LISBON, PORTUGAL, December 08—In sharp contrast to the last two editions of Europe’s showpiece harrier event, this year’s runners in the Portuguese capital didn’t have to battle the elements as the thermometer was generally in the mid-50s and there was no rain or any noticeable wind factor but the consensus was that the Parque de Bela Vista was arguably the toughest of the last decade owing to some brutal climbs and descents.
Nevertheless, despite the challenges presented by what one commentator described as “not so much a park with hills but a hill with some turf on it,” the terrain didn’t upset too many of the favorites with 5 of the defending champions from 12 months ago retaining their title.
Fsiha Wins With Little Fanfare
The one winner to upset the odds was Sweden’s Robel Fsiha in the Senior men’s race. Fsiha, a refugee from Eritrea who arrived in his adopted country 6 years ago, had a few credentials that could have alerted the pundits—such as being the leading European finisher at the World XC back in March when he came home in 17th—but a modest track season which meant he didn’t go to Doha and a dnf in his own national XC in October found the 23-year-old immigrant flying under the radar.
Turkey’s ’16 winner Aras Kaya started to push the pace just before 4K of the 10.3K race and by 6K only had Fsiha and Italy’s two-time U20 champion Yemaneberhan Crippa for company. Kaya kept on surging and dropped Crippa with about 2K to go on the penultimate 1500 lap but Fsiha continued to look very comfortable, covering any move his Kenyan-born rival could produce and with 500 remaining darted past Kaya, who suddenly looked very tired, powering away on a downhill stretch leading into the homestraight before putting 11 seconds between himself and the silver medalist by the line.
“It was a really good field here and I was expecting it so I prepared myself by training really hard,” said Fsiha. “My focus was to take gold—that’s why I’ve been training at altitude prior to coming here. I knew the other athletes would try to follow me, but I’ve been working hard on my hill workout, so I’m pleased with the result.” He crossed the line in 29:59, the time a reflection of the toughness of the course, with Kaya 2nd (30:11) while Crippa hung on for 3rd (30:21). Further back, ’18 champ Filip Ingebrigtsen of Norway was never a factor and could only finish 12th, almost a minute behind the winner.
EURO XC SENIOR MEN’S RESULTS
(10.3K): 1. Robel Fsiha (Swe) 29:59; 2. Aras Kaya (Tur) 30:10; 3. Yemaneberhan Crippa (Ita) 30:21; 4. Julien Wanders (Swi) 30:25; 5. Andrew Butchart (GB) 30:38; 6. Samuel Fitwi Sibhatu (Ger) 30:39; 7. Soufiane Bouchikhi (Bel) 30:41; 8. Isaac Kimeli (Bel) 30:46; 9. Ben Connor (GB) 30:47; 10. Jonas Raess (Swi) 30:53;
11. Antonio Abadía (Spa) 30:57; 12. Filip Ingebrigtsen (Nor) 30:57; 13. Ildar Nadyrov (Rus) 30:57; 14. Carlos Mayo (Spa) 31:05; 15. Simon Boch (Ger) 31:07; 16. Sezgin Ataç (Tur) 31:08; 17. Rinas Akhmadiyev (Rus) 31:08; 18. Seán Tobin (Ire) 31:11; 19. Yann Schrub (Fra) 31:12; 20. Fernando Carro (Spa) 31:17.
Women: Can Do!
3-time defending champ Yasemin Can had not raced since July and had reportedly had injury and illness problems during the summer, which led to her absence from Doha, but she showed no signs of these woes as she cruised to a 15-second win over Norway’s Karoline Grøvdal, who had finished 3rd the previous four years but finally moved up the podium. In familiar fashion to her previous wins, the 27-year-old Turk moved to the front early in the race, in this case around 2K, and then just romped away from the rest of the field before winning the 8.3K race in 26:52.
