karinauskaite could win the first ever medal for Lithuania in the history of these championships. Karinauskaite won the silver medal in the 3000 metres steeplechase at the European under 23 Championships in Espoo before missing the final at the European Championships in Budapest by one position. She finished 17th in the NCAA Cross Country Championships for California Baptist University, where she studies international business.
Another potential candidate for an individual medal is Amina Maatoug from the Netherlands, who finished fourth in the 5000 metres at the European Under 23 Championships in Espoo. Maatoug finished ninth at the NCAA Cross Country Championships and set a 3000m indoor PB of 8:46.99in Boston last week.
Men’s under 23 race:
The strong British men’s under 23 team is led by European under 23 10000 metres champion Rory Leonard, Will Barnicoat, who won the European under 20 cross country title at the Mandria Park in Venaria Reale and the bronze medal in the 5000 metres at the European Under 23 Championships in Espoo.
Another strong candidate is 1500 metres specialist Matt Stonier, who finished second at the recent British cross country Trials in Liverpool ahead of Leonard and Barnicoat. Stonier set the British under 23 record in the 1500 metres with a world-class 3.31.30 at the London Diamond League meeting last July and finished fourth over this distance at the European under 23 Championships in Espoo.
Two-time European under 23 champion Charles Hicks will not defend his title.
Denmark’s Joel Ibler Lilleso will make his first appearance in the under 23 category at the European Cross Country Championships after winning the European under 20 gold medal in the 5000 metres in Tallin 2021 and broke Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s European indoor under 20 record in the 3000 metres with 7:48.34 in Sollentuna in 2022. Lilleso was forced to miss most of the track season due to injury problems.
Valentin Bresc from France is chasing his second individual under 23 medal after finishing third at last year’s edition in Venaria Reale. France won three consecutive under 23 titles from 2017 to 2019.
Last year’s under 20 bronze medallist Dean Casey leads the Irish under 23 team.
The other top contenders are Alejandro Quijada from Spain and Portugal’s Etson Barros, who finished first and second in the 3000 metres steeplechase at the European Under 23 Championships in Espoo, Derba Ayale and Adisu Guadia from Israel.
Men’s under 20 race:
Niels Laros from the Netherlands will chase his third European gold medal this year a few months after winning two titles in the 1500 and the 5000 metres at the European under 20 Championships in Jerusalem. Laros made his breakthrough in 2022, when he won two European under 18 gold medals in the 1500m and the 3000 metres in Jerusalem.
Laros finished tenth in the 1500 metres at the World Championships in Budapest breaking Gert-Jan Liefers’ long-standing national record with 3:31.25 on his debut at this event. The 18-year-old Dutch athlete will be aiming to follow in the footsteps of Liefers, who claimed the men’s under 20 gold medal in 1997.
Laros showed his versatility over different distances on the track setting a national under 20 record of 1:44.78 in the 800 metres in Monaco, a European under 20 record of 3:48.93 in the mile in the Eugene Diamond League Final in 2023, a European under 18 record of 7:48.25 in the 3000 metres in Zagreb in 2022.
Axel Vang Christensen from Denmark will make his come-back after a difficult 2023 season plagued by injury problems. Christensen came to the fore in 2021, when he won the gold medal by 25 seconds in the under 20 race at the European Cross Country Championships in Dublin. The 19-year-old Danish athlete won the silver medal in the 3000 metres steeplechase at the European under 20 Championships in Tallin 2021.
Nick Griggs finished second to Will Barnicoat in the under 20 race in the final sprint at last year’s edition in Venaria Reale. The 19-year-old Irishman won the gold medal in the 3000 metres at the European under 20 Championships in Tallin 2021 and finished second over this distance at the European under 20 Championships in Jerusalem last August.
Sergio Del Barrio won consecutive gold medals in the 2000 metres steeplechase at the 2022 European under 18 Championships and in the 3000 metres steeplechase at the 2023 European Under 20 Championships in the same venue Jerusalem.
The Belgian team will feature twins Casper and Mathis Lievins and their younger brother Daan Lievins.
Women’s under 20 race:
Sofia Thogersen from Denmark won the gold medal in the 3000 metres and the silver medal in the 2000 metres steeplechase at the European under 18 Championships in Jerusalem 2022 and the silver medal in the 1500m and the bronze medal in the 5000m at the European Under 20 Championships in Jerusalem 2023. She has not placed in the top 10 in her previous two appearances at the European Cross Country Championships.
Thorgersen trains with Niels Laros and Joel Ibler Lilleso under the guidance of Tomasz Lewandowski, brother of former 1500m Polish star Marcin Lewandowski.
The German team is led by Kira Weis, European under 20 silver medallist in the 5000 metres in Jerusalem and sixth at the European Cross Country Championships in Venaria Reale 2022 leading Germany to team bronze medal.
Another potential medal contender is Turkey’s Dilek Kocak, European under 20 gold medallist in the 1500 metres. The Turkish team, who won the European under 20 team silver medal, also features 17-year-old Edibe Yagiz.
Seventeen British runner Ines Fitzgerald will make her second appearance at the European Cross Country Championships one year after finishing fourth in Venaria Reale.
The Italian team will defend their gold medal from last year’s edition in the mixed relay in Venaria Reale. Pietro Arese and Gaia Sabbatini, Marta Zenoni and Ossama Meslek have been named this year.
Sabbatini anchored the Italian team to the gold medal with a memorable last leg to the delight of Italian fans at the Mandria Park in Venaria Reale. The Italian middle-distance runner won the European under 23 gold medal in the 1500 metres in Tallin 2021 and improved her PB to 4:01.23 over this distance at the Diamond League meeting in Chorzow. Sabbatini recently won the short course race at the International cross country at Mandria Park last November.
Arese, who ran the first leg in Venaria Reale last year to give the Italian team the lead at the first changeover, improved his PB to 3:33.11 in the 1500m semifinals of the World Championships in Budapest.
Zenoni won the European under 23 silver medal in the 1500m behind Sabbatini in 2021. The 24-year-old athlete underwent surgery on both Achilles tendons last February and made her come-back with a win in the short course race at the Carlolina Cross Country race.
Meslek improved the Italian indoor record in the 1500m to 3:37.29 in Birmingham in 2022 and set his outdoor PB of 3:33.92 in Padua last September.
Three-time French 1500 metres champion Alexis Miellet showed in the past editions that he is a good performer at the European Cross Championships. Miellet took the French team from fourth at the final changeover to second when he ran the last leg in Dublin 2021. The Frenchman was also the fastest man on the opening leg in Lisbon 2019 taking France from fourth to third.
The Spanish team will feature Naima Ait Alibou, Abderrahman El Khayami, Ignacio Fontes and Rosalia Tarraga.
Tarraga ran the fastest anchor leg in 2022, four seconds quicker than Sabbatini, to help Spain win the silver medal in last year’s edition.
Fontes won the European under 23 gold medal in the 1500 metres in 2019, set his PB of 3:33.27 in 2021 and reached the final at the 2022 World Championships in Eugene.