On a bright morning in Albufeira on Sunday, the 54th European Champion Clubs Cup Cross Country saw a series of glittering performances over a twisting course, surrounded by forest for some stages, and with two hills close together. And among the success, Turkey won three team titles for the third year in a row, as Italy’s Yemaneberhan Crippa came of age in the senior ranks.
A full list of the individual and team results are available at: www.albufeira2017.mozello.com/results/
Men’s senior (9.73km)
Yemaneberhan Crippa had achieved his biggest triumph as a junior and still only 20, he now has a major senior title to his name after a powerful win and a celebration he will long remember.
Crippa took this race by the scruff of the neck and decided it was his moment to show his speed on this stage as he broke away from a pack of four and never looked back, winning by nine seconds in 30:04 from Sporting Clube de Portugal’s Rabah Aboud with team gold going to Turkey’s Istanbul BBSK, whose best finisher was Ramazan Ozdemir in fourth (30:34).
Halfway through it looked like it would develop into a close finish as Ozdemir seemed in control of a pack where Crippa was slipping between third and fourth, just behind Aboud and Spain’s top distance star Ayad Lamdassem, who had won Euro Cross silver here in 2010.
But Crippa, the junior gold medallist at the 2015 SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Hyeres, decided that he was going to take it on.
He did so with fluency and no fear, quickly stretching away from this high-class field to put himself on the way to a memorable victory. And as the finish drew nearer, he first raised his left hand to celebrate, then his right and as he made it home, he just stopped a metre over the line to pose statuesque and soak in his glory.
How the Italian enjoyed the moment, showing what a big future he has on the distance stage, with Aboud in second (30:13), an equally impressive 19 seconds ahead of Lamdassem.
And with Ozdemir in fourth, the Turkish team had the overall strength as Vedat Gunen (seventh in 30:37), Alper Demir (11th, 30:44) and Bekir Karayel (15th, 31:01), the defending individual champion, took the team title with 37 points from Sporting Clube (45) and Atletismo (76).
Women’s senior (6.09km)
Irene Cheptai made an early break and how it paid off as she landed a hat-trick of gold for both her and her Turkish team Uskudar Belediye.
Cheptai was in total command of a race where for long periods she was chased by Great Britain’s Steph Twell, who was rewarded for her individual fourth (20:54) by leading her team, Aldershot, Farnham and District, to bronze.
Twell was using all her strength to try to narrow the gap on Kenyan Cheptai but the Uskudar runner was never going to be passed. She just moved further away and won in 20:18 from Trihas Gebre, of Spain’s Bilbao Atletismo (20:40), and Esma Aydemir, of Turkey’s Bursa Buyuksehir (20:43).
After victory in Guadalajara in 2015 and Kastamonu last year, Cheptai’s success helped Uskudar to 26 points from Bilbao (36) and Aldershot (43).
Joined by Ozlem Kaya (fifth, 20:56), Alemitu Bekele (ninth, 21:11) and Asli Cakir Alptekin (11th, 21:24) on top of the podium, Cheptai may now feel in the years ahead she can match the winning record for this event held by Wales’ Angela Tooby, a five-times champion between 1984 and 1988.
Men’s Under-20 (6.09km)
It was all about the timing, and using it to perfection, as 19-year-old Ramazan Barbaros achieved one of the best results of his career.
Running for Fenerbahce Sport Club, Barbaros triumphed in 19:10, just 0.74 of a second ahead of Spaniard Mario Garcia, whose run was enough to bring team gold for Playas de Castellon.
For long periods of the race, Eshetu Worku, of Israel’s Hasimta South Tel-Aviv, led from Barbaros and Garcia, but then it became a two-man race from which the Turk had too much speed in the latter stages.
With around 500m left, Barbaros steadied himself, kept his balance and then broke clear of Garcia to ensure victory, with the Castellon runner also given the time of 19:10 as Omer Oti, of Fenerbahce, took third (19:15) and Worku was fourth (19:15).
The team crown went to Spain as Castellon won with 33 points from the combination of Garcia, Aaron Las Heras (eighth, 19:21), Tariku Novales (11th, 19:34) and Reda Sebie (12th, 19:39) with Fenerbahce in second (41) and Turkish compatriots Darica Belediyesi Spor Kulubu, whose leading runner was Sezgin Atac (seventh, 19:21), in third.
Women’s Under-20 (3.77km)
A year on from Kastamonu and an identical outcome as Denmark celebrated individual glory and team bronze with Turkey taking team gold and silver.
And for Anna-Emilie Moller, now we can say Anna Mark Helwigh, as the 16-year-old put her best forward to secure a memorable win as Bursa Buyuksehir retained the team crown.
The opening race of this Cup was a competitive affair, with Helwigh, running for Sparta AM, always in the mix as she was closely flanked by Pinar Demirtas and Emine Akbingol, of Fenerbahce Sport Club, and Bursa’s Gulnaz Uskun.
In the end, though, Helwigh had just enough to follow in the footsteps of her brilliant fellow Dane Moller, the double European junior medallist, who won this title in Turkey in 2016 for Blovstroed Loeverne (the then team bronze medallists).
It was close, with Helwigh winning from Demitras, with both runners given the same time of 13:29, with Uskun in third (13:33) and Akbingol in fourth (13:35).
Supported by Latife Gunes (sixth, 13:42), Bahar Atalay (eighth, 13:45) and Gulsun Tunc (14th, 14:12), Bursa won the team gold with 31 points, just one ahead of Fenerbahce and eight clear of Sparta.
Twelve months after sub-zero temperatures and a frozen course greeted the runners in the Turkish city of Kastamonu, participants can look forward to temperate conditions at the 54th European Champion Clubs Cup Cross Country which return to Albufeira, Portugal on 5 February.
Turkish clubs have proved especially strong in recent editions of this long-standing fixture and Uskudar Belediye will be looking for a hat-trick of team titles in the women’s senior race next February.
But the Portuguese also have a rich tradition at cross country - particularly at continental level - and Sport Lisboa e Benfica will be looking to improve on their third-place finish last year. Their star runner is the experienced Ana Dulce Felix, the 2012 European 10,000m champion and a five-time medallist at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships.
The Turks scooped three of the four team titles twelve months ago but French team Ales Cevennes Athlétisme prevented a whitewash by denying Istanbul BBSK the team title in the men’s senior race. Bekir Karayel still came away with the individual honours and could spearhead their challenge again next February.
One of the standout performers of last year’s event was the highly-rated junior Anna Emilie Moller. The 19-year-old won the 4km race for her Danish team Blovstroed Loeverne by 27 seconds before going on to qualify for the Olympics where she set a European junior steeplechase record of 9:32.68 in the heats.
Albufeira is one of the long-standing stops on the cross country circuit. Not only has the Portuguese town staged multiple editions of this competition, Albufeira also staged the 2010 European Cross Country Championships and the annual Almond Blossom Cross Country event which has been won in the past by Portuguese greats such as Rosa Mota, Aurora Cunha, Albertina Dias, Fernanda Ribeiro, Fernando Mamede and Dionísio Castro.