SPAR European Cross Country Championships – Brussels 2023

With favourites like Gressier, Ingebrigsten and Battocletti either absent or moving up a category, how would the Brussels 2023 podiums look?

SPAR European Cross Country Championships 2023

The 29th edition of the championships took place in Brussels on Sunday 10th December 2023. It represented the second time Brussels has held the event after the 2008 edition, it is also Belgium’s third time hosting after the 1996 Charleroi. With tempestuous weather, Belgian mud and uncertain conditions, it was sure to be an interesting day. With titles from U20 to Senior and Mixed Relay titles on the line, the races delivered on their promise. From sprint finishes to dominant lead from the front demolitions the raucous spectators were treated to a day of delights.

Brussels 2023 U20 Women’s Race

The first race of the afternoon saw the U20 women take to the field. The first race saw a first title. From the gun, Great Britain’s Innes Fitzgerald laid down a dominant pace which none could match. 


The 17 year old, who ran a brave but fruitless race in Piemonte last year where she finished 4th, made no error this year. Taking the lead from the start, the young Brit was accompanied by the French competitor Jade Le Corre. However, the pace took its toll from the third kilometre where Fitzgerald stretched into the lead where she stayed for the remainder of the race.


Le Corre, Sofia Thøgersen (Denmark) and Kira Weis (Germany) battled it out for the remaining podium places. It was here that tactics took their toll. While Le Corre had taken the gutsy approach to stay with the leader, Thøgersen has opted for the more restrained start. This left her with the legs to move to silver position. Le Corre gutted out the final section of the race and finished four seconds ahead of her German rival. 


  1. Innes Fitzgerald (GBR) 18:19
  2. Sofia Thøgersen (DEN) 18:38
  3. Jade Le Corre (FRA) 18:49

Team Result:

  1. GBR 22 points
  2. GER 34 points
  3. SWE 37 points
Brussels 2023 Women's U20
European Cross Country Brussels 2023 (5 of 18) Large

Brussels 2023 U20 Men’s Race

Whilst the U20 women’s race was won from about halfway out, the U20 men’s race went down to the line. From the outset, it was a battle between 2 rapidly rising stars. Dutchman Niels Laros, the multiple national record holder and 2023 U20 European 1,500 and 5,000m champion, looked to battle for gold with the Dane Axel Vang Christensen. The Dane is no slouch himself when it comes to honours. He was the 2021 U20 European cross country champion as well as the 2021 3000m European u20 steeplechase champion.


Joined by Ireland’s Nicholas Griggs, who took silver last year, the trio put daylight between them and the rest of the field. Griggs was left in bronze medal position while the Dutchman and the Dane pushed each other to the line. Coming in to the final straight, would it be the track speed of Laros or the cross country strength of Christensen that won out?


With the tape in sight, Christensen found a tiny bit more in the tank and brushed past Laros. The tape broken, 16:09 for the win and less than a second in front of silver. What a finish and such guts on display. 


  1. Axel Vang Christensen (DEN) 16:09
  2. Niels Laros (NED) 16:10
  3. Nicholas Griggs (IRL) 16:24

Team Result:

  1. IRL 22 points
  2. GBR 24 points
  3. ESP 43 points

Brussels 2023 Team Mixed Relay

A race which saw a thrilling finish last year when Gaia Sabbatini took the win for Italy on the line, had a new twist for this year. For the first time, the teams could choose their order of runners. We would see women against men in each leg. Which tactics would play out the best? 


The afternoon had seen a dominant win and a last minute victory kick. About the only possible outcome left in running is a massive come from behind victory. Thankfully, France had just such a treat in store for us. 


Heading into the last leg where Team GB runner Khahisa Mhlanga began with a 58 second lead, the French anchor Alexis Miellet and Dutchman Bram Anderiessen had a lot of work to do. The two men worked hard chasing the British women down.


