Nadia Battocletti will be chasing a historic place in the annals of Italian athletics when she defends her continental U23 crown on home soil in the 28th SPAR European Cross Country Championships at Piemonte-La Mandria Park on the outskirts of Turin on Sunday (11).
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While the US-based Briton Charles Hicks seeks to retain the men’s U23 title in a year in which he has shattered David Bedford’s ancient British U23 10,000m record and captured the coveted NCAA cross country title, Battocletti aims to win her fourth successive individual title since 2018.
Her father and coach, Giuliano Battocletti, led Italy to the senior men’s team prize with a seventh-placed finish when the championships were first held in their homeland, at Ferrara in 1998, but individual success eluded the Italians that day.
This time L’Azzurri will have high hopes of striking individual home gold in the shape of Signorina Battocletti. The 22-year-old has already secured a hat-trick of European cross country titles on foreign ground, having won the U20 race in Tilburg in 2018 and in Lisbon in 2019, and having emerged victorious from a thrilling U23 race in Fingal-Dublin twelve months ago.
Only one woman has gained back-to-back U23 titles and Battocletti will be attempting to emulate the Danish steeplechaser Anna Emilie Moller’s 2018-19 double on northern Italian ground close to her home in Trentino. "Racing at home will be a beautiful and exciting experience," she said in a FIDAL interview. "There will be a lot of love and support."
After finishing seventh in the 5000m at the Munich 2022 European Athletics Championships in August, Battocletti found she was suffering from mononucleosis and took a six week break to recover from the debilitating glandular condition. Since resuming training, however, the European U23 5000m champion has been steadily regaining form on the World Athletics Cross Country Tour circuit.
Over the past month she has placed sixth in Atapuerca, two places and eleven seconds ahead of Türkiye’s European 10,000m champion and four-time European cross country champion Yasemin Can, and finished runner-up to Kenya’s Lucy Mawia in Alcobendas.
"I'm happy with how the two recent races in Spain went," said Battocletti. "I have been around 70-80%, but I plan to get to the maximum."
Battocletti insisted she was "only 70-80% fit" heading into last year’s race in Dublin. That looked like a fair estimate until the construction engineering student cranked through the gears to something close to the form that took her to seventh place in the Olympic 5000m final. Pulling clear in the final kilometre of the 6km, she won by four seconds from Slovenia’s Klara Lukan.
Portugal’s Mariano Machado, the bronze medallist twelve months ago, will be among the challengers again – together with Sarah Healy, who won the Irish senior title ahead of European 1500m silver medallist Ciara Mageean last month and will be aiming for a podium finish after finishing fifth on home ground last year.
Finland’s Nathalie Blomqvist is another likely medal contender, fresh from winning the Nordic title on a challenging course in Kristiansand last month.
Italy took the team title in the Irish capital and Battocletti will again be supported by European U23 10,000m silver medallist Anna Arnaudo, who finished sixth last year.
The 61-strong field also includes Britain’s Megan Keith, the U20 champion last year, who finished an impressive runner up to Jess Warner-Judd in the senior British trial race in Liverpool, and Emma Heckel, the U20 bronze medallist in 2021 who also led Germany to the team title in Dublin.
- Ahead of the championships, listen to our exclusive interview with reigning European U20 cross country champion Megan Keith
All three medallists from 2021 to clash again in the men's race
Hicks had to work even harder than Battocletti for his victory in the men’s U23 event in Dublin, being caught by Darragh McElhinney after breaking clear in mid-race and then also having to contend with Luxembourg’s Ruben Querinjean in a gripping finale.
A student of cognitive science at Stanford University, the Briton sprinted clear in the home but will again have to contend with McElhinney, who finished four seconds down as runner-up, and Querinjean, who took his country’s first ever medal in third place*.
Twelve months on, Hicks will arrive back in Europe buoyed by his success in the NCAA race in Stillwater on November 19 – only the fourth win by a British man in the US’s premier cross country race, following Nick Rose (1974), Mark Scrutton (1982) and John Nuttall (1989) and the first European winner since 2000. Back in April, he smashed Bedford’s 51-year-old British U23 10,000m record with a clocking of 27:40.16 in the Payton Jordan Invitational in Stanford.
Hicks, who was born in London and raised in Fulham before his family moved to Florida when he was 12, will be aiming to become only the second man to successfully defend the U23 title. France’s Jimmy Gressier prevailed in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
McElhinney was an impressive winner of his national senior title last month and will be joined by the second counter from the triumphant Irish team of twelve months ago. Keelan Kilrehill’s sixth place finish came six years after he suffered a broken neck and back when crashing into a car on his bicycle.
This year’s Irish challenge will be bolstered by the presence of Efrem Gidey, the bronze medallist behind Jakob Ingebrigtsen in the U20 race in 2019 and sixth in the 10,000m at the Munich 2022 European Athletics Championships.
- Ahead of the championships, listen to our exclusive interview with Darragh McElhinney on our Spotify channel.
In all, eight of the top nine from the 2021 race return: medal winners Hicks, McElhinney and Querinjean, plus Magnus Tuv Myhre of Norway (fourth), Kilrehill (sixth), France’s Antoine Senard (seventh), Spain’s Aaron Las Heras (eighth) and Valentin Godouin of France (ninth).
The field also features Portugal’s European U23 3000m steeplechase silver medallist Etson Barros and Spain’s European U20 3000m steeplechase champion Pol Oriach, who was fourth in the U20 race last year.
Simon Turnbull for European Athletics
*Since publishing this story, Querinjean has announced he has pulled out of the championships with injury