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Report | Sabbatini’s last leg heroics clinches mixed relay gold for Italy

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  • Report | Sabbatini’s last leg heroics clinches mixed relay gold for Italy

Italy’s Gaia Sabbatini timed her anchor leg effort to perfection, sprinting past Rosalia Tarraga of Spain in the home straight to earn the host nation their first ever mixed relay victory in front of a celebrating home crowd at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships at the frost-covered La Mandria Park on the outskirts of Turin today (11).

Never higher than sixth before in the six-year history of the entertaining 4x1500m, the Azzurri quartet held pole position for most of the way but looked like they might lose out on the final leg when Tarraga charged ahead of Sabatini and Anais Bourgoin of France on the steep, twisting downhill section coming out of the indoor section in the carriage museum of La Mandria Castle.

Sabbatini, the reigning European U23 1500m champion, had taken over with a four second leg thanks to Yassin Bouih’s third leg effort for Italy but struggled on the steep climb up to the carriage museum.

Tarraga and Bourgoin both caught her but, when it mattered most on the run-in to the line, Sabbatini’s 4:01.93 1500m track speed proved decisive. The 23-year-old brought her team home in 13:23, one second ahead of Spain, with France a further seven seconds back in the bronze medal position – followed closely by Germany in fourth and three-times winners Great Britain and Northern Ireland in fifth.

For Italy, it was a momentous victory on home soil, their first podium finish in the event. Their previous highest placing - sixth - came in the inaugural race in Samorin in 2017.


They led from the off, thanks to a brilliant opening leg of 3:48 by Pietro Arese. Fourth in the 1500m final at the 2022 Munich European Athletics Championships in Munich in August, he handed a four second led to second leg runner Federica Del Buono – although the advantage would have probably been much tighter had Spain’s Jesus Gomez not dramatically slipped and fallen in the mud and ice on the descent to the changeover zone.

Del Buono, a European indoor 1500m bronze medallist in 2015 - like her father Gianni in 1971 - found the going tough on the steep uphill section and was passed by Romania’s Elena Panaet, the 2011 European U20 steeplechase bronze medallist.

Panaet’s brilliant 4:37 leg gave Romania the lead at halfway but they faded to a distant eleventh over the final two legs.

Bouih, second in the test event last month, restored the lead to Italy, teeing up the last leg heroics for Sabbatini.

Getty Images 1245541229

"I felt very responsible to bring this team to the finish line in the best position and it was very hard. The public was just amazing and it helped us a lot,” said Sabbatini who collapsed in the arms of her supportive and ecstatic teammates.

It was also an especially poignant victory for Arese for whom this was a home championship in every sense of the word. 

"It was pretty special to run here on home soil. Especially for me, because I am from Turin so it was very emotional. We had the home crowd cheering for us and we did our best to become the European champions," he said. 

For Spain, the only previous winners other than Britain, Gomez and Tarraga were backed up on the second and third legs by  Solange Pereira, who anchored them to victory in Tilburg in 2018 (4:45), and Adrian Ben (4:03).

France, runners-up in the previous three championships, had Romain Mornet on the opening leg (3:56) and Charlotte Mouchette on leg two (4:42), followed by Azeddine Habz (4:04) and Bourgoin (4.45).

European 3000m steeplechase champion Topi Raitanen returned a 4:14 split on the penultimate leg for the 12th-placed Finnish team.

Full results here.

Simon Turnbull for European Athletics

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