One 1500m lap proved to be just enough to overhaul the deficit. Large French and Dutch crowds cheered on their hopefuls as they made their way around the scarred, boggy course. Coming into the final couple of hundred metres, Miellet had the pedigree to take the win. 


The always exciting format made more exciting by the mixing of the legs proved to be one of the most enjoyable races of the afternoon. The runners themselves didn’t know who they would be running against until they stepped up to the hand-over zone! What will we see in Turkey next year? How will the teams change their tactics going forwards? 


  1. France 19:44
  2. Netherlands 19:46 
  3. Great Britain 19:48
European Cross Country Brussels 2023 (12 of 18) Large
European Cross Country Brussels 2023 (13 of 18) Large

U23 Women’s Race

Next to take to the field were the U23 women. With Italian Nadia Battocletti, winner of the 4 European age group titles stepping up to the seniors, we were guaranteed a new champion. Who would step up to fill the Italians spikes?


From the off, the answer became instantly clear. Megan Keith, pre-championship favourite, fulfilled her destiny with dominance. 1:23 ahead of second by the time she broke the tape, she set the largest winning margin the race had ever seen. A truly powerful display of cross country running from the Brit. 


The mud seemed to energise Keith as much as it sapped the energy of her competitors. The size of her lead just kept growing as the kilometres ticked away. 


A trio of Ilona Mononen, her countrywoman Nathalie Blomqvist (FIN) battled with Spain’s Angela Viciosa the reaming two podium spots. 


As the line approached, Mononen pulled away from Blomqvist and the medals were settled. 


  1. Megan Keith (GBR) 25:32
  2. Ilona Mononen (FIN) 26:55
  3. Nathalie Blomqvist (FIN) 27:06

Team Result:

  1. GBR 27 points
  2. GER 50 points
  3. ESP 50 points

Men’s U23 Race

After such an incredibly dominant race in the women’s section, what could we expect from the men? Quite the opposite. Two men trying to break each other until the line itself with not much to separate them. 


The race was led by Team GB’s Rory Leonard for the initial 2 laps. Sadly, a flare up of a lower back issue saw him pull out soon after the 2.5km mark. This left a group of 7 athletes to battle for the 3 medals through the 4km mark. However, this 4 soon became 3. France’s Valentin Bresc, Will Barnicoat and Matt Stonier. Distance opened between the trio and the chasing pack. 


Barnicoat was looking to double up on the gold he won in the U20 division last year in Italy. Bresc was looking for his first international title. The battle raged between them, neither managing to break the other’s will. Stonier, at this point, left the fray looking to ensure his bronze medal spot.


As Barnicoat and Bresc entered the finish straight, nothing could separate them. Haring to the line, the young harriers gave their all. The chest of the Brit breaking the tape just before his French rival. Not even the clock could separate them, both were given the same time. A delight for the crowd and a fine example of cross country racing. 


  1. Will Barnicoat (GBR) 23:42
  2. Valentin Bresc (FRA) 23:42
  3. Matthew Stonier (GBR) 23:51

Team Result:

  1. GBR 25 points
  2. FRA 34 points
  3. NOR 42 points
European Cross Country Brussels 2023 (14 of 18) Large
European Cross Country Brussels 2023 (16 of 18) Large

Senior Women’s Race

Norway’s Karoline Bjerkli Grøvdal came to Brussels looking to cement her place as one of Europe’s all time greats by taking a third consecutive win. However, this year, for the first time, the women would be running the same distance as the men. 9 kilometres to chase over the now very cut up and muddy ground. The corner by the mixed relay exchange point was now proving exceptionally treacherous for all concerned.


Would the extra distance make the difference to the standings? Nadia Battocletti the Italian cross country phenom was hoping to crash Grøvdal’s party. Stepping up to the seniors for the first time after dominating the lower ages for the past few years, she was looking to make her mark. 


