Senior women’s preview: strong opposition awaits two-time champion Can

Susan Krumins
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A decade after winning the U23 title, European 10,000m silver medallist Susan Krumins is one of the leading contenders for the senior women's title at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Tilburg on Sunday

No athlete has won senior women’s gold at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships more than twice but on Sunday (9) in Tilburg, Yasemin Can will look to become the standout star of the event.

Recent editions of the championships have been staged on firm terrain but the course at the Beekse Bergen Safari Park is expected to be muddy and heavy underfoot. This will only add to the drama, not to mention the technical skill needed to keep your balance while deciding when is the right time to make that decisive move.

Turkey’s Can is pretty good at those choices, dominating the event on her debut in Chia where she won by 10 seconds in 2016 before defending her title in Samorin last year, extending her winning margin out to 15 seconds.

With victory last year, Can joined Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack (2011, 2012) as the only woman to retain this senior crown, with Brits Paula Radcliffe (1998, 2003) and Hayley Yelling (2004, 2009) as the only other athletes to have won it twice.

Can could create a piece of history as she pursues a hat-trick but perhaps this time she face the toughest test of her brilliant credentials.

A total of 81 athletes have been entered from 20 countries for the penultimate individual race on Sunday - a 8.3km event over six laps: one lap of 1000m, four of 1500m and one of 1300m. Muddy conditions are predicted and the course should be particularly churned up for the senior races which should add even more spice to the spectacle. 

Looking down the list of runners, there will be big rivals to Can everywhere and for the Netherlands’ Susan Krumins, just thinking back to the summer will surely give her even greater hope - as will memories of ten years ago when she won the U23 title in Brussels in her last appearance at the European Cross Country Championships.

Can was the defending 10,000m champion at the European Championships in Berlin but as she faded to fifth in sweltering conditions in the German capital, Krumins ran the race of her life to win silver behind Israel’s Lonah Chemtai Salpeter.

Now they meet again with Krumins spearheading a Dutch squad of Jill Holterman, Maureen Koster, Julia van Velthoven and Jip Vastenburg. Despite the absence of Sifan Hassan due to illness, the Dutch team will be strong contenders for medals in both the individual and team race.

Home success in a senior race at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships does not happen very often but it did in 2005 when Tilburg first staged the event. On that day, Lornah Kiplagat strode to victory for the hosts.

The last time there was a home winner in a senior race was in 2010 when Jessica Augusto triumphed in Lisbon for Portugal. She is back in the squad for the first time since that victory eight years ago and she is joined by the equally experienced Sara Moreira, who has won team gold on three occasions.

In Samorin, Norway’s Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal won her third successive bronze medal, 16 seconds behind Can and she will be looking to be closer this time – both in time and position – in a year in which she won also bronze in the 3000m steeplechase in Berlin.

Switzerland’s Fabienne Schlumpf finished one place ahead of Grovdal at the European Championships and she has finished inside the top eight at the last two European Cross Country Championships. Schlumpf will be better prepared than most on the start-line, having won the Warandecross last month which was staged on the same course.

  

Great Britain’s Kate Avery has some record at the championships with eight medals including three team golds and two individual silver medals. As she continues her comeback from injury, Avery was fifth at the British Trials which was won by Charlotte Arter.

Great Britain won team gold in 2017, a title they will be determined to retain. The Dutch will be strong on home soil and the Romanians, who won silver in the team race last year, will be equally strong. Their team includes last year’s fourth-placer Roxana Barca and Ancuta Bobocel, who won the U20 title when the European Cross Country Championships were staged in Tilburg in 2005.

Trihas Gebre, who was Spain’s first athlete home in 13th last year, also returns while former champion Sophie Duarte and Liv Westphal will be among the big hopes for France.