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Flashback to Chia 2016 | The arrival of Jakob Ingebrigtsen

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  • Flashback to Chia 2016 | The arrival of Jakob Ingebrigtsen

In the last of four themed features ahead of this year’s SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Piemonte-La Mandria Park on 11 December, we look back at the last time Italy staged the championships in 2016 when some familiar names were to emerge over the course of the programme.

The picturesque Sardinian village of Chia, nestled by the Mediterranean, was the venue for that year's SPAR European Cross Country Championships, and Italy becoming just the second country after Great Britain to host the championships for a third time.

The reign of Ingebrigtsen begins

Inevitably, given that the championships were held little more than five months after the European Athletics Championships had come to an end earlier in the summer, several winners there were to taste further success.

But the race that arguably caused the most eyebrows to be raised among hardcore athletics aficionados occurred several hours earlier when 16-year-old Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen won the men’s U20 race on his debut at the European Cross Country Championships.

The rest - as is often said - is history but on an unseasonably hot and sunny morning he was still something of an unknown quantity, overshadowed by the successes of his two older brothers Filip and Henrik, who had made the podium at the European Athletics Championships in Amsterdam that summer when winning 1500m gold and bronze respectively.

However, Jakob provided more than a glimpse of his great talent when he moved away smoothly on the final lap of his race to win by eight seconds from local hope Yohanes Chiappinelli to follow in the footsteps of Henrik who won the U23 cross country title in 2012. 

Ingebrigtsen was to go on to win the U20 cross country title for the following three years before stepping up to the senior title in Dublin last year. However, none of those victories caused quite the same levels of distress and exhaustion. 

In conditions that couldn’t have been more of a contrast to those in his hometown of Sandnes in mid-December, Ingebrigtsen memorably collapsed through the finish-line and spent an hour in the medical tent before recovering sufficiently to collect his first of many medals.

Jimmy Gressier was fourth in the U20 race, although he was to stand on top of the podium for the next three years when winning the U23 title. He also led France to U20 team gold for the second successive year ahead of Spain and Great Britain whose team included two future Olympic medallists.

Behind individual bronze medallist Mahamed Mahamed, Olympic triathlon champion Alex Yee - whose assault on an individual medal was all but scuppered by a heavy fall which caused him to lose almost 40 places  - rallied to finish 11th with Olympic 1500m bronze medallist Josh Kerr the third British counter home in 15th.

Double gold for Can on her 20th birthday

Yasemin Can, the 5000m and 10,000m gold medallist in Amsterdam, added lustre to her amazing year by winning double gold again on her 20th birthday as she took the individual senior women’s title and led Türkiye to glory in the team race.

Can – triumphing for the first time in what is currently an unprecedented four consecutive victories in the women’s race – was accompanied only by her compatriot Meryem Akdag from little more than a kilometre into the race before moving clear in the closing stages and crossing the line ten seconds clear of her teammate. 

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Thirty seconds further back was Norway's Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal, winning the second of what would be four consecutive bronze medals before she started to move up the podium with silver in 2019 and then gold 12 months ago.

Just a short time later, in the senior men’s race, it was the turn of Aras Kaya – no relation to the 2015 European cross country champion Ali Kaya – and 2014 winner Polat Kemboi Arikan to produce another one-two for Türkiye.

Kaya and Arikan – the 3000m steeplechase silver medallist and 10,000 gold medallist from Amsterdam respectively – emulated Can and Akdag by pulling away from the rest of the best of Europe’s cross country runners over the second-half of the race before the former imposed his authority over the final kilometre to become the third Turkish winner in as many years.

Great Britain’s Callum Hawkins was third, coming through strongly to cross the line five seconds behind Arikan and with Andrew Butchart and Andy Vernon finishing directly behind him, Great Britain clinched the team title once Ben Connor had come home in 16th place.

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Klosterhalfen strikes again in the U20 race

The first race of the day also provided a spectacle delivered by one of Europe’s leading contemporary distance running talents as Germany's Konstanze Klosterhalfen became only the second woman to retain the women's U20 title.

A year on from winning in the French town of Hyères, Klosterhalfen matched the feats of Great Britain's Steph Twell in 2006 and 2007 with the most dominant performance of the day, winning by 17 seconds from Denmark's Anna Emilie Møller, who was to become a two-time U23 champion in 2018 and 2019.

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Third was Great Britain’s Harriet Knowles-Jones, who became Klosterhalfen’s U20 successor 12 months later, but who was still able to stand on top of the podium in Chia as she led Britain to the team title.

By contrast to Klosterhalfen’s one-woman display, the men’s U23 race was an enthralling three-man battle between Belgium's Isaac Kimeli, Spain's Carlos Mayo and the man receiving the most cheers, Italy's Yemaneberhan Crippa.

It was Kimeli who was to prevail after an astute injection of speed off the final on-course obstacle 300 metres from the line and the others could not respond.

Five seconds back was Mayo, as he won a silver for the third year in a row - he was the U20 runner-up in 2014 and U23 in 2015 - with Crippa, who will be one of the host country’s big hopes for a medal in 2022, third and only one second in arrears.

In the women’s U23 race, Sofia Ennaoui became the first Polish woman to win SPAR European Cross Country Championships gold medal when she used her speed honed as a 1500m runner to sprint clear of Germany's Anna Gehring with 80 metres to go.

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Great Britain's Alice Wright finished a distant third behind the leading pair but led home a British quartet who packed their four scorers into the top 12 to take the team title.

As Chia was just six years ago, there will be many runners in Piemonte-la Mandria Park who also competed there and who will relish a return to Italy and its hospitality and great organisation that has been evident on all three previous occasions the country has staged the SPAR European Cross Country Championships.

Click here for full results from 2016.

Phil Minshull for European Athletics

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