Aras Kaya wins the senior men's race at the European Cross Country Championships (© Getty Images)
Turkey took gold and silver in both of the senior races at the European Cross Country Championships in the Italian village of Chia with Aras Kaya and Yasemin Can taking top honours on Sunday (11).
The pace in the senior men’s 9.94km race was aggressive from the outset. Kaya and compatriot Polat Kemboi Arikan were joined by Spain’s Ilias Fifa and British duo Andrew Butchart and Callum Hawkins as the quintet formed an early lead pack.
European 5000m champion Fifa was the first to fall off the pace and eventually joined the chase pack. Butchart drifted away from the leaders about five minutes later, but managed to stay ahead of his pursuers while Hawkins, Kaya and Arikan were out in front.
Arikan appeared to push the pace going into the penultimate lap, but still had Hawkins and Kaya for company. France’s Florian Carvalho, meanwhile, broke away from the chase pack and seemed to have Butchart in his sights, but he dramatically faded on the last lap.
Kaya and Arikan managed to open up a gap on Hawkins on the final lap. The two Turks ran together for most of the last lap before Kaya kicked with less than a minute to go, striding clear to win in 27:39.
Arikan placed second in 27:42, while Hawkins took third place in 27:49. With Butchart and Andy Vernon taking fourth and fifth, Britain secured the team title ahead of Spain and Turkey.
“I felt very well in my training, so I decided to compete here and it was worth it,” said Kaya, the European steeplechase silver medallist. “I thought it was going to be windy but after two or three laps I was OK.”
Having won the 5000m and 10,000m titles at the European Championships earlier this year, Turkey’s Yasemin Can secured her third continental crown of 2016 by winning the women’s 7.97km race in Chia.
Can and teammate Meryem Akda established a lead after just one kilometre and they continued to extend their advantage as the laps ticked by, leading by 34 seconds by the five-kilometre mark.
Akda began to fade, though, leaving Can on her own out in front to forge ahead. Further behind, Norway’s Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal, Romania’s Ancuta Bobocel, Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack and Britain’s Steph Twell were engaged in a battle for third place.
Can went on to cross the line in 24:46 to win by 10 seconds from her compatriot. Having kicked ahead of her opponents with 500 metres remaining, Grovdal secured the bronze medal in 25:26 with Bobocel finishing fourth and McCormack fifth.
With two other women in the top 20, Turkey took team gold ahead of Britain and Romania.
“Victory is a nice birthday present,” said Can, who turns 20 today. “The only complication was a slight wind. The race was important for me but I will focus more on the track events.”
Kimeli and Ennaoui take under-23 titles
The three medallists from 12 months ago formed half of the six-man pack that led for much of the under-23 men’s 7.97km race, but only one of them made it on to the podium again.
Spain’s Carlos Mayo, the silver medallist in 2015, was the first to make a move and he was joined by defending champion Jonny Davies of Great Britain, Belgium’s Isaac Kimeli, Italy’s Yemaneberhan Crippa, Germany’s Amanal Petros and Sweden’s Napoleon Solomon.
After about 14 minutes of running, with the chase pack inching nearer to the leaders, Davies moved to the front and pushed the pace. A few minutes later, as the bell sounded for the final lap, Solomon darted into the lead.
Davies was the first to struggle with the surge of pace. Solomon surrendered his lead after losing his balance going over one of the mounds. Approaching the final corner, Crippa crept towards the front, but Kimeli responded and unleashed a ferocious sprint, eventually winning by five seconds in 22:48.
Mayo came through to take silver, while Crippa took bronze in 22:54 and led Italy to the team title.
The under-23 women’s title was also decided in a sprint finish. Four athletes – Poland’s Sofia Ennaoui, Germany’s Anna Gehring and British duo Alice Wright and Charlotte Taylor – broke away from the rest of the pack about 12 minutes into the 6km race.
Wright attempted to dictate the pace but was never able to shake off her opponents. Gehring was the next to lead and she managed to drop her British challengers as Ennaoui stuck close by.
With the finish line in sight, Ennaoui produced her trademark sprint finish, kicking ahead to win in 19:21. Gehring crossed the line three seconds in arrears, while Wright took bronze in 19:42, securing team gold for Britain in the process.
Klosterhalfen dominates, Ingebrigtsen impresses
German Olympian Konstanze Klosterhalfen successfully defended her title in the junior women’s race.
The 19-year-old pulled ahead of the field less than four minutes into the race and continued to extend her lead with ease. Her 10-second lead at the bell grew to 17 seconds at the finish as she completed the 4.06km race in 12:26.
Denmark’s Anna Emilie Moller, who set a European U20 steeplechase record of 9:32.68 at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, finished second, while Britain’s Harriet Knowles-Jones was third in 12:52, leading Britain to the team title.
“I wanted to run my own race and wanted to stay clear of opponents until the finish line,” said Klosterhalfen. “I had to push myself a bit in the last lap but I am glad I managed it well.”
Unlike the junior women’s race, the junior men’s race was only decided in the closing stages.
Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen took an early lead, but settled within the lead pack after a few minutes. British champion Alex Yee spent a brief moment at the front of the pack before he was tripped from behind and fell twice.
Italy’s European junior steeplechase champion Yohanes Chiappinelli seized his moment to make a move and put in a surge as Ireland’s Jack O’Leary and Turkey’s Omer Oti went with him.
Chiappinelli gradually pulled away and had a sizeable lead with two laps remaining. Before long, though, he was joined by Britain’s Mahamed Mahamed and Ingebrigtsen and the trio had regrouped by the time the bell sounded for the last lap.
With 15 minutes on the clock, Ingebrigtsen put in a surge and was never again challenged as the 16-year-old pulled away to win the 6km race in 17:06. Chiappinelli finished second in 17:14 while Mahamed held on for third in 17:16. France, with three finishers in the top seven, took the team title.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF