It’s time to dig out and dust off the cross country spikes! The road to the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Brussels on 10 December begins this weekend.
The famous TCS Lidingöloppet takes place in Lidingo, just to the east of Stockholm, on Saturday (23) and is one of eight World Athletics Cross Country Tour Silver and Bronze events to be held in Europe in 2023-24, all of which fall under the administration of European Athletics.
The full calendar (as of 21 September) can be found here
Five of those events take place before the European Cross Country Championships and are generally a useful indicator of who’s in form and who could challenge for medals at the focal point of the continental cross country season.
The Lidingöloppet is one of the world’s longest running cross country events on the calendar with the first iteration dating back to 1965. The event is also something of an outlier on the cross country circuit with the senior races held over a non-traditional distance of 30 kilometres.
But whoever wins will follow in the footsteps of some illustrious names. The legendary Grete Waitz from Norway won the discontinued 15km race on 12 occasions between 1976 and 1988 along with former world marathon record-holders Ingrid Kristiansen (1987) and Tegla Loroupe (1992, 1994) while leading Swedish distance runners Malin Ewerlof (1996, 2001, 2009) Mustafa Mohamed (2003-04, 2008), Napoleon Solomon (2017, 2018) and Samuel Tsegay (2022) have all triumphed in the 30km event.
With up to 30,000 runners from 70 countries expected to take part across all distances, there is a strong mass participation element to the Lidingöloppet which was once described by World Athletics President Sebastian Coe as “as one of the world’s great cross country running competitions.” The Lidingöloppet is also listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s biggest cross country race.
The World Athletics Cross Country Tour in Europe heads south to Dublin (15 October) and Belfast (21 October) the following month before the race for selection for the Spanish team at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships begins in earnest with the famous Cross Internacional Zornotza in Amorebieta - another event which can boast a rich tapestry of history dating back to 1954 - one day later on 22 October.
The last fixture on the calendar before the SPAR European Cross Country Championships is the Warandecross in Tilburg on 26 November, an event which always attracts strong Dutch and European athletes - many of whom have gone on to feature in the race for medals at the European Cross Country Championships.
This brings the SPAR European Cross Country Championships into view with this year’s edition on 10 December returning to Laken Park in Brussels for the second time after the Belgian capital first staged the event in 2008.
Unbeaten in European Cross Country Championships history, Jakob Ingebrigtsen could aim to extend this remarkable record by challenging for his third successive senior title - and his seventh in total - while his Norwegian teammate Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal is very likely to target a hat-trick of individual titles in the senior women’s race.
From a domestic standpoint, a full strength Belgian team could challenge for a medal in the mixed relay which would add to their bronze from 2021 while former European U23 cross country champion Isaac Kimeli represents their best chance of winning an individual medal in the senior races.
In sub-zero temperatures, Kimeli won bronze on a twisty and undulating course in Turin behind Jakob Ingebrigtsen last December as well as silver behind another Ingebrigtsen - this time Filip - five years ago on a flat albeit muddy course in Tilburg.
The SPAR European Cross Country Championships will be streamed live in its entirety on the All-Athletics platform through the European Athletics website and will be accompanied by expert English-language commentary.
Steven Mills for European Athletics