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.