Europe’s top distance running clubs will come together at the Mediterranean town of Oropesa del Mar, Spain to celebrate the 58th edition the European Champion Clubs Cup Cross Country on Sunday 5 February.
The ECCC Cross Country can boast of being one of the oldest international cross country championships in the world and can date its history back to 1962, when there was a solitary men’s race, with women participating from 1982, U20 races being added in 2006 and the mixed relay coming online last year, following its recent successful introduction at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships.
In total, 399 athletes from 77 clubs representing 22 countries are on the final entry list for the event.
This year’s host club Playas de Castellón will be defending the senior women’s and mixed relay titles they won 12 months ago in Oeiras, Portugal and has put together strong teams across the board.
In the senior women’s competition, Playas de Castellón –having also staged well-received editions in 2012 and 2013 – has been able to name two of its scoring trio who took the title in 2022 with individual winner Likina Amebaw – whose victory was by an emphatic 14 seconds – being accompanied by Cristina Espejo who finished eighth last year.
The surprising absence of any Turkish senior teams, with Istanbul BBSK having finished second in 2022 and Üsküdar Belediyespor having won three consecutive years between 2015-17, suggests the two Portuguese clubs, Sporting Clube de Portugal and Sporting Clube de Braga, could be Castellón’s closest challengers.
The former field Kenya’s Fancy Cherono who was second in 2022 while the latter can call upon Mariana Machado, who has won European age-group medals both on the track and at cross country, and 2010 European cross country champion Jessica Augusto.
Both the clubs are former ECCC Cross Country senior women’s champions with Braga the most successful women’s team in the history of the event with seven titles but Portugal got their two victories in the back-to-back years of 2018 and 2019.
An interesting entrant in the women’s race, competing for the Italian club La Recastello Radici Group, is the former world marathon running champion Alice Gaggi.
Can Kwizera win again?
The 2022 senior men’s emphatic winner Rodrigue Kwizera, who was out on his own the the front over the second half of last year's men's race, will again pull on a Playas de Castellón vest and will be the favourite to retain his individual title after winning four of his six outings against high-class opposition in World Athletics Cross Country Tour events this winter.
The absence of Türkiye’s 2022 winning team Ankara Ego will open the door for another team to stand on top of the podium.
2022 runners up Sporting Clube de Portugal will undoubtably again challenge again, having won the men’s team crown on no less than 15 occasions, the last time in 2018, and coming second in 2022.
Portugal’s leading runner from 2022, Vincent Rono from Kenya who finished fifth in Oeiras, is again in their team.
Italian club Casone Noceto were third in Oeiras 12 months ago but had the individual runner up Oscar Chelimo, and the Ugandan 2022 World Athletics Championships 5000m bronze medallist will lead their team in Oropesa del Mar and should be expected to challenge Kwizera.
The U20 races are always difficult to predict but hosts Playas de Castellón men’s team features Ruben Leonardo, who finished third last year while just 17 and is the only runner from last year’s top 10 to return although Ireland’s 2022 winning team Ennis AC will defend their title with Niall Murphy, who finished 11th and was their third scorer, on the start line.
Mica Roma out to rule once more
Mica Roma won the women’s U20 title last year and could have a very good shot at defending their title as they have Iulia Florina Marginean, Alexandra Maria Hudea, Mihaela Maria Blaga competing once again after finishing fifth, seventh and eighth in 2022.
However, Margot Dajoux, who has represented France at the last two SPAR European Cross Country Championships, could be in contention for another place on the podium after finishing third last year and the C A Auvergne runner – whose club finished second last year by just two points – still has another year in the U20 ranks.
Like Mica Roma, C A Auvergne have been able to name a similar team from the one that represented them in Oeiras and along with with Dajoux, Fannie Sapet, who was tenth in 2022, will once again on the start line.
Defending champions Playas de Castellón will be the favourite for the second edition of the mixed relay and have been able to name exactly the same team as the quartet that won by 30 seconds in 2022.
Uganda’s Winnie Nanyondo, a multiple world 1500m finalist and the anchor leg runner on last year’s victorious team as well as local star Mireya Arnedillo, the 2021 European Athletics U20 Championships 1500m bronze medallist, will be accompanied byAbderrahman El Khayami and Victor Ruiz, the latter setting personal bests of 3:37.86 and 8:16.42 for the 1500m and 3000m steeplechase last summer as well as being part of Spain’s gold medal-winning mixed relay team at the 2018 SPAR European Cross Country Championships.
The Spanish club's most likely rivals, like in the senior women's race, are the Portuguese pair of Sporting Clube de Portugal and Sporting Clube de Braga
All five races will be broadcast live with English-language commentary via the European Athletics YouTube channel.