European Cross Country Championships’ Biggest Winners

By Kyle Merber

December 13, 2023

The European Cross Country Championships were held in Brussels last weekend, and if you have ever watched some Belgian cycling races then the mud-fest is to be expected. Even though I am a proud American who wakes up his wife every morning by loudly reciting the pledge of allegiance(“four witches stand!”), a part of me rages with jealousy at the existence of this meet and our lack of an equivalent.

Firstly, let’s all agree that we are not going to pretend PanAms or NACAC as an area championship can compare, or even in our wildest dreams have the potential to become a Western version. And without that annual draw to represent our great nation, professionals grow more distant from this side of the sport where many of us began. World XC could be that, but tromping through the muck at the end of March does not have the same appeal in the context of the track season.

This year’s US Cross Country Championships will be held in January, 10 weeks before Worlds. Not exactly ideal for team selection or anyone running indoor track. To spice things up I think we need to integrate some sort of battle between regions of the US. There is a lot of talk about “Flagstaff vs. Everybody,” or at least “Flagstaff vs. Boulder.” This team element would gain more traction as there are running communities across the country with more loyalty to their hometown than for what shoes they wear.

Alternatively, I have always enjoyed the way Ireland fields their teams for Gaelic sports, