Cross European Championships in Brussels: A muddy spectacle
In addition to a lot of mud, the European Cross Country Championships in Brussels had a lot more to offer: a challenging course, spectacular battles for position until the end and an exuberant atmosphere along the route thanks to fan clubs from all over Europe.
Words: Sven Rudolph
Photos: Florian Kurrasch
Having previously explored the world of cross country and seeing the USA's enthusiasm for the sport , we wanted to experience the atmosphere and emotions of a cross event live on site. That's why we took the opportunity and traveled to the European Cross Country Championships in Brussels. Our expectations were high, and few countries in Europe could have fulfilled them as well as Belgium, with its long cross country history and as the venue for the well-known Lotto Cross Cup .
A total of seven races were held, starting with 5 km for the U20, 7 km for the U23 and 9 km in the main category. There was also a mixed relay, in which a team of two men and two women covered a distance of 6 km (4 x 1500 m) in any order. The entire set-up promised pure excitement.
Enthusiastic fans, mud and pure excitement
The first race started at 12:30 p.m., followed by three hours of outstanding entertainment. As usual in cross-country races, the runners started next to each other and tried to get into a good position in a full sprint for the first few meters before trying to find the optimal route through the muddy, deep ground and the extremely slippery passages. The circuit through Laeken Park stretched over a length of 1000 meters or 1500 meters with loops and did not allow any time for relaxation. Especially in the narrower sections of the route and in the curves, the atmosphere was deafeningly loud and helped the runners forget the pain for a short time.
The Belgian capital proved to be an excellent host. 7,000 fans along the route made it clear that cross-country running is alive and well in Belgium. Among the spectators was the German marathon runner Jonathan Dahlke, who was overwhelmed by the “bombastic atmosphere along the entire route”. The country flags, Bengalos, trumpets and chants sometimes made you doubt whether you were actually at a running event.
“In some places the track is only about 5 meters wide. You have 100 people on the left, 100 people on the right and the atmosphere is definitely great.”
British dominance and a premiere for France
The Belgians' victory was celebrated loudest in the men's team classification. They hadn't won gold since 2016. The fans were not disappointed on home soil. The British team dominated the event with seven golds and eleven medals in total. French fans also had reason to celebrate when Yann Schrub won the men's race, securing France's first gold medal in the men's individual competition. Certainly a motivating boost for his goal of winning gold in the 10,000 meters at the 2024 European Athletics Championships in Rome. Aaron Bienenfeld was the best-placed German in 14th place, fulfilling his goal of finishing in the top 15. Next year he is aiming for the top 10. Nick Jäger and Max Thorwirth took places 36 and 39.
“The atmosphere was really incredible and it was just so much fun.”
- Nick Hunter
In the women's event, Norway's Karoline Grøvdal cemented her position as one of the greatest athletes in the history of the SPAR European Cross Country Championships. She secured the women's title for the third time in a row in Brussels with a big lead. Elena Burkard was the best-placed German in 15th place, followed by Lisa Tertsch and Eva Dietrich in 21st and 24th place. The strongest team performances were achieved by the U20 and U23 women, who each won silver for Germany.
Unforgettable impressions from the European Cross Country Championships
Regardless of the outcome of the individual races, we were impressed by the outstanding atmosphere on site, which was consistently phenomenal despite increasingly poor weather conditions. According to the organizer, hundreds of thousands of viewers followed the event via local TV broadcasts, the European Athletics live stream and extensive coverage on social media. For us it was definitely an inspiring event and a worthwhile trip! The European Cross Championships have further increased our passion for this discipline and we ask ourselves why there aren't more events of this size in Europe.