Events & Meetings

Preview | Grøvdal bids for a historic hat-trick in Brussels

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  • Preview | Grøvdal bids for a historic hat-trick in Brussels

A little bit of history is potentially in the making in the SPAR European Cross Country Championships senior women’s race in Brussels on Sunday (10) as Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal will be seeking to become just the second woman to win three senior titles.

After a run of four bronze medals and then one silver medal in the European Cross Country Championships from 2015 to 2019, the experienced Norwegian finally landed the big one in Dublin 2021. 

Last year, she retained her title after a thrilling head-to-head duel in Turin, edging clear of Germany’s Konstanze Klosterhalfen on the steep downhill section in the closing last 400 metres to become a two-time winner.

It placed her alongside Great Britain’s Paula Radcliffe (1998 and 2003) and Hayley Yelling (2004 and 2009) and Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack (2011 and 2012) as a double champion although Türkiye's Yasemin Can still remains untouchable as a four-time winner from 2016-2019.

An Olympic and world finalist over 5000m in recent years, Grøvdal is enjoying some of her best years in the sport. 

Her illustrious career stretches back to 2006, when she won her first international medal when finishing second in the U20 race at the European Cross Country Championships in San Giorgio su Legnano, Italy, aged just 16 behind Great Britain's eventual three-time winner Stephanie Twell. 

Grøvdal upgraded to gold in the same race three years later in Dublin and if she wins a medal of any description on Sunday, she will take her overall tally of individual medals into double digits - a feat which has only been achieved by the legendary Serhiy Lebid who won 12 individual medals, including nine gold medals.

But if Grøvdal is to land the senior hat-trick, the 33-year-old will need to draw on every strand of experience to see off the threat of Nadia Battocletti. 

The Italian is another athlete steeped in European cross country glory, having won the women’s U20 titles in 2018 and 2019 and then the U23 titles in 2021 and 2022. Having now graduated into the senior ranks, Battocletti will become the first female athlete ever to win individual U20, U23 and senior titles at the championships if victorious on Sunday. 

The only male athlete ever to achieve the feat is fellow Italian Andrea Lalli: U20 winner in 2006, U23 champion in 2008 and then senior gold medallist in sub-zero temperatures on the outskirts of Budapest in Szentendre in 2012.

More recently, the 23-year-old Battocletti finished third at the high class World Athletics Cross Country Tour event in Alcobendas, Spain on 26 November, only succumbing to two Ethiopian runners in the closing stages. It promises to be a fascinating clash between two proven winners.

Possibly one aspect of the race that will be to Grøvdal’s advantage over Battocletti is that, for the first time ever men and women will race over the same distances, across the various age groups.

It is a significant development for cross country, and particularly for the senior women who are set to tackle the same 9km course at Laeken Park as their male counterparts. 

Consequently, Grøvdal, Battocletti and the 59 other women from 21 countries who have been entered will face a course approximately 800 metres longer than ever before. Coincidently, it will be almost exactly twice the distance over which Ireland’s Catherina McKiernan won at the inaugural SPAR European Cross Country Championships in 1994.

Speaking of Irish cross country icons, fresh from qualifying for her fifth Olympic Games at the Valencia Marathon on Sunday, the evergreen Fionnuala McCormack is back for her 18th outing at the European Cross Country Championships.

No female athlete has raced more at these championships than the 2011 and 2012 champion and she leads a strong Irish team that also includes twins Eilish Flanagan and Roisin Flanagan, who placed 11th and 12th last year to solidify a team bronze.

Germany are the defending team champions, but will be missing Konstanze Klosterhalfen, Alina Reh and Hanna Klein who were second, third and fourth last year. Instead, they will be led by steeplechaser Elena Burkard, fifth and ninth in 2017 and 2019 respectively, supported by triathlon specialist Lisa Tertsch, who studies economics at the University of Harvard, and Eva Dieterich who both making their debuts in the senior race.

Can Britain maintain their medal streak?

As ever, 2022 silver medallists Great Britain will also be in the mix for individual and team medals, having been team champions in this category six times in the last 10 editions and having not missed out on a place on the podium since 1999. 

Jessica Judd-Warner was eighth last year in Turin, fourth in 2021 and sixth in 2019. Having placed eighth in the 10,000m final at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, she is seemingly always a consistent performer at international level. She is joined in the British team by Abbie Donnelly who finished one place behind her in ninth last year in Turin.

Spain, who took the team bronze in Turin 12 months ago, is also fielding a solid team in Brussels, including Olympic and world 1500m finalist Marta Perez and two-time European Athletics Championships 3000m steeplechase finalist Irene Sánchez-Escribano.

Home hopes for Belgium, whose only previous medal in this category was a team bronze back in 1996, will largely rest on the shoulders of experienced European Cross Country Championship competitors Lisa Rooms and Imana Truyers as well as recently crowned Belgian cross country champion Chloe Herbiet. 

It will be the fifth championships for Rooms, who was 35th last year, while for Truyers, Brussels will mark her sixth appearance at these championships.

Chris Broadbent for European Athletics

A complete entry list for the Brussels 2023 SPAR European Cross Country Championships is available here.

The championships will be streamed in their entirety on the All-Athletics platform from 12:05 local time (CET) and will be accompanied by expert English-language commentary.

There will also be extensive race day coverage of the championships on the European Athletics website and across European Athletics’ social media channels.

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