It has been another stupendous year for Turkey’s Yasemin Can and now she has the chance to put a final touch of gloss to a glorious season in the senior women’s race at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships.
Can, who won the 5000m and 10,000m titles at the European Athletics U23 Championships in Bydgoszcz, is bidding to defend the title she won in Chia but that is only part of the story as Turkey’s women aim to dominate again over the 8.23km course.
A year ago, Can triumphed by ten seconds in 24:56 from teammate Meryem Akdag. Ozlem Kaya and Sevilay Eytemis backed up the two medallists in 13th and 19th respectively, thus helping Turkey to the team title. They are all back this time looking to keep hold of that crown with Esma Aydemir, a former European U20 5000m champion, the fifth member of a very strong squad.
The Turks be a formidable force but they will face a tough challenge from Great Britain whose squad is packed with some of the most successful athletes in championship history including Stephanie Twell, who has accrued 10 medals since winning the individual U20 title in 2006.
Twell is part of a British squad which also includes former winner Gemma Steel and former two-time U20 champion Emelia Gorecka, who returned from injury to claim victory at the trials in Liverpool ahead of Steel and Twell last month. They have won nine medals apiece at the European Cross Country Championships.
What will be compelling about this race are the tactics from the off because when Can hits the front, she only runs one way – by breaking the field as quickly as possible. With one short lap and five long ones, how early will she look to make her mark?
And with that question in the air, it leaves the rest to decide on their own tactics knowing how difficult she can be to peg back when she is in front. Her main challengers include Norway’s Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal, Spain’s Trihas Gebre, Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack and Sweden’s Meraf Bahta.
Grovdal is making a real name for herself having won bronze on the last two occasions in this senior race and while the Turkish duo of Can and Akdag could not be caught in Chia, will she decide to take the initiative this time?
Seventh in Chia last month, Gebre arrives in good form, finishing second to Kenya’s Alice Aprot in Alcobendas on 26 November. That performance came a month after she was the first European finisher at the Valencia Half Marathon where he was sixth in a Spanish record of 69:57.
This race on Sunday is about both endurance and speed and McCormack, twice an individual champion and fourth last year, knows better than most the challenge ahead as she will be running at the championships for the 15th time – a record on the women’s side.
Bahta’s consistency on the terrain – and on the track – at European events shows she will be in the hunt for a medal at a championships where she won individual bronze in 2014.
She has been running in major cross country races for a long time and arrives in Samorin with a string of recent victories to her name, including two titles at her national championships before victory in the Warandeloop in Tilburg – the hosts of the 2018 European Cross Country Championships – a fortnight ago.
The Swiss team will be led by steeplechaser Fabienne Schlumpf, who finished just behind Bahta in Tilburg, while Romania’s Ancuta Bobocel, the U20 champion in 2005 and the U23 champion in 2007, is also expected to be in the mix.