Ingebrigsten looks for a golden goodbye

Ingebrigsten looks for a golden goodbye
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Henril Ingebrigsten has been unstoppable in European events over the past 12 months. He will be aiming to defend his SPAR European Cross Country Championships title in Belgrade on Sunday for his last year racing in the under-23 category.

Norway's Henrik Ingebrigsten will be running for the final time in the under-23 race at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Serbia on Sunday and it could take something special to beat him.                                

Whenever Ingebrigsten competes in European events, the rest are usually left chasing silver and bronze.

His preparation for the defense of the title has been a period of warm-weather training in Arizona. 

Temperatures there were probably rather warmer than the six degrees expected in Belgrade on Sunday, but Ingebrigsten has proved he is very much a man for all seasons.

At 22, he bows at this level of the SPAR European Cross Country Championships with team gold from 2011 before his brilliant 2012 where he took the title in Budapest. 

That gold followed the summer where he was crowned European 1500m champion in Helsinki. 

Another 12 months later, he stepped up to the 5000m at the European Under-23 Championships in Tampere in July and once more he was back on top of the podium as he won in 14:19.39. 

His summer of success had not finished because at the end of August, he then moved back to the 1500m and was seventh - and first European - at the IAAF Diamond League in Zurich where his time was a national record of 3:33.95.

It has been some period of success for the young Norwegian. 

And while it was over the last 500m in the snow of Budapest that he finally asserted his authority to win last year by 10 seconds in 24:30 from Belgium's Soufiane Bouchikhi, his plan had been this: "I decided to run as conservatively as possible for five or six kilometres and then let fly."

Will he revive those tactics this time? 

One man who will be wondering and who was not too far away then was Jesper van der Wielen, of the Netherlands, who finished fourth in 24:16 and returns again as a threat to Ingebrigsten.

The French will defend the team title with Romain Collenot-Spiret and Michael Gras back in their squad of six and in the eight-man Great Britain squad, Richard Goodman makes the step up to this level having won silver in the junior race in Velenje in 2011. 

Spain will arrive with a team of six and should be among the contenders.

Their squad includes another gold medallist from the European Athletics Under-23 Championships from the summer in Abdelaziz Merzoughi, who won the 3000m steeplechase in Tampere and was seventh last year in Budapest, while his teammate Aitor Fernandez was third behind Ingebrigsten in that 5000m final. 

The hosts have two runners in Nemanja Cerovac and Jasmin Ljajic while Ireland’s seven men include US-based Kevin Dooney.

They have the second biggest squad in the race behind Britain with Germany, Italy and Turkey the other countries with six runners in the field.