The first half of the race saw a group of five women with Grøvdal joined by Battocletti, Abbie Donnelly and Jess Warner-Judd of Britain along with Sweden’s Sarah Lahti. The group lasted until around the halfway mark of the event. Here, Grøvdal set out to prove her pedigree. Donnelly kept with her, the rest faded. 

Grøvdal the GOAT?

With two thirds of the race gone, Grøvdal proved she had no equal in the field. Pushing ahead of the tiring but brave Donnelly, she struck out to take the gold. By the time she broke the tape to claim her place in the pantheon of European women’s cross country running, she had extended the gap to 45 seconds. Another largest ever winning margin, this time the largest in the senior ranks.


Silver was taken by Battocletti who fought hard to overhaul Donnelly on the final lap. The Brit hung on for bronze. Fourth place was taken by an incredibly gutsy run from Fionnuala McCormack in her 18th visit to the European Championships. The 2011 and 2012 champion proving that there is plenty of life in her legs yet much to the delight of the very Irish crowd which had gathered along the finish straight!


Will next year see the Norwegian seal her status as an untouchable great or will Battocletti begin her quest to prove the same?


  1. Karoline Bjerkli Grøvdal (NOR) 33:40
  2. Nadia Battocletti (ITA) 34:25
  3. Abbie Donnelly (GBR) 34:42

Team Result:

  1. GBR 18 points
  2. ESP 37 points
  3. BEL 38 points

Brussels 2023 Men’s Senior Race

From a very present great to a pair of missing ones. Jakob Ingebrigtsen out through injury and junior great Jimmy Gressier missing through focus on the Paris Olympics the way was open for someone to steal the crown. 


With the temperature in Laeken Park plummeting, the clouds ominously darkening and the mud deepening, the senior men toed the line. From the gun, the crowds were treated to quite the battle. Hugo Milner (GBR) was flying the flag for triathlon as he led the first couple of laps pursued by Yann Schrub and Bastien Augusto (FRA) along with Magnus Tuv Mhyre (NOR).


The course was really showing its nasty side by this stage. Every other race had seen its participants cutting up the already mutilated field. Whilst none of the men were finding it easy going, Schrub showed that he had the strength and intestinal fortitude to make the most of the muck. 


Milner kept the lead until the fourth lap when Schrub made his move. This was to prove decisive from the Frenchman. It was also the beginning of the end for Milner, his early heroics were starting to catch up to him. As were Mhyre and Belgian Robin Hendrix who was being roared on by the home crowd. 


Mhyre and Hendrix duelled for the silver position after passing Milner with about two-thirds of the last lap to go. Whilst Schrub crossed the line brandishing a French flag liberated from the crowd, Myhre broke Hendrix to take silver leaving the Belgian with a very popular bronze and team gold. 


Huge celebrations erupted with the French spectators in the crowd and Schrub wearing a rather marvellous “Coq” hat. A fittingly raucous end to a tremendous day of running at the Brussels 2023 European Cross Country Championships. 


  1. Yann Schrub (FRA) 30:17
  2. Magnus Tuv Mhyre (NOR) 30:20
  3. Robin Hendrix (BEL) 30:22

Team Result:

  1. BEL 20 points
  2. FRA 26 points
  3. NOR 32 points
European Cross Country Brussels 2023 (18 of 18) Large

SPAR European Cross Country Championships 2024

With the last of the sun dropping and the clouds drifting  to the national anthems of the victors, Brussels 2023 drew to a close.


We begin to look forward to next December. In the probably warmer climate of Antalya, Turkey, what will we see from the best of the best? Will we see newly crowned Olympic Champions battling for more medals? Will Norway have dominance over men’s and women’s events? Can Great Britain repeat their incredible junior and team successes from this year? Will Grøvdal prove herself to be the GOAT? 

Keep with Meta Endurance to find out!



45 years old

173cm (5’8″) – 66kg (145lbs)

Forefoot striker – (Very) high cadence runner


Get in touch

Want to find out more about how Meta Endurance can help you?  Get in touch with our team today, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.