It has been such an incredible year for Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen that is easy to forget where his reign of glory began, so let us turn the clock back to 11 December last year and the 2016 SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Chia.
Ingebrigtsen produced the type of dominant, headline-making performance which became a theme of his summer on the track.
With a surge of speed that the rest could not match, Ingebrigtsen won the U20 race 12 months ago by eight seconds in 17:06.
Only just 17 – his birthday was less than three months ago – Ingebrigtsen will return to defend that title in Samorin, Slovakia, on Sunday knowing he could put the seal on perfect year.
Since his triumph in Italy, when he beat home star Yohanes Chiappinelli who was to progress to become a European U23 champion on the track last summer, Ingebrigtsen’s stock has risen immeasurably.
He won double gold at the Grosseto 2017 European Athletics U20 Championships, he became the youngest man to break four minutes for the mile and he produced a host of record-breaking performances.
This set of statistics point to why he will be favourite over the 6280m course at the x-bionic sphere resort. It could become quite a family affair because his two well-known older brothers, Henrik and Filip, are also running in the senior men’s race.
However, there is likely to be some strong rivals for him, including the bronze medallists from his European U20 triumphs.
Dorin Andrei Rusu was third as Ingebrigtsen took 5000m gold – and the Romanian took the 10,000m gold in Grosseto and his endurance may be crucial on what is expected to be a challenging course – while in France’s Louis Gilavert was third as the Norwegian youngster won the 3000m steeplechase.
He will also be given a tough test from three Spanish runners who were behind him Chia and will aim to get closer this time: Adrian Ben (who was eighth in 17:30), Miguel Gonzalez (ninth, 17:34) and Annasse Mahboub (13th, 17:38). They still left with medals, though, as their fine runs combined to winning team silver honours.
In her final few months as a junior – she is 20 in April – Great Britain’s Harriet Knowles-Jones will once more attempt to win gold in the women’s U20 race and, on this occasion, the athlete who triumphed in 2015 and 2016 will not be there.
Knowles-Jones won silver in Hyères in 2015 and bronze in Chia last year but it was the German star Konstanze Klosterhalfen who took the title and she will now bid for more success in the U23 race.
It means the Briton will be the most experience runner in the field and she will head to Slovakia in good form having won at the British trials in Liverpool at the end of last month after twice being the runner-up.
Knowles-Jones did leave Italy in 2016 with a gold medal as part of the winning teams and she is joined by another of that squad in Victoria Weir, who was 10th last year.
With Knowles-Jones and Weir in the team, Great Britain start a slight favourites for the team gold not least because they have won this particular title on 10 of the last 12 occasions.
However, Grosseto and gold could be very much the topic of conversation if Ingebrigtsen gets to reminisce with the Netherlands’ Jasmijn Lau and Switzerland’s Delia Sclabas, the latter only having turned 17 last month.
They too won titles at the European Athletics U20 Championships in July, in the 5000m and 3000m respectively, and return with big ambitions of getting among the medals at the SPAR Cross Country Championships after having run well 12 month ago.
Lau and Sclabas finished fifth and sixth respectively in Chia as a prelude to their summer success.
Equally there will be the chance of revenge for Germany’s Miriam Dattke, who was second behind Lau in Grosseto and is at the helm of her nation’s bid for success, while the bronze medallist from that 5000m race is Lau’s teammate Floor Doornwaard which will give the Dutch a big hope of moving up the podium in the team contest after taking the bronze in 2016, their country’s first event top three finish as a team.
One thing is for sure: if all the main names in the women’s U20 race are all up there as they hit the bell in 4120m race – which also includes a 70m straight to the finish – the finale to this opening race of this year’s SPAR European Cross Country Championships could potentially be one of the best of the whole day.