Events & Meetings

Preview | Italy aim to defend their mixed relay crown with the help of Sabbatini and Arese

  • News
  • Preview | Italy aim to defend their mixed relay crown with the help of Sabbatini and Arese

In the five editions of the mixed relay to date the gold medals at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships have been shared between three-time winners Great Britain, Spain and defending champions Italy.

On paper, it looks like that trio are again likely to battle the medals again with three-time silver medallists France also entering serious consideration to make the podium in Brussels on Sunday (10).

The Italians have named a strong squad that includes Pietro Arese and Gaia Sabbatini who ran the first and fourth legs respectively en route to triumphing on home soil in Piemonte-La Mandria Park last year.

Sabbatini, the 2021 European U23 1500m champion ran a memorable last leg in 2022 and has improved her 1500m best on the track to 4:01.23 this year.

She will probably be difficult to match on her stint if she is in top form and Sabbatini certainly suggested she is wintering well when she returned to La Mandria Park last month to convincingly win the short race at the international cross country meeting there.

The most likely other female runner for the Azzurri is Marta Zenoni, who finished one place behind Sabbatini in Tallinn two years ago.

Zenoni missed the whole of the 2023 indoor and outdoor track season after undergoing surgery on both Achilles tendons in February but returned to action with a good win in the short race at the Carsolino Cross last month.

Arese ran an outstanding 1500m opening stint in Piemonte-La Mandria Park 12 months ago to give the Italians the lead at the first changeover and produced a personal best of 3:33.11 in the 2023 World Athletics Championships semifinals in August to indicate that might be the right man to anchor Italy.

However, Arese could potentially be set for a thrilling head-to-head duel with France’s Alexis Miellet on the final 1500m long circuit around Laeken Park in the Belgian capital.

Miellet is France's 'Mr Relaible'

Miellet was fastest man when running the last leg in 2021 when he took Les Bleus from fourth at the final changeover to second at the line in Dublin and he also helped get France into the medals in 2019 when he took his team from fourth to third in Lisbon, once again being the fastest man on his leg.

In addition, Miellet was the fastest on the opening leg at the 2018 championships.

The three-time French 1500m champion may not be as quick on the track as Arese but he is certainly a proven performer at the European Cross Country Championships.

Spain and Great Britain have both opted to enter teams without any reserves so the composition of their quartets is known, if not the exact running order at this stage.

Spain have named Naima Ait Alibou, Abderrahman El Khayami, Ignacio Fontes and Rosalia Tarraga as their quartet.

Tarraga ran the fastest anchor leg of anyone in 2022 – four seconds quicker than Sabbatini – to put breathing space between herself and her French rival in the battle for the silver medal although she could not quite catch the Italian.

However, Fontes could be Spain’s not-so-secret weapon, The 2019 European U23 1500m champion – with a best of 3:33.27 from 2021 – was a 2022 world championships finalist but missed selection for Budapest this summer, such is the current strength in depth in the Spanish middle distance ranks.

Putting that disappointment behind him he has changed coaches and moved to Portugal to be with his partner and has looked rejuvenated in his races so far this winter.

Great Britain – who won the inaugural edition of the latest edition to the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in 2017 and then again in 2019 and 2021 – have Adam Fogg, Joshua Lay, 2017 European U20 800m champion Khahisa Mhlanga and Bethan Morley representing them on this occasion.

With the course expected to be heavier underfoot than those usually experienced in Italy and Spain, this could be to Britain's advantage.

Beyond the ‘big four’ it is difficult to see any other nation breaking up their hegemony although local media reports suggest hosts Belgium also fancy their chances of getting on the podium again after taking bronze in 2021 and have named three of that quartet in their squad, including 2021 European indoor 1500m champion Elise Vanderelst and 2021 European U23 1500m champion Ruben Verheyden. 

Phil Minshull 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.

Official Partners
Official Partners
Official Partners
Official Partners
Official Partners
Official Partners
Broadcast Partner
Broadcast Partner
Preferred Suppliers
Supporting Hotel
Photography Agency