Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal retained her SPAR European Cross Country Championships senior women’s title in Piemonte-La Mandria Park on Sunday (11) after proving the stronger in a fascinating and enthralling battle with Germany’s reigning European 5000m champion Konstanze Klosterhalfen.
The Norwegian moved away from Klosterhalfen on the final downhill stretch just 200 metres from the finish to shake off her rival, a two-time U20 champion at these championships, before crossing the line in 26:25 after 7662m of running around the La Mandria Park.
A tired Klosterhalfen finished four seconds in arrears in 26:29 with her teammate Alina Reh a distant third in 27:19 after a four-way sprint for the bronze medal.
"I didn't do many races this year [during the cross country season] because I was preparing for this one here. I was tired going into the last lap, and I felt that in the last metres, but I knew that going down the hill that I am good at that,” reflected the smiling Grøvdal, who has now won a medal at the last seven championships and taken her tally to three continental cross country titles, having won the U20 crown in 2009.
“I knew I had to give it all when going down, and that was what I did. I used to be a track runner, but I know that I am strong in the cross - especially after winning last year - so the technical part is good for me. Today, I felt quite strong going up the hill, and I think that is the reason I took the gold here.
“I didn't realise that Yasemin Can had dropped out. After the first big lap I managed get ahead Can but, coming into the race, I was convinced that she was going to be the strongest rival,” added Grøvdal, who is the most successful female athlete in the history of the SPAR European Cross Country Championships with nine medals in total.
Grøvdal had made her intentions known from early in the race by featuring at the front and pushed the pace regularly after a fast opening few hundred metres, a feature of all the races on the day.
Leading the way after the opening two short laps, she was initially accompanied by Klosterhalfen, Türkiye’s four-time champion and 2022 European 10,000m champion Yasemin Can, Israel's Selamawit Teferi and Great Britain’s Jessica Warner-Judd.
By three kilometres, the leading group was down to a trio with Can trying to test Grøvdal and Klosterhalfen.
However, the Turk started to struggle and dramatically ran out of gas towards the end of the second of four long laps of 1440m, at one point being reduced to walking at the top of the short, sharp, steep hill that caused so many runners problems.
With Can quickly disappearing out of contention from the five-kilometre point – dropping out less than a kilometre later – it was left to Grovdal and Klosterhalfen to go head-to-head; and for onlookers what a thrilling battle it was over the remainder of the race with the pair swapping regularly swapping the lead
On the flat stretches, Klosterhalfen looked the more comfortable but on the hills, especially those sloping downwards, it was Grovdal who was clearly the more assured. At the bell, Klosterhalfen had opened a small two-metre gap, but Grovdal gritted her teeth and stayed with the German.
Early in the final lap, Klosterhalfen slipped slightly twice, and slight panic was visible on her face. Grovdal probably unable to see her pained expressions as she was just to her rear at this point but will have assessed that she was vulnerable and so it proved as the pair approached the finish.
With arms flailing, Klosterhalfen skidded and slid down the final decent albeit of only about 20 metres but Grovdal took it literally and metaphorically in her stride and despite lacking much of a sprint finish she was still able to pull away from Klosterhalfen, who took her first European cross medal in the senior ranks after also getting an U23 silver in 2017.
Behind the leading pair, the former U23 champion and 2021 bronze medallist Alina Reh made it two Germans on the podium after starting very conservatively but coming through strongly from two kilometres into the race.
At one point she looked to be on her way to the bronze but her teammates Hanna Klein and Miriam Dattke, as well as Teferi, never gave up their own hopes of an individual medal.
Down the short 46 metre home straight, Klein tried to use her 1500m speed to overtake Reh, but the latter was just able to hold off her colleague by a matter of a few centimetres, and the pair were given the same finishing time.
However, the 2-3-4 finish for Germany comfortably secured them the senior women’s team title for the first time with just nine points, following on from their silver medals 12 months ago.
Behind Germany, two-time defending champions Great Britain had to settle for second on this occasion with a total of 30 points but continued their streak of getting a senior women’s team medal at every edition since 2000, while Ireland added to their excellent day by getting the bronze medals with 50 points.
Full results here.
Phil Minshull for European Athletics