Yasemin Can has been the dominant force at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships since 2016 but there were question marks over the Turk’s form and fitness heading into this year’s race.
Can hasn’t raced since mid-July due to injury but any doubts about her condition were dispelled on the first of the five long laps of 1500 metres. After a conservative start, Can found her position towards the front of the pack at the end of the small lap before striking clear on the first long lap.
The field had already completely splintered as they headed onto the second long lap. Can led by one second from four-time bronze medallist Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal from Norway but the rest of the pack - which included former two-time winner Fionnuala McCormack from Ireland - were already another 14 seconds in arrears with another six kilometres ahead of them around the Bela Vista Park.
Grovdal was the lone challenger to Can on the first long lap but she was already beginning to lose ground on the leader and Can was away and clear on the second large lap which she covered in 4:46. The Turk opened up a seven second gap on Grovdal who in turn was safe in the silver medal position some 26 seconds ahead of a triumvirate which was comprised of McCormack, Liv Westphal from France and Sweden’s Samrawit Mengsteab.
Can might have been absent from the racing scene due to injury but the reigning champion looked close to her peak form on the hills of the Bela Vista Park. Without showing too many signs of fatigue, Can duly embellished her gap over the course of the last three laps, coming home to win an unprecedented fourth successive title in the senior women’s race in 26:52 just a few days shy of her 23rd birthday.
“The course was hilly but I was ready for it because where I come from it is like that,” commented Can whose run of success dates back to Chia in Italy in 2016.
A fourth successive gold medal for Yasemin Can in the senior women's race at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships! pic.twitter.com/yqWkVE58CJ
— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) December 8, 2019
The gaps behind Can were significant as Grovdal ran in isolation for most of the race to win the silver medal some fifteen seconds in arrears, extending her record medal haul for a female participant at the European Cross Country Championships. This was her seventh individual medal since winning U20 silver on her debut in 2006.
Another athlete making history was McCormack who was competing at the European Cross Country Championships for the 16th time since 2001 - a record on the women’s side. McCormack was in contention for a return to the podium after a seven year hiatus but the veteran Irishwoman - who has strength, tenacity and endurance in abundance and was fancied to perform well on this sort of course - just missed out on the individual bronze medal in a sprint finish against the largely unheralded Mengsteab, 27:43 to 27:45.
But there was consolation for McCormack who anchored the Irish team to the silver medal behind Great Britain - 26 to 41 points. This was their fourth medal of the championships which augurs well for next year when the event returns to Irish soil in Dublin after eleven years.
“It's difficult because I've come fourth so many times before, and it's very painful to be honest,” reflected McCormack. “But we got a team medal today, and that's good. We had a very successful team championships this year, I don't think we've ever won this many medals as a whole group before - and going into Dublin next year, that's promising.”
Led by Jessica Judd in sixth and Charlotte Arter in seventh, the Brits won the senior women’s team title for the seventh time while the championships concluded with a rousing team medal for the hosts.
Not since 2011 have the Portuguese team won a medal in the senior women’s race but the veteran of their team Ana Dulce Felix - who won four successive individual medals from 2010 and 2013 as well as the 10,000m title at the European Championships in 2012 - helmed her triumvirate to a brilliantly well-received bronze medal.
Felix, who now has nine medals from the European Cross Country Championships since 2008 at the age of 37, finished eighth individually. Carla Salome Rocha was only two places behind in tenth with their third counter - and their only other athlete in the senior race - Susana Francisco finishing 25th to win their third bronze medal of the day.