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Europe’s top U20 prospects to clash in Tilburg on the road to the European Cross

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Three of Europe’s most outstanding and precocious U20 runners will meet at the International Warandecross in Tilburg on 27 November on the road to the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Piemonte-La Mandria Park near Turin on 11 November.

The Warandecross is a World Athletics Cross Country Tour Silver event and traditionally serves as a good indicator of form for the SPAR European Cross Country Championships which typically fall two weeks later. 

And while much of the focus of attention will be on the senior races in Tilburg, aficionados of European distance running will also be keen to follow the progress of Niels Laros, Joel Ibler Lillesø and Abdullahi Dahir Rabi - all of whom have broken European age-group records this year - in the men’s U20 6.2km. 

While Rabi and Lillesø won silver and bronze respectively in the U20 race at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Fingal-Dublin last year behind Denmark’s Axel Vang Christensen who is eligible to - and intends to - defend his title in Turin, Laros is comparatively new to cross country running at this level.

But the 17-year-old Dutchman is one of the emerging stars of middle distance running in Europe and was even one of the three finalists for the men’s Rising Star accolade. Laros cruised to a 1500/3000m double at the European Athletics U18 Championships in Jerusalem before embarking on a late season record-breaking frenzy at U18 level.

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Laros broke the European U18 bests for the 1500m (3:39.46) and 3000m (7:48.25), the latter improving a mark which had stood since 1976, and he also demonstrated his range of talents by running a hand-timed 1:46.3 for 800m. Only one athlete ran faster at that distance at U18 level this year. 

But the 6.2km distance in Tilburg will be a test of Laros’ stamina and endurance ahead of the SPAR European Cross Country Championships where he endeavours to compete. And in Rabi and Lillesø, Laros will face two of the likeliest contenders for the title next month. 

Still only 18, Lillesø began his season by eclipsing Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s European indoor U20 3000m record with 7:48.34 before representing Denmark at both the World Athletics Indoor Championships and European Athletics Championships.

Out of the three, Rabi is arguably the best endurance athlete at this stage of their respective careers. The Norwegian smashed the long-standing European U20 10,000m record with 28:11.71 this summer and recently ran the second fastest 10km by a European at U20 level with 28:23 at the famous Hytteplanmila.

Foppen, Koster and Vastenburg lead the Dutch hopes

After missing out in a sprint finish against Switzerland’s Jonas Raess last year, Mike Foppen from the Netherlands will be looking to go one better and regain the title he won in 2019 in the senior men’s 10km which also serves as the Dutch Championships.

Foppen will face a strong domestic line-up including veteran marathon runner and former Warandecross winner Khalid Choukoud as well as Stan Niesten and Tom Hendrikse while his main international rivals will be 2017 champion Napoleon Solomon from Sweden and long-time Austrian international Andreas Vojta.

Mike Foppen

Jip Vastenburg will also be looking to upgrade last year’s runner-up finish with victory on the road to the SPAR European Cross Country Championships. 

But the tall Dutchwoman will face strong opposition not only from a strong domestic contingent including Maureen Koster, Bo Ummels and Ruth Van der Meijden but also Sweden’s Sarah Lahti who took a dominant victory on this surface in Mol last month.

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