Four months on from the majestic summertime defence of his outdoor continental track crowns in Munich, Jakob Ingebrigtsen produced a regal performance to retain the senior men’s title in the winter shadow of La Mandria Castle at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships on the picturesque outskirts of Turin on Sunday (11).
Just two months past his 22nd birthday, the young Norwegian king of European middle distance possessed too much class for his rivals on a truly challenging 9672m course that took the 83-strong field through the luxury of an indoor stretch in the carriage pavilion of the castle on each of six long laps, either side of a brutal 300m climb up and then down the steep hill to the park.
It was on the final ascent that Ingebrigtsen pulled decisively clear of Great Britain's Emile Cairess, giving a thumbs up to the television camera at the end of the indoor section before finishing nine seconds clear of the inspired British cross country champion.
In doing so, the Olympic 1500m and world 5000m champion collected a sixth successive European cross country title, having claimed an unprecedented four at U20 level before his maiden senior success in Fingal-Dublin 12 months ago.
He also became only the third man to retain the senior title, after the great nine-time champion Serhiy Lebid (2001-08, plus 1998 and 2010), who was fittingly in Turin as manager of the Ukrainian team, and Portugal’s four-time-winner Paulo Guerra (1994-95, 1999-2000).
For the record, it also brought Ingebrigtsen’s tally of senior European titles close to the brink of double figures at nine (two cross country, four on the track outdoors and three indoors); that the running phenomenon from Sandnes, who claimed the world indoor record at 1500m in February, happens to be a man for all seasons, and all surfaces, is beyond dispute.
Mindful of the distance, as much as the steep hill and the icy conditions, he held back on the opening 970m short lap and was down in eighth place as Italy’s reigning European 10,000m champion Yemaneberhan Crippa led the way up the first on the first climb.
At 22, Jakob Ingebrigtsen has NINE European senior titles to his name across all surfaces! ????— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) December 11, 2022
Just how many will he win in total? ????#Piemonte2022 pic.twitter.com/eOxgL61dCL
On the second long lap, though, Ingebrigtsen steadily worked his way up to join Crippa in a lead group that also included Cairess, Belgium’s 2018 silver medallist Isaac Kimeli, France’s European 10,000m bronze medallist Yann Schrub and Germany’s Filimon Abraham.
The Norwegian eased to the front for the first time on the long climb on lap three, but the first move of note came at the halfway point.
Cairess, the 2019 European U23 10,000m bronze medallist, put his foot down and opened a gap of some 15 metres. Ingebrigtsen, working hard on the steep descent, managed to close it, drawing Kimeli with him.
With two laps to go, that left three men in the hunt for gold. Ingebrigtsen waited until the hill on the final lap before putting daylight between himself and the other two.
He reached the finish line in 29:33, nine seconds ahead of Cairess, with Kimeli holding off the fast-finishing Crippa for bronze and Abraham in fifth.
“It was a tough race and I’m very happy with the outcome,” said Ingebrigtsen, the reigning champion of Europe at cross country, at 1500m and 5000m outdoors and 1500m and 3000m indoors.
“I’ve been doing a lot of good training and I knew I was in good shape coming here but you don’t know the course and you don’t know the competition. I tried to relax during the race because 10km is a long race for me. I needed to save my energy to do a good race in total," he reflected.
There's just no stopping Jakob Ingebrigtsen! ????— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) December 11, 2022
Back-to-back senior titles at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships and a sixth successive gold medal in total! ????#Piemonte2022
He achieved that aim but was unable to secure a team medal to go with the bronze won by Norway last year. In a fiercely contested battle, this time they had to be content with fifth place.
Ingebrigtsen’s older brothers have both tastes individual success at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships but Filip, the senior champion in 2018, failed to finish and Henrik, the U23 winner in 2012, was down in 23rd place.
Cairess was something of a surprise package after finishing a disappointing tenth in the 10,000m final at the Munich 2022 European Athletics Championships 10,000m but has had a superb winter so far.
“I let myself down in Munich,” said Cairess. “I just wanted to do myself justice here. I was also 60th in my last year in the U23 European cross country race, so I wanted to make up for that too. I felt in good shape. I thought I had an outside chance of a medal. Jakob was just on a different level to everyone else in the race.”
France pipped Italy to the team title by just one point, 24 to 25, retaining their crown from 2021 with a scoring trio of Bastian Augusto (6th), Schrub (7th) and 2018 European 10,000m champion Morhad Amdouni (11th) edging out the home team’s Crippa (4th), Yohannes Chiappinelli (8th) and Osama Zoghlami (13th).
The battle for bronze was even closer with Spain and Belgium locked together on 36 points. Spain, led by European 5000m silver medallist Mohamed Katir in eighth, had a marginally superior third counter, with Carlos Mayo finishing 17th and two positions ahead of Belgium’s Michael Somers.
Full results here.
Simon Turnbull for European Athletics