Nadia Battocletti won her first European cross country title in a sprint finish at U20 level in 2018 and the rising Italian star landed the U23 title in similar fashion on Sunday (12) at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Fingal-Dublin.
After winning back-to-back U20 titles in 2018 and 2019, Battocletti continued her seamless transition through the ranks with her third successive European cross country title and her second U23 title of the year after winning 5000m gold at the European Athletics U23 Championships in Tallinn.
Battocletti only hit the front in the very late stages and when she did, she moved emphatically away from a classy field which included the silver and bronze medallists from the U20 race two years ago in Slovenia’s Klara Lukan and Mariana Machado from Portugal.
After vying for the lead with her long-time rival Lukan, Battocletti moved to the front with real intent with more than 19 minutes on the clock and the 21-year-old engineering student manufactured a commanding winning margin, crossing the line in 20:32 to win by four seconds from Lukan.
In a repeat of the podium from Lisbon two years ago, Machado came through for the bronze medal in 20:36 with France’s Manon Trapp - who was responsible for setting most of the pace in the middle of the race - dropping back to fourth in 20:42. The big Irish hope Sarah Healy had to settle for fifth in 20:48.
“I don't know how I do this. Well, I guess the enthusiasm from the Tokyo Olympics played a part in it. It was a really tough race, with so many strong girls, like Klara, Mariana and Sarah - I am very happy,” said Battocletti, whose excellent season also included a seventh-place finish at the Olympic Games over 5000m.
“My team told me I could probably win easily, but in my head I know that when I step on the course, I don't know the shape of the other girls, I don't know anything about them, so I need to come out here and do my race. It is not true that when you are the favourite, the reality is different, and I always try to run fast to get a win - it is not easy though,” added Battocletti who also led Italy to the team title from.
Italy’s three counter accrued 18 points to lift the trophy from France (25) and Great Britain & NI (37).
The men’s race was a seesawing affair with the lead changing multiple times in the last lap of the 8km contest at the Sport Ireland Campus.
Great Britain’s Charles Hicks, who was his country’s leading counter in the U20 two years ago, made an early breakaway which was gradually foiled by the highly vaunted Irish prospect Darragh McElhinney who received fulsome support from a sizeable crowd.
But as the two favourites sized each other up, they were joined by a surprise interloper from Luxembourg in Ruben Querinjean who was only fifth and nine seconds down on Hicks and McElhinney with one lap to go.
All three athletes had a stint in the lead on the decisive last lap but Hicks kept something in reserve for the long and slightly uphill home straight, forging away for the individual title in 24:29 ahead of McElhinney (24:33) and Querinjean (24:36) who won Luxembourg’s first ever medal at the European Cross Country Championships.
“I tried out so many surges and breaks but [Darragh] couldn just not be broken. The crowd was just cheering him on so much, it was good to see although it was putting me under a lot of pain,” recalled Hicks whose journey from the United States where he studies in Stanford was fully justified.
And by finishing with an individual silver, McElhinney also led a jubilant Ireland to a brilliant team gold medal with 21 points ahead of Great Britain & NI (24) and France (36).
“I'm absolutely over the moon. I'm happy with second, I'm more than content but the fact that the team pulled it out of the bag, I´m buzzing,” said McElhinney who was ably backed up by Keelan Kilrehill in sixth and Micheal Power in 13th.