On her comeback from injury, Can targets a fourth European cross country title

Yasemin Can
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Turkey's Yasemin Can will be making her return from injury at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Lisbon on Sunday

Her victory last year only came with a one second winning margin attached to it but Turkey’s Yasemin Can prevailed at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships for the third season in a row. 

After missing the majority of the track campaign due to injury, Can is preparing to end her season on a high note by further etching her name into the history of the final major athletics event of the season.

And Turkey will be strong contenders for another team title as well. Alongside Can, their team also features Meryem Akdag - who won individual silver behind Can in 2016 - and Esma Aydemir, the 2016 European 10,000m Cup winner.

No woman has won the senior women’s race on three occasions - let alone four - and at only 22 years old, the reigning champion could dominate this championships for the foreseeable future. Her run of success dates back to Chia in 2016 when she won the senior title on the day of her 20th birthday. 

After all, Can will be competing against women in their late 30s who remain among the challengers and surely there would be no greater winner for the home crowd in Lisbon than Portugal’s Ana Dulce Felix?

Now 37, Felix is chasing her ninth medal at the European Cross Country Championships, having won the first of them in the team race in Brussels in 2008. Felix also competed at the European Cross Country Championships the last time they were held in Portugal, winning individual bronze and team gold in Albufeira in 2010. 

Felix has competed sparingly this season but she made an excellent comeback from maternity leave last December, finishing fifth in the Valencia Marathon in the second fastest time of her career with 2:25:24.

Can stands alongside Brits Paula Radcliffe and Hayley Yelling and Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack as the only women who have won the senior title on at least two occasions and the latter, who is now 35, will be chasing yet another podium finish at the championships. She is accompanied on the Irish senior team for the first time by her younger sister Una Britton who finished third at the Irish Championships.

McCormack is competing at these championships for the 16th time since making her debut in the U20 race in 2001 - a record for a female participant. McCormack famously followed in inaugural champion Catherina McKiernan’s footsteps by winning the individual crown in 2011 before successfully defending her title the following year. 

Twelve months ago, Can eked out her third title over Switzerland’s Fabienne Schlumpf while Norway’s Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal closed quickly, but not quickly enough, to win her fourth successive bronze medal in the senior women’s race, finishing only two seconds behind Can. 

Grovdal has yet another chance to reach the podium again in a year in which she showed her versatility by finishing fifth in the 3000m at the Glasgow 2019 European Athletics Indoor Championships in March and then reaching the final in the 3000m steeplechase at the World Athletics Championships. 

A home medal in the final race of the day would be some way to end the championships and Portugal’s senior women have history on their side.

The last time Portugal hosted the championships in 2010 was the last time they won both the individual and team titles with Jessica Augusto coming away with two gold medals. Their team of three - with Susana Francisco and Carla Salome Rocha joining Felix - will also be looking to land a ninth title in the senior women’s team race.

In a race brimming with experience, France’s Sophie Duarte is another former champion in the field, having lifted the crown in 2013, thus ending McCormack’s prospects of a hat-trick of titles. The French squad also includes Liv Westphal and Aurore Guerin who were both part of the team which finished fourth last year.

The Netherlands won team gold on home soil in Tilburg but they do not have any representation in this race this time which gives the Brits further hope of improving on their silver medal finish from last year. 

Charlotte Arter, who was the leading Brit in seventh in the individual race last year, is back in the team along with former two-time individual silver medallist Kate Avery who was 15th in Tilburg. They are joined by trials winner Jessica Judd, an individual medallist at this championships at U20 and U23 level and a fourth-placer in the mixed relay last year. 

Germany’s Elena Burkard produced another brilliant display last year to finish sixth in 26:53, a performance which led her nation to team bronze, and she will want to be in the mix once more.

Women's senior race (8000m) medallists 

1. Yasemin Can (TUR)
2. Fabienne Schlumpf (SUI)
3. Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal (NOR)

Team: 1. NED, 2. GBR, 3. GER