The ECCC Cross Country returns to Portugal on Sunday (3) with Albufeira the hosts, 12 months on from the event being staged in Mira – and the home nation will be hoping for a repeat performance.
Sporting Clube de Portugal had quite a time of it in 2018, winning both of the senior team titles along with Kenya’s Davis Kiplangat taking the individual senior men's race for Sporting Clube.
It is very much a case again of old friends back to keep hold of their crowns as three of the four individual champions are returning.
Along with Kiplangat, Poland’s Katarzyna Rutkowska - who is running for KS Podlasie Bialystok - will be seeking more glory in the women’s senior event while U20 women’s gold medallist Anna Mark Helwigh from Denmark is representing Sparta AM who finished just one point adrift of Fenerbahce Sport Club in the team race in 2018.
The men’s race is over 9.73km and Kiplangat will face strong opposition for the individual title courtesy of Uganda’s reigning world U20 cross country champion Jacob Kiplimo who is representing Italian club Casone Noceto.
Kiplangat won by 18 seconds last year from Belgium’s Isaac Kimeli and although Kimeli is absent this time around, the third and fourth placers are present and will also prove a big threat.
Both Turkey’s Ramazan Ozdemir, who is running for Istanbul BBSK and Spanish veteran Ayad Lamdassem for Atletismo Bikila are cross country experts with immense experience on this terrain.
For Lamdassem, it is a return to the city where he won individual silver at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in 2010.
In total, 20 men’s team will be battling for the senior title while there will be 16 in the senior women’s race over 6.09km.
Familiar faces lead the Sporting Clube charge in the women's race
The margin in Mira was close as Rutkowska won by just one second ahead of former European cross country champion Jessica Augusto who will be joined by her fellow team champions Sara Moreira and Ines Monteiro as they look for both individual and team success.
Just 12 seconds separated the top five last year with Rutkowska winning in 20:07 from Augusto with Ancuta Bobocel (20:10) and Trihas Gebre (20:15), both of Spain’s Bilbao Atletismo Santutxo, third and fourth respectively, and Moreira in fifth (20:19).
As Sporting Clube took the team title with 22 points, Bilbao were second with 31 and they will be chasing the reigning champions hard with Gebre, who recently broke the Spanish 10km record, returning at their helm.
Individual champion Rutkowska is joined in the KS Podlasie Bialystok team by the likes of Anna Gosk who finished 14th in the senior women’s race at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Tilburg.
The men’s U20 6.09km features 16 teams in which Spain’s Playas de Castellon will be determined to hang on to their team title.
They won in Mira with 30 points from Sport Lisboa e Benfica by six points and although the first and second placers - Aaron Las Heras and Maria Garcia - are both absent, the Spaniards have entered a full complement of runners determined to keep hold of their crown.
In the women’s U20 4.27km, Helwigh will be aiming for her third successive individual title as part of a strong Sparta AM team who just missed out on the team title last year behind Fenerbahce Sport Club.
The reigning team champions have declared a formidable team headed by last year’s individual runner-up Emine Akbingol and European cross country U20 bronze medallist Inci Kalkan.
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