European Cross Country Championships 2019 – Review

The 2019 European Cross Country Championships was held in Lisbon’s Bela Vista Park on Sunday 8 December. The Portuguese capital city hosted seven separate races, with stand-out performances from regular cross country champions. In this post, I’ll answer the question “What happened during the 2019 European Cross Country Championships?” and what lessons all runners can learn from this premier winter race.

What happened in the men’s races?

In the Under-20 race, Jakob Ingebrigtsen was the three-time defending champion. It took him less than two and a half minutes to get to the front of the huge pack. Although it took about 12 minutes for him to pull away, Ingebrigtsen stayed relaxed the entire race. There was no doubt that his class would shone through. His showboating began well before the final stretch; he won the race by 38 seconds. Great Britain won the team race with athletes finishing in respectable positions of fifth, ninth and eleventh. Norway won team silver.

In the Under-23 race, France’s  Jimmy Gressier was the defending champion. But it was Elzan Bibić of Serbia who pushed the early pace. Gressier was content to keep on his heels as they navigated the winding, hilly course. He became impatient and surged just before 18:30. He still had a lap to run. But he ran it alone to retain his title. He even walked the final few metres to celebrate with the crowd. He also helped France win team gold.

In the senior race, Filip Ingebrigtsen was expected to perform well, after winning last year’s race. But as he stayed in the main pack it became obvious that he would not be crowned champion again. Instead the Swizz athlete Julien Wanders lead for the first 8:30. Then the Turkish athlete Aras Kaya surged. Robel Fsiha of Sweden responded well. It took until almost 27:00 before Fsiha surged up a hill to pass Kaya. From there he worked hard to keep accelerating. The Swede won by 11 seconds, celebrating on the final straight. Great Britain won the team event, with Andrew Butchart (fifth), Ben Connor (ninth) and Kristian Jones (twenty-second) scoring points. Filip Ingebrigtsen finished in a surprising twelfth position.

What happened in the women’s races?

In the Under-20 race, Italy’s Nadia Battocletti was the defending champion. She didn’t take long to get to the front and used her strong, efficient arm drive to propel her forward. She had company from four other athletes when the race truly got going. The group to three athletes. Battocletti remained composed, and used a steep hill with two minutes to go to make her move. Although she only won by three seconds, she made the decisive surge in her own time. Once again Great Britain won the team race, but accumulated the same points as Italy. Great Britain won the gold by only three positions, proving how every racer matters.

In the Under-23 race, Anna Emilie Møller was the outstanding favourite to win again for Denmark. She took a few minutes to reach the front of the pack, but wasn’t concerned with the frontrunning of Dutch athlete Lau. After eight minutes of racing, Møller surged. Ireland’s Stephanie Cotter kept with her. But Møller soon was alone, never needing to look behind. Her focus and strength throughout once again revealed her superior athleticism. She won by 39 seconds. Lau took the silver away from Cotter. The Netherlands won team gold. Great Britain had to settle with team bronze.

In the senior race, Yasemin Chan was looking to win her fourth successive gold medal. But it was Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal of Norway who lead early. But it didn’t take long for Chan to get beside her. After five minutes she was ahead, and pushing on. Grøvdal had to settle into her own pace, as the Turk continued to drive her legs and use her wide arm drive to great effect. Her focus never wavered as she won by 15 seconds. Grøvdal won the silver medal. Great Britain once again won the team event.

What happened in the mixed relay race?

The order of the mixed relay race was female, male, female and male. The Great Britain team began with Sarah McDonald and she was patient as she only pushed her pace in the second half of her first leg. She handed over just after the Belarus team. But the advantage was quickly wrestled back by James McMurray, who gave his nation a 4-second lead for Alexandra Bell. The final handover of the wristband was clean and quick, as Great Britain had a 8-second lead for the final lap. Jonny Davies attacked the course and ensured that Great Britain won gold. Belarus gained silver and France secured bronze.

