Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal’s summer campaign was curtailed by illness but the Norwegian will be one of the best prepared athletes on the start-line at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Samorin, Slovakia on 10 December.
While most of her rivals were still enjoying some down time after the track season, Grøvdal was already putting in the hard training miles - a decision which paid off handsomely when she tested her early season shape on home soil at the Hytteplanmila 10km road race in Hole in late October.
Grøvdal stopped the clock at a lifetime best of 31:25 to move to the top of the 2017 European lists and the 27-year-old defeated Sweden’s Meraf Bahta - who could be one of her main rivals in Samorin next month - by a healthy winning margin of 19 seconds.
“I have run the same race for the last six years now and I have never run faster than this year. I started my training a bit earlier this year after my season break, so my shape is better at this point compared to last year,” said Grøvdal, who was voted European Athlete of the Month in October courtesy of that performance.
Grøvdal has since swapped the cold and bitter winter climate of her home country for a stint in the sun at high altitude in Flagstaff, Arizona where high mileage is the focus ahead of the upcoming season. Her first goal is to move up at least one place on the podium at the European Cross Country Championships where we might see her employ the front-running tactics she has been known to favour in the past.
“After taking the bronze medal two years in a row, I really want to improve on that,” said Grøvdal. “But every race is different and all I can do is be as prepared as possible for any kind of race. That being said, I am ready to be even more aggressive in Samorin than in previous years since I now feel like I have nothing to lose.”
From being forced to watch the closing stages of the 5000m final at the World Championships from the sidelines, Grøvdal is one of the in-form athletes ahead of Samorin next month and another senior medal - and maybe even a title - beckons next summer at the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships in the event where she showed so much promise as a youngster.
At the age of 16, Grøvdal set a European U20 record in the 3000m steeplechase of 9:33.19 which propelled her onto the national team for the World Championships in Osaka just a few months later. Grovdal also won the 2007 and 2009 European U20 titles at the distance - and the 5000m title in 2009 - before injuries in the meantime forced her to switch her focus to the track and roads.
While Grøvdal has amassed a string of solid performances in major championships over 5000m and 10,000m, the 27-year-old made a sensational comeback to her first event at her domestic championships at the end of August, running what was in effect a time trial in 9:13.35 in her first attempt at the distance since 2011. Not only does Grøvdal have her sights on a medal in Berlin next summer, a medal at the Olympics in Tokyo 2020 is her long term aim.
“I was very disappointed after the World Championships and I knew the only way to redeem myself was to run fast at the Norwegian Championships since that was the last race of the season,” explained Grøvdal. “I’ve never been so focused and determined during a race since it meant so much to me. I was a little bit surprised that I was able to run that kind of time all by myself but I knew i had those kind of times in me.”
Grøvdal moved to sixth on the European all-time lists with that performance, albeit for just a little over 24 hours as reigning European champion Gesa-Felicitas Krause stopped the clock at 9:11.85 inside the Olympic Stadium in Berlin the following afternoon. That famous blue track will provide the setting for the European Championships next August and if the formbook plays out, the final looks destined to be a head-to-head between the reigning champion and Grøvdal.
“The steeplechase will be my main event for the entire season but I will also race a mixture of other flat events as I have done in the past,” said Grøvdal, who cites the Norwegian 1500m (4:00.55) and 5000m (14:37.33) records still held by Grete Waitz and Ingrid Kristiansen respectively among her objectives next year.
“However, my main goal for the 2018 season is the 3000m steeplechase at the European Championships and - of course - I am going for gold.”