Grøvdal tried to stay with Can briefly but then had a lonely race in 2nd before finishing 15 seconds in arrears in 27:07 with a yawning 36-second gap back to bronze medalist Sweden’s Samrawit Mengsteab who, like the men’s winner Fsiha, is originally from Eritrea.
EURO XC SENIOR WOMEN’S RESULTS
(8.3K): 1. Yasemin Can (Tur) 26:52; 2. Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal (Nor) 27:07; 3. Samrawit Mengsteab (Swe) 27:43; 4. Fionnuala McCormack (Ire) 27:45; 5. Liv Westphal (Fra) 28:02; 6. Jessica Judd (GB) 28:05; 7. Charlotte Arter (GB) 28:07; 8. Dulce Félix (Por) 28:09; 9. Elena Burkard (Ger) 28:10; 10. Carla Salomé Rocha (Por) 28:13;
11. Valeria Roffino (Ita) 28:34; 12. Federica Sugamiele (Ita) 28:36; 13. Abbie Donnelly (GB) 28:40; 14. Esma Aydemir (Tur) 28:43; 15. Amy Griffiths (GB) 28:50; 16. Irene Sánchez (Spa) 28:50; 17. Aoibhe Richardson (Ire) 28:52; 18. Maria Sagnes Wågan (Nor) 28:54; 19. Roxana Bârcă (Rom) 28:54; 20. Ciara Mageean (Ire) 28:58.
Some Familiar Age-Group Names
In the younger age-group races, with a plethora of familiar names to U.S. cross fans as many countries had runners on stateside collegiate rosters, all four defending champions retained their titles.
Norwegian prodigy Jakob Ingebrigtsen won the Junior (U20) race by 38 seconds, taking the gold for an unprecedented fourth time. He showed no signs of the jet leg that affected older brother Filip in the Senior race with the pair having arrived in Lisbon from a training camp in Flagstaff four days earlier. But even he could not claim the biggest winning margin as Doha steeple 7th-place Anna Emilie Møller, a Dane who can run 9:13 over the barriers, won the women’s U23 race by 39 seconds, with Adams State’s NCAA II champion Stephanie Cotter, running for Ireland, finishing 3rd. France’s Jimmy Gressier won the men’s U23 title for the third consecutive year while Italy’s Nadia Battocletti retained her U20 women’s crown (5th in that race was Poland’s Zofia Dudek, the Brooks mile champ last year as a Michigan prep).
Great Britain topped the medal table thanks to winning 5 of the 7 team contests despite not winning a single individual medal.
EURO XC AGE-GROUP RESULTS
U23 Men (8.3K)
1. Jimmy Gressier (Fra) 24:17; 2. Elzan Bibić (Ser) 24:25; 3. Abdessamad Oukhelfen (Spa) 24:34; 4. Tadesse Getahon (Isr) 24:50; 5. Yohanes Chiappinelli (Ita) 24:51.
U20 Men (6.3K)
1. Jakob Ingebrigtsen (Nor) 18:20; 2. Ayetullah Aslanhan (Tur) 18:58; 3. Efrem Gidey (Ire) 19:01; 4. Etson Barros (Por) 19:05; 5. Charles Hicks (GB) 19:05.
U23 Women (6.3K)
1. Anna Emilie Møller (Den) 20:30; 2. Jasmijn Lau (Hol) 21:09; 3. Stephanie Cotter (Ire) 21:15; 4. Jasmijn Bakker (Hol) 21:21; 5. Federica Zanne (Ita) 21:24.
U20 Women (4.3K)
1. Nadia Battocletti (Ita) 13:58; 2. Klara Lukan (Slo) 14:01; 3. Mariana Machado (Por) 14:10; 4. Delia Sclabas (Swi) 14:22; 5. Zofia Dudek (Pol) 14:22.
Amalgamated Team Medals (all races including mixed relay): 1. Great Britain 6 (5 golds, 1 bronze); 2. France 4; 3. Italy 4; 4. tie, Norway & Turkey 3. ◻︎