Running lessons from the race

The 26th edition of the European Cross Country Championships revealed two important lessons for all runners: 1. getting to the front early in the race helps, and 2. relaxed arms support balance when running steep downhills.

Get to the front early

None of the races were particularly long; the longest race was the senior men’s event at 10,225m. This meant that the athletes had to find a fast rhythm quickly if they were not to be left behind. Most of the eventual champions sat back during the early few minutes, and then found a space near or at the front. They were in the best position to cover other athletes’ surges, plus ensure they were free of any crowds, where they could have been tripped or held back.

Relax the arms running downhill

Although the arm drive of athletes varied on the flat and uphill sections of the course, most athletes kept their arms loose and beside their bodies when running downhill. This allows them to use gravity more effectively to cover ground, and supports their balance as they run faster. 

Conclusion

The 2019 European Cross Country Championships threw up few surprises. Familiar faces dominated on a course that was unaffected by rain or mud. Temperatures were reasonable, at 14℃, and although the laps were hilly, most athletes had no problem traversing the Portuguese park. Great Britain showed again why they have great strength in depth. They topped the medal table with five golds and one bronze, all from the team or mixed relay races. Many other countries performed well, helped a lot by athletes who had tasted success before.


Read the 2018 report.

London Diamond League 2019 Overview

The Müller Anniversary Games at the London Stadium, East London, was the tenth Diamond League meeting of the 2019 season. There were a lot of impressive performances, especially from the athletes of Great Britain, such as Lynsey Sharp winning the 800m and Dina Asher-Smith clocking another sub 11 seconds for second-place in the 100m.

Muir Triumphs on Home Soil Again

Laura Muir won another competitive 1500m race on a UK track with two of her training partners. After a cagey start, where no athlete wanted to push on, the speed was only evident come the last lap. Only the German Konstanze Klosterhalfen could even come close to matching the Scot’s strength and tenacity. But with 200m to go there was no doubt as to Muir’s victory. 

The slightly breezy conditions meant that Muir’s race strategy to kick late was perfect. It’s another confidence boost leading into the 2019 World Championships.

Local Athlete Excels

Laviai Nielsen, the multiple 400m relay medalist, was competing on her home track. Growing up “10 minutes away”, she felt the crowd urge her on. She started very quickly, and was leading going into the final turn of the one-lap race. Although she couldn’t keep her lead to the end, she finished third with a huge personal best of 50.83 seconds. She is also the fastest 400m British woman this season. She achieved this by “running her heart out”.

Norweigan Records Fall

In the men’s 5000m race the young Jakob Ingebrigtsen lined up against imperius East African competitors such as Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet and Kenya’s Rhonex Kipruto. Ingebrigtsen stayed behind the leaders for three-quarters of the race but made his first move with three laps to go. He remained patient and made a decisive move with 600m to go. Although he wasn’t quite able to respond to Hagos Gebrhiwet’s final push, his performance was remarkable. His time of 13:02.03 was over six seconds quicker than the previous Norweigan record set over 15 years ago. It was the first senior national record for the charismatic Norweigan. At only 18 years old he continues to impress; his future will surely be littered with more records. 

Filip Ingebrigtsen followed his younger brother’s performance the following day with another national record. This time it was the mile. The 26-year-old lead during most of the final lap, but Ethiopia’s Samuel Tefera won by 0.15 seconds. Still, the Norweigan broke his older brother, Henrik’s five-year record by over a second.

European Indoor Athletics Championships 2019 Review

The 35th edition of the European Indoor Athletics Championships was set to be a thrilling 3-day event. Superstars of European athletics were on show throughout last weekend in Glasgow’s Emirates Arena, including double-defending champion Laura Muir, the three Ingebrigtsen brothers and the enigmatic Karsten Warholm.

The home crowd had huge expectations for Team Great Britain, and the 49 athletes selected would not disappoint.

 

Peak Performance Requires Discipline

 

For many of the competitions there were two or three rounds before the medalists were decided. In less than three days, athletes would be racing multiple times with relatively little recovery. This was even more evident for Laura Muir and Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who were both competing in the 1500m and 3000m events.

