Jakob Ingebrigtsen made it an awesome foursome as he was once more crowned men’s U20 gold medallist at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Lisbon this morning.
In the past few weeks there was no guarantee that the 19-year-old Norwegian superstar would even be here to defend his title but his decision to compete, having just returned from altitude training Flagstaff, Arizona was fully justified as he triumphed for the fourth time in a row.
With specks of rain in the air but far from a muddy course to contend with, Ingebrigtsen was supreme again over the 6.225km route as he won by an amazing 38 seconds - a record margin in the U20 race - and took silver in the team event too.
Gold went the way of the Brits, led home by Charles Hicks who finished fifth, with delight for hosts Portugal who pipped Ireland for bronze.
It is easy to forget that Ingebrigtsen was only 16 years old when he won this title on the first occasion in Chia in 2016 and his progression since then has been amazing. Ingebrigtsen said: “It was a fun race - it looked like it was going to be difficult but after the first lap, you already know who’s bringing it and who is not.
“I remember my first win, it is always the first win that I am most proud of. After a couple of years, you feel like you’ve been there and done it all but now I am looking forward to not being in the junior category anymore.”
A double senior European champion on the track outdoors, his versatility remains immense and from the moment the gun fired, it was just a case of when would he take control.
There was no rush for Ingebrigtsen as the runners met an incline within moments of the start and as they took the right hand turn on the small lap for the first time, Spain was making the early running, with Pol Oriach and Alejandro Quijada leading.
No panic at this stage - or any for that matter - from Ingebrigtsen, as he stayed to the left of the pack in sixth but it was not long after that Ingebrigtsen put his foot on the gas and took over.
He looked so comfortable even towards the latter stages of the race at the undulating Bela Vista Park, with Ireland’s Efrem Gidey, Turkey’s European U20 5000m silver medallist Ayetullah Aslanhan and Hicks now the contenders as a break emerged.
The trio chasing Ingebrigtsen quickly became only two as Hicks slipped away. As the camera panned in on Ingebrigtsen when he took the bell four seconds ahead of Aslanhan who was now one second ahead of Gidey, the Norwegian was the only runner in the shot.
He was that clear - that in command - occasionally looking over his shoulder but one suspected this was more of a guarantee that he was in no danger - and maybe to see where his teammates were in the context of a pursuit on the team title. The closest at that stage was Hakon Stavik in 12th.
Ingebrigtsen was taking in the adulation as he came down the hill – where he almost lost his footing at one stage – to win in 18:20 with Aslanhan coming through for a second European silver this year after making a brilliant late sprint.
He added to his silver medal from Boras by crossing the line in 18:58 with Gidey third on his debut for Ireland in 19:01.
Battocletti makes it back-to-back U20 titles
A year after winning gold in the women’s U20 race at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships by one second, Nadia Battocletti successfully defended her title with more room to breathe this time.
And in the team event, there was a successful defence for Great Britain and Northern Ireland, led home by Izzy Fry in sixth.
Battocletti won by three seconds, producing an outstanding display, after taking an early lead, staying poised and then breaking away when she really needed to.
At the bell, Batocletti led from Portugal’s home favourite Mariana Machado, a stride ahead of European U20 champions Klara Lukan from Slovenia, Poland’s Zofia Dudek and Switzerland’s Delia Sclabas.
Sclabas was the first to drop off the pace as they took a key climb on the last lap as Machado moved in front, driven on by the noise of the Portuguese fans.
Whatever Machado did at the front, it worked as it became a group of three with Battocletti and Lukan just behind. A small gap then appeared, with Battocletti on the shoulder of Machado and as the course went downhill again, the Italian went in front before another small climb.
It would take something special from here to catch Battocletti and the Italian duly stretched away on the descent into the finish, winning in 13:58 ahead of Lukan who took silver in 14:01 from Machado third in 14:10.
Battocletti said: “I don’t know exactly what it feels to be the reigning champion. It was probably better the first time but I am happy about this win.
“I didn’t feel much pressure coming here, I was probably more nervous at the European U20 Championships in Boras this summer. I hope I will continue to win like this in the future.”
Great Britain and Italy ended with the same points in the team event - 29 - but the gold went to the Brits as their last counter - Amelia Samuels in 12th in 14:41 - was a place and one second ahead of the third Italian, Angela Mattevi.
Along with Fry, their triumphant trio was made up of Saskia Millard in 11th in 14:37 with Manon Trapp the first Frenchwoman, ninth in 14:37, as they took team bronze with 38.