Jimmy Gressier stamped his authority all over the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Tilburg today (9) as he became the first man to retain the men’s U23 crown.
He did not put a foot wrong – that was until he reached the finish line. Holding a French flag in each hand, Gressier looked like he was attempting to dive over the line in celebration but he landed on his knees and slid across.
It was the only mistake he made all race but at that point it did not matter. There were smiles all around at the final for a 21-year-old who is now one of the great champions of the European Cross Country Championships after this outstanding title defence.
— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) December 9, 2018
Gressier said: “The biggest difference compared to last year is that I was the one chasing and this year I was the one getting chased. I am just very happy to win for the second time. The conditions were difficult but the course was still really nice despite the weather.”
Front running for much of the 8.3km course, he fended off the close challenge of Germany’s Samuel Fitwi over the final 1300m and just became stronger.
Gressier won in the mud by eight seconds in 23:37 from Fitwi, with his fellow Frenchman Hugo Hay in third in 23:48 as they retained the team crown they had won in Samorin.
Fitwi said: “I am happy with my second. I came here to win a medal and this was the best result I could get today. I felt the rain but I did not really feel cold.”
The sport might not have heard too much from Gressier since his glory with a superb sprint 12 months ago but when it comes to this terrain, and today was as difficult as there is with rain pouring down, he showed that cross country really is his event.
By the time they hit the 7000m mark, Gressier had created a four second gap as he led in 19:45 and was stretching further away with every side. Wearing a cap the wrong way round, and never struggling with his stride as the course became even tougher, Gressier was full of confidence.
The line was still a long way out on the final lap but showing real authority, he sailed over the logs for the final time and when he looked over his shoulder, Fitwi was even further behind.
France won team gold by an impressive 19 points as they banked 11 with Great Britain taking team silver. Patrick Dever was first home in fifth in 24:05 with Spain, led by Tariku Novales in sixth, winning team bronze with 42 points.
Moller duly doubles Denmark's title haul
It had been 21 years – or 7665 days to be exact – since Denmark had won their only gold medal at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships.
But now the nation has a new star to go alongside Carsten Jorgensen from all those years ago after Anna Emilie Moller bided her time to steal the show in the women’s U23 race in Tilburg.
The U20 silver medallist in Chia in 2016, Moller is a champion in her own right to further underline her brilliant talent, winning over 6.3km in 20:34 from Germany’s Anna Gehring in 20:36 and Poland’s Weronika Pyzik in 20:46.
And from individual silver, there was also gold for Gehring as she led her nation to the top of the podium in the team event.
Moller was 10th in the pack over the first lap, allowing the structure of the race to pan out before deciding when to make her move.
It was a large lead pack of 13 and there was no need for Moller, the pre-race favourite, to be too concerned. She was here after winning gold at the Nordic Cross Country Championships and as the race reached the 4000m she was just moving that bit closer.
Gehring stretched away but Moller quickly moved into second as the pack broke into seven and then it became three, with Gehring now just looking the stronger from Moller and Switzerland's Chiara Scherrer.
On one of the last uphill climbs, Moller moved closer before overtaking Gehring, the 2016 U23 silver medallist with the finish line in sight.
Yet Gehring still had team gold as Germany finished with 22 points from Spain with 25, with Celia Anton in fifth in 20:57, as Great Britain took bronze with 33, with Griffiths their first runner home in seventh in 21:04.