After near misses, Gressier and Reh strike U23 gold in Samorin

Jimmy Gressier leads in Samorin
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After two near misses in the U20 race, France's Jimmy Gressier claims the individual and team titles in the U23 race at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships  

Jimmy Gressier led a French one-two in the men’s U23 race at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Samorin today and then took a leaf out of the copybook of one of his sporting heroes – Portuguese football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

Wearing a French cap backwards, Gressier posed at the finish-line as he celebrated a glorious triumph, demonstrating why this competition can be so thrilling and captivating.

Having twice finished fourth in the U20 race, Gressier won in 24:35 from his even-more ecstatic teammate Hugo Hay in 24:37 with Italy’s Yemaneberhan Crippa in third in 24:42.

France celebrated three out of the top four places as Emmanuel Roudolff Levisse came home next in 24:43 as the nation won team gold with a magnificent seven points from Belgium (25.50) and Great Britain (41).

“It was cold but I am very, very happy to become the European champion,” said Gressier. “When I was a footballer, I was fast so I decided to change my career. I became a runner and now I have won a gold medal.

“I made pose at the finish line as every football player does when scoring a goal – I tried to imitate my favourite player Cristiano Ronaldo. I always run with a cap. It’s my style and the people in France call me the ‘Man With The Cap’.”

Now they will call him ‘Man With The Gold Medal.’ With 2km left, it looked like it would be Crippa’s title, as the European U23 5000m champion made a smooth break ahead of a chasing pack including Belgium’s Simon Debognies and Spain’s Carlos Mayo, who were second and third respectively behind him in Bydgoszcz.

But that was the track, and this terrain is a different story altogether. On a course with slippery climbs and a small water-jump, Crippa looked firm on foot on the twists and turns but he had underestimated his rivals.

In the end Crippa was left hanging on but gradually Gressier closed in on him and with 200m left, he made his mark in overtaking him as Hay followed and with one turn to go, it was all over.

Gressier had saved enough for the final sprint as he broke away to triumph, raising his hands as he crossed the line before his pose though Hay had the best celebration, spinning around in total delight as he banked double gold too.

“It wasn’t as easy race for me because in the beginning my legs were not as good as I would expect. I was running in a pack and I noticed that Mayo was getting tired so I told myself: keep pushing,” he said.

Alina Reh today demonstrated the incredible strength of German distance running by winning U23 gold at the European Cross Country Championships, beating the teammate who has been making all the headlines in the process.

Competing over 6.28km, Reh’s longer distance strength had too much for Konstanze Klosterhalfen as she achieved the biggest result of her young career.

In the last two stagings of the European Cross Country Championships, Klosterhalfen had won U20 gold with Reh in second, in 2015, and fourth last year in the same race.

But as they both took on the challenge of the U23 event and its longer course, it quickly became a head-to-head, with Reh taking the lead with Klosterhalfen drawing alongside her but never able to properly go past her.

On the final stretch of the race, Reh stamped her authority all over it to speed away to become the first German to win at this age group by three seconds in 20:22 with Jessica Judd in third in 20:45, leading Great Britain to the team title with 12 points ahead of Germany and Turkey.

  

But the fact that Reh and Klosterhalfen were 20 seconds ahead of their nearest rival in Judd shows what a force they are and with just nine months away until the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships, what prospects they are for making another impression then.

Klosterhalfen won European 1500m U23 gold this summer in Bydgoszcz as Reh took 5000m silver but this time they found themselves swapping positions on the podium. Last month in Darmstadt, it was the same outcome and Reh proved that was no one-off.

At the past two European Cross Country Championships, with distances not much beyond 4km, Reh might have seen Klosterhalfen in front of her but that was never going to be the case today.

“During the first and fourth lap, I was controlling the position of Jessica Judd,” said Reh. “I know she is a fast runner so I wanted to be sure there was enough distance between us. But I did not know that I could become the first gold medallist in this category from Germany.  That makes me feel special.”

Klosterhalfen said: “Alina was very fit and I expected we could run together. In the last 100m, she had more power to speed up and win. I am satisfied with silver. Alina is a long distance runner and it did not surprise me she won.”

Judd, who ran an isolated race, revealed how difficult the gap was to narrow. “During the third lap, I believed I could reach them,” she said. “However I could not manage it as I had no power left.”