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Battocletti poised to strike again in the U23 ranks in Dublin

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New names will be crowned U23 champions at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships after Denmark’s Anna Emilie Møller and France’s Jimmy Gressier both graudate into the senior ranks after monopolising this age-group, winning five of the six individual titles on offer as a pair between 2017 and 2019.

But another repeat winner is expected to follow in Møller’s footsteps in the women's race and add to her growing European title haul in Fingal-Dublin on Sunday (12).

Italy’s Nadia Battocletti is one of only three women to have won back-to-back titles in the U20 ranks at the European Cross Country Championships - the others being Steph Twell (2006-08) and Konstanze Klosterhalfen (2015-16) - and she will be looking to continue her heady ascent on the European stage with her second major U23 title of the year.

Battocletti won a dramatic 5000m final at the Tallinn 2021 European Athletics U23 Championships - a race made unforgettable by a power outage which temporarily rendered the Kadriorg Stadium devoid of electricity - before she made another big leap in her young career at the Olympic Games, finishing a surprise seventh in the 5000m and setting lifetime bests of 14:55.83 in the heat and 14:46.29 in the final.

Based on this form, Battocletti would have been one of the prospective medal favourites in the senior race but the 21-year-old has opted for the step-by-step approach and has committed to the U23 race. She is also eligible for the U23 ranks at the next edition of the SPAR European Cross Country Championships which takes place at home in Turin.

Battocletti has only raced once since the track season, finishing 12th but in a high calibre race in Atapuerca on 14 November. The Italian admitted she was only at “70-80 percent fitness” before that race and that a big block of training was to follow in the build-up to Fingal-Dublin.

Battocletti’s main rivals in the U23 ranks will already be familiar to her from age-group battles in recent times. She will line up alongside her long-time contemporary and continental rival Klara Lukan from Slovenia - a fellow Tokyo Olympian - who defeated Battocletti for the 5000m title at the 2019 European U20 Championships but had to settle for silver behind the Italian at both the last edition of the European Cross Country Championships in 2019 and in Tallinn this summer.

SPAR European Cross Country Championships

Portugal’s Mariana Machado completes the triumvirate of individual medallists from the U20 race in 2019 who will be in action in the U23 race in Fingal-Dublin. While she missed the track season due to injury, Machado returned to form with a commanding victory in the senior race at the Portuguese Cross Country Championships where she took the notable scalp of Jessica Augusto, the European cross country champion in 2010.

Ireland won individual bronze and team silver in the women’s U23 race two years ago and this age-group category could prove fruitful for the home contingent again on Sunday. Sarah Healy finished an excellent second at the Irish Cross Country Championships over 8km but the 6km distance which is contested at U23 level could be even more to the liking of the 20-year-old whose specialist distance on the track is the 1500m.

With Gressier at the forefront, France also won three men’s U23 team titles between 2017 and 2019 but the Marseillaise could ring out around the Sport Ireland Campus for their women’s U23 team on this occasion. 

Not since 1999 has France won a women’s team title at any age-group at the European Cross Country Championships - the same year they also won the team short course title at the World Cross Country Championships in Belfast - but they will be fielding a strong cohort which is headed by European U23 3000m steeplechase champion Flavie Renouard and bronze medallist Aude Clavier.

Who will succeed Gressier in the men’s U23 race?

By contrast there will be a new look and feel to the men’s U23 race this year with none of the individual medallists from either the U20 or U23 ranks from Lisbon 2019 competing in this age division in Fingal-Dublin.

But the men’s U23 race should feature the usual strong contenders from France, Spain and Great Britain & NI, all of whom have won team titles in this category in years gone by.

With Gressier and Hugo Hay in their ranks, France thoroughly dominated the individual and team race between 2017 and 2019 but their new intake is certainly not lacking in ability either. Their team is headed by Florian Le Pallac and Valentin Gondouin who won silver and bronze respectively in the 10,000m at the European Athletics U23 Championships.

That race was won by Eduardo Menacho who will be at the forefront of a perennially strong Spanish team which also includes the US-based Aaron Las Heras, the 2019 European U20 5000m champion.

And the host nation will not be without their medal chances in the men’s U23 race. Darragh McElhinney had the beating of all the seniors at the Irish Cross Country Championships with the exception of Hiko Tonosa three weeks ago and the 21-year-old is deservedly considered one of the hosts’ best individual medal chances across the programme.

Unlike hosts Ireland, Andorra might not boast quite the same distance running pedigree but Nahuel Carabana has already made history for his country this year by winning Andorra’s first ever major European medal with U23 bronze in the 3000m steeplechase in Tallinn. This makes him the star name on an enlarged Andorran team for the championships as the tiny landlocked nation will also be fielding a team in the mixed relay for the first time.

Carabana might not be one of the main gold medal contenders but based on his performances on the track this summer, he should improve markedly on his 44th-place finish in the U23 race in Lisbon two years ago.

Also watch out for Portugal, especially in the context of the team race. Their standout runners are Etson Barros, who won silver in the 3000m steeplechase in Tallinn, and Isaac Nader, the surprise 1500m winner at the European Athletics Team Championships Super League in Silesia. 

The SPAR European Cross Country Championships will be streamed live in its entirety on the European Athletics website from 9.30am local time (GMT).

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