Frenchman Jimmy Gressier became the third Tilburg champion to defend his crown again here today – and he once more celebrated in memorable fashion as he won the U23 title at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships for a third time in a row.
In a race across 8225m over one short lap and five long laps, he also led France to team gold for the third year in succession.
This ends the most incredible sporting year for Gressier as he now has four European gold medals after his sensational 5000m and 10,000m double at the European U23 Championships in Gavle in July.
Twelve months ago in Tilburg, he fell and slid across the line on his knees in the mud as he celebrated his success but this time he was far enough ahead to first send a kiss to the crowd, stretching his arms out and then walk the last few metres, jigging his body from side to side, before breaking the tape.
Never a dull moment with @jimmy_gressier!
The Frenchman wins his third successive U23 titles in both the individual and team race at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Lisbon. pic.twitter.com/6AMbM0V6Qx
— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) December 8, 2019
He did so in a time of 24:17, eight seconds ahead of Serbia’s Elzan Bibic with Spain’s Abdessamad Oukhelfen third in 24:34. France also won the team gold with 17 points from Italy with 29 and Germany with 45.
“I felt great today,” said Gressier. “I knew I had to be patient, so I went for it at the right time without making it too hard for myself. I kept telling myself to be calm and to be in control.
“I knew my legs could do it and as I moved to the front, I kept this image in my head that I could win, so the strategy paid off. I finished again with my aeroplane move, it’s a great celebration and a great way to finish – especially after what happened last year in Tilburg.”
Gressier is 23 in May, so this is the last the championships will see of him at this level but he goes out with some record after breaking through by winning his first individual gold medal in Samorin in 2017.
Wearing his trademark baseball cap, he led early on before Bibic took up the running from Gressier with Oukhelfen just behind, this trio breaking away from the rest.
But reigning champion Gressier made a significant move on the steep downhill section on the penultimate lap which elicited an immediate impact, extending his lead stride by stride and never losing his footing on the quick up-and-down challenges near the end.
The French team might not have packed as well as they did in 2017 and 2018 but with three finishers inside the top-10 - Fabien Palcau in fourth and Mohamed-Amine El Bouajaji in tenth - they were still assured of their third team title.
Moller storms to a successful title defence in the women's U23 race
The theme of repeating champions continued in the women’s U23 race as Denmark’s Anna Emilie Moller kept hold of her title.
Like Gressier, Moller is also 23 next year and she bade farewell to this age-group event after a prolific display over 6225m, breaking away in the final two kilometres and looked so at ease, opening up an awesome winning margin.
And like Gressier, Moller has amassed an incredible 2019. This win now goes alongside her double gold from the Gavle 2019 European Athletics U23 Championships in Gavle in July when she won the 5000m and 3000m steeplechase titles.
Extending her lead all the time today, she won in 20:30, a big victory from the Netherlands’ Jasmijn Lau in second in 21:09 with Ireland’s Stephanie Cotter third in 21:15.
Lau did end the day with gold as she led the Dutch to the team title with 17 points from Ireland with 29 – and two silvers for Cotter – with Great Britain and Northern Ireland taking bronze with 40.
Moller hardly lost her stride or her patten, head down and maintaining a superb pace throughout as she tore the rest of the field apart. Her winning margin was a significant one but Moller didn’t take anything for granted on an undulating and rutted course at the Bela Vista Park.
“It feels amazing to win again, I love winning. It's all you want to do as an athlete so I'm pleased the race went the way I hope for - you never know how it will develop, and anything can happen,” said Moller.
As Lau took second, her teammate Jasmijn Bakker was fourth in 21:21 with Diane Van Es in 11th in 21:53 as the third of the gold Dutch counters.
Likewise, Cotter came away with two medals from this category as the individual bronze medallist led Ireland to the silver medal in the team race with twins Eilish and Roisin Flanagan ninth and seventeenth respectively.