Muir raced in the 1500m heat hours before she won 3000m gold. Although she won both races, she controlled the pace from the front to qualify for 1500m final with relative ease. Two days later she admitted she recovered well, storming to a historic double-double. It is a reminder of her superior class, and reminiscent of Mo Farah’s Olympic double-double outdoors (5000m and 10,000m).

Filip Ingebrigtsen, the middle brother of the amazing Norwegian middle-distance family, sadly became an example of ill-discipline. He was focusing solely on the 1500m, which allowed him to qualify for the final with ease, saving himself for a big push to beat his younger brother Jakob. But with just over two laps to go (400m) Filip forced his way passed a competitor on the inside lane. He stepped outside of the track and was later disqualified. His rush to get to the front and win the race was unnecessary; he was fast enough to qualify and yet a lack of patience cost him a place in the final, and most likely a medal.

Less severe were Jakob’s two heats (one for the 1500m and one for the 3000m), in which he wanted so desperately to win that he surged throughout to cover his competitors’ moves. Although he won gold in the 3000m final, his silver in the 1500m final the following day was most likely the result of cumulative fatigue. Still, he could have helped himself out by not running so hard in the heats.

As the legendary Steve Cram reflected in commentary, it is more difficult to recover from races with constant changes in pace, than it is of a steady pace. However, it must be said that Jakob’s accomplishments so far, at the tender age of eighteen, bode extremely well for the future.

 

Character Shines through for Gold Medallists

 

Athletics is a special sport. It is tactical and intense, but it is also individual. Glasgow was awash with gold medallists who more than anything else showed their unique personalities and dominant racing styles.

  • GB’s Muir bares her teeth during the final lap as she acelerates from the rest of the field.
  • GB’s Oskan-Clarke uses her muscular physique and strong front-running to make overtaking her a challenging prospect.
  • Norway’s Karsten Warholm unleashes his incredible leg speed and free-flowing form, all while remaining calm in his facial expression; his humorous and extroverted nature also come alive on camera post-race.

These athletes show that to win one must train and race smart, and feel confident in one’s natural strengths. This makes other athletes fearful. Having a relaxed and humble manner undoubtedly helps.

Elite Champions at 2018 European Cross Country Championships

Conditions in the southern city of Tilburg in the Netherlands was as expected for cross country running – muddy, wet, rainy, windy and cold.

But, despite some athletes slipping and falling, the settings did nothing to prevent the athletes from competing hard over compelling distances, ranging from 4 to 10km.

Winners Focus

All the eventual winners had nothing on their minds other than navigating the undulating, winding course as efficiently and as quickly as possible.

They never panicked, whether they had competitors beside them for the majority of the race, or found themselves forging ahead alone, stringing out the rest of the field. The champions also waited for the most crucial times to give their best effort; often over the final bend and straight.

These performances were highlighted further by the immature actions of Ouassim Oumaiz, the U20 Spaniard, who despite finishing second spent sections of the race talking, looking back, and even slapping the hand of Jakob Ingebrigtsen.

As a coach, I reflect on two matters; if he had concentrated more on his own pacing, he could have reduced the nine-second victory of Ingebrigtsen, and, better secured his silver medal, because on another day Serbia’s Elzan Bibic could have made up his two-second deficit.

Position Matters

Every race began with athletes sprinting the 200m straight across the mud flat to the opening of the woods. Cross country, by its nature, is fiercely competitive as tight corners and uneven surfaces mean every step must keep athletes balanced, and every position counts for individual and team glory.

Norway topped the medal table with three golds, helped in huge part by the contribution of the Ingebrigtsen brothers. Although Team GB could only manage team medals, they finished the day with the largest haul of any nation, revealing once again the depth of athletic talent that lies in the United Kingdom.

Believers Succeed

I predicted before the championships that Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Turkey’s Jasemine Can would defend their titles. I also suspected that a new champion would be crowned in the senior men’s race, simply due to the extraordinarily strong field.

I was proven right, but the reason is more pronounced in the U23 champions, France’s Jimmy Gressier and Denmark’s Anna Møller. They displayed the belief of champions, accepting their roles as pre-race favourites, running to their strengths – Gressier fast, pushing the pace the entire race, and Møller strategic, waiting for others’ to fatigue before making her final move.

5 Secrets to Young Success of Jakob Ingebrigtsen

Jakob Ingebrigtsen has caused a frenzy amongst the athletics world with his incredible double gold (1500m and 5000m) at the European Athletics Championships earlier in August. At only 17 years of age, he has already accomplished more than some of the experienced athletes he competed against in these races.

So, what are the secrets to his success?

1. A Healthy Family Rivalry

Jakob has two world-class runners as older brothers to look up to. Although he admits that pressure to live up to their European and World Championship medal performances is tough1 the motivation is even greater.

He has training partners, who not only harbour the same ambitions but want him to succeed as much as they want to themselves. More importantly, Jakob has an advantage over his brothers – he has witnessed their success and can learn from proven training techniques.

2. Intense Mileage

According to reports2, Jakob manages up to 85 miles per week, running twice a day. This amount of running would seem rare in a young teenager, although is obviously necessary for pursuing the most elite titles.

However, realistically, Jakob has spent his youth gradually improving his mileage. As his body has developed so has the stress from running. This has meant that he has refined his endurance and speed to an elite fitness level, whilst staying injury-free for crucial races.

3. Threshold Training

Thus far in his career Jakob has focused on developing a strong cardiovascular fitness base. According to reports, Jakob has achieved this through threshold running, a form of training that stresses the body just enough to cause incremental adaptations. He should therefore be more than adept at running at a ‘comfortably hard’ intensity, ideal for boosting his confidence and coping with elite track races, many of which require astute tactics and gradual accelerations.

4. Hungry Learner

Jakob is a keen student of the sport too, reading all there is on running1. Although an academic student himself, this shows how passionate (and serious) he takes the discipline. He wants to improve and therefore must be willing (and able) to understand the training approaches, motivational techniques and former (and current) athletes’ journeys to success.

This is an important component of a champion, one who experiments to ensure he gets the best out of himself. Failures are inevitable, but his coach has helped analyse what has and hasn’t worked in order to get the best out of his young son.

5. Greatest Ambition

Jakob is motivated to become the best in the world. As soon as he had won the 1500m he was preparing for the 5000m race,3 showing that he is not willing to rest on his laurels.

He knows that there is still uncharted territory for the Ingebrigtsen family, namely an Olympic medal and a World title. What more incentive is there than to not only match his brothers’ achievements but to supersede them? This mindset will only strengthen as he enjoys more and more success, and grows into a more mature athlete.

Mentored by his coach and father4, Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s rise to senior success is remarkable. As Tim Hutchings echoes5, Jakob could be considered “outrageously gifted” and has broken “long-established rules”. However, the secrets to his achievements are not as unique as one would perhaps imagine. Instead it is the structured running routine, tested and proven, along with family support and drive to win that has projected him to the top of Europe’s middle-distance runners.

What is most incredible about his recent athletic performances is how dedicated a 17-year old can be, since the age of ten,1 to pursue a demanding sport. Even at such a young age, Jakob is willing to push himself to the brink in order to overcome his challengers.

His titles prove that to be the best one must be willing to train, research and race as smart and as hard as possible. Jakob already appears to have plenty of experience.


References

1 The IAAF article is entitled Teen Prodigy Ingebrigtsen’s Tale Comes of Age in Berlin. Published on 12 August 2018.
2 The IAAF article is entitled After Smashing through the four-minute barrier, Ingebrigtsen Serves Notice. Published on 30 May 2017.
3 The Athletics Weekly article is entitled Jakob’s Stunning Double. Published on 16 August 2018.
4 The News in English article is entitled Father Scolds the Ingebrigtsens. Published on 8 August 2018.
5 The Athletics Weekly article is entitled A Breath of Fresh Air. Published on 23 August 2018.