Events & Meetings

Flashback to Brussels 2008 | Lebid breaks down Farah for record eighth senior crown

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  • Flashback to Brussels 2008 | Lebid breaks down Farah for record eighth senior crown

Following on from our retrospective on the 1996 SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Charleroi, we take a look back at the 2008 edition of the championships which were held in Brussels.

In fact, the 2008 edition was initially supposed to take place in Ostend but the championships were moved to the Belgian capital a few months prior owing to unprecedented levels of rainfall in the region earlier in the year.

A memorable championship took place in the shadow of the city’s famous Atomium in Laeken Park which will be the venue for the 2023 edition of the SPAR European Cross Country Championships on 10 December.

Eighth title and the “hardest victory” for Lebid

Ukraine’s Serhiy Lebid further enhanced his legendary status at these championships by winning his eighth title from 15 editions of the SPAR European Cross Country Championships.

But the 33-year-old was pushed to the brink by an emerging Mo Farah before breaking away in the last 500 metres for a successful defence of his title. 

"I think this was maybe my hardest victory. I was only convinced I could win a few hundred metres from the line," admitted Lebid who won this title for an unprecedented ninth time in 2010. 

In his prime years, Farah’s finishing speed was unmatchable on the track but in a reversal of roles, it was the Brit who took the initiative and ploughed out an unyielding pace. 

Farah opened up a 15 metre lead on the penultimate lap but the Ukrainian - who trailed in fourth-place at one point - used all of his guile and experience to counter the gap before breaking Farah’s resolve with a fierce burst of speed. 

A triumphant Lebid covered the 10km distance in 30:49, opening up an eight second winning margin in the last 600 metres over a forlorn Farah. His training partner Mustafa Mohamed from Sweden took the bronze medal in 31:13. 

“I was very surprised. I don’t know how he did that, I just couldn’t respond,” said a bemused and crestfallen Farah who also won silver the following year in Dublin in his final appearance at the European Cross Country Championships. 

The senior women’s race was a more clear-cut affair with Hilda Kibet winning the 8km title in 27:45, following in the footsteps of her Dutch cousin Lornah Kiplagat who strode to the gold medal three years prior in Tilburg.

Former European U20 cross country champions Jessica Augusto and Ines Monteiro won silver and bronze respectively and led Portugal to the team title for the sixth time ahead of Great Britain and France.

There was also a rare cross country appearance from Russia’s Gulnara Samitova-Galkina who had just won the inaugural Olympic 3000m steeplechase title and became the first athlete to break the nine minute-barrier with 8:58.81 which still stands as the European record. 

Galkina-Samitova made the early running before fading back to 12th in 28:40 in her first and only appearance at the European Cross Country Championships. 

Other notable finishers inside the top-20 included former champions Annemari Sandell from Finland and Great Britain’s Hayley Yelling in 16th and 19th respectively.

The champion in 2004, a disappointed Yelling announced her retirement from competitive athletics soon afterwards. “I turn 35 in January and I could go on and on but I don't want to be just making teams, I want to be going to championships and doing well,” she said.

However, Yelling was lured back to competition less than a year later when she improbably retained her European cross country title in Dublin at the age of 35.

A historic first for Great Britain…and the Ingebrigtsens 

Clean sweeps in SPAR European Cross Country Championships history have been a rare and unusual occurrence.

But surely the achievement of the British women who filled the top six spots in the U20 race is an accomplishment which will never be repeated again?

Led by world U20 1500m champion Stephanie Twell who won gold over 4km for the third successive year, the British team monopolised the top six individual spots in the individual race. And with four scorers to count, the Brits tallied the lowest possible score of 10 in the team race to win the title for the fourth successive year.

Familiar faces also prevailed in the men’s U20 race which saw Florian Carvalho and Hassan Chahdi win gold and bronze respectively in the 6km and lead France to the team title by one point.

The Ingebrigtsen family medal haul dates back to the 2008 edition of the European Cross Country Championships.

Only 17, Henrik Ingebrigtsen was the fourth scoring counter in Norway’s silver medal-winning team in the men’s U20 race which was led by individual silver medallist Sondre Nordstad Moen who went on to break the European marathon record in the 2017 Fukuoka Marathon. 

Other future marathon stars to place included Tokyo 2020 Olympic silver medallist Abdi Nageeye from the Netherlands and 2018 European champion Koen Naert from Belgium in 12th and 35th respectively. 

Two years after winning the U20 title, Italy’s Andrea Lalli triumphed in the men’s U23 race over 8km in 24:56. 

Lalli went on to win the senior title in sub-zero temperatures in Budapest in 2012 and he remains the only athlete - male or female - to win individual gold medals across all three categories at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships.

A large Dutch contingent present at Laeken Park also witnessed Susan Kuijken - who won 2018 European 10,000m silver under her married name of Krumins - win the women’s U23 6km title in 21:02. 

In an eventful race which saw early leader Sultan Haydar from Türkiye collapse on the course through exhaustion at the start of the last lap, Kuijken caught the tiring Turk just before halfway and took the title by eight seconds ahead of Sarah Tunstall who led the Brits to the team title.

The full results from Brussels 2008 can be found here

Steven Mills for European Athletics

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