British runners Megan Keith and Will Barnicoat emerged victorious in the U23 women's and men's races.
Women’s Under 23 Race:
Megan Keith of Great Britain clinched the gold medal in the women's under 23 race at the European Cross Country Championships, clocking an impressive time of 25:32. She established a record-winning margin of 1 minute and 23 seconds, decisively outpacing last year’s European under 20 cross country bronze medalist, Ilona Mononen from Finland, who finished in 26:55. Nathalie Blomqvist secured the third spot with a time of 27:06. Keith, the European under 20 champion from Dublin in 2021 and last year's silver medalist, showcased her dominance in this race.
Keith set a strong pace from the start, gaining a two-second lead at the end of the first 1000m lap. Only 5 minutes into the race, she had already created a 10-meter lead. Blomqvist, meanwhile, established a 25-meter gap from the chasing group.
By the end of the second lap, Keith had extended her lead to 21 seconds, and the chasing pack had caught up with Blomqvist. Halfway through, Keith was ahead by a massive 47 seconds, poised to break the 39-second record margin. Blomqvist, Mononen, and Jana Van Lent from Belgium were in the pursuit for second, third, and fourth places.
Entering the final lap, Keith's lead had grown to 1 minute and 18 seconds. The battle for second place intensified between Blomqvist and Mononen with 800 meters remaining. Ultimately, Keith crossed the finish line with a groundbreaking 1 minute and 23-second lead. Mononen overtook Blomqvist on the last lap, securing silver with a nine-second advantage.
Great Britain's team success was further bolstered by Alexandra Millard and Eloise Millard, who finished 11th and 15th, respectively, helping their team secure the team gold medal with 22 points, ahead of Germany and Spain, both scoring 50 points.
Reflecting on her strategy, Megan Keith said, “I was conscious that it was going to be a long 7 km in the mud. So I did not want to overdo it at the start. I was not expecting to finish the first lap with a gap. I was hoping to have a pack with me. When I realized I was alone, I committed to it, and it paid off today.”
Men’s Under 23 Race:
In the men's under 23 race, Will Barnicoat from Great Britain emerged victorious, narrowly defeating France's Valentin Bresc with an identical time of 23:42 in the closely contested 7 km event. Matthew Stonier, also from Great Britain, secured third place with a time of 23:51. The British team triumphed in the under 23 category, accumulating 25 points, ahead of France with 34 points and Norway with 42 points.
Bresc increased the tempo as a group of seven men passed the 4 km mark at 13:28. With 1500 meters left, Bresc surged ahead, with only Barnicoat and 1500 meters specialist Stonier able to keep pace.
As the race neared its climax, Bresc and Barnicoat ran side by side, while Stonier fell slightly behind. In the final lap, Barnicoat took the lead. Although Bresc nearly overtook him, Barnicoat launched a decisive kick to clinch the win, adding to his triumph in Venaria Reale the previous year. Stonier improved upon his eighth-place finish from last year's edition in Venaria Reale, crossing the line in third place.
Reflecting on his win, Will Barnicoat remarked, “Last year I won the gold medal in the under 20 race, and some said it was a bit lucky. Today I proved it wasn’t. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect today, as I hadn’t run well at the Trials in Liverpool. The muddy course suited me perfectly. It was a tight finish, but I waited to attack on the last downhill and managed to keep off the French athlete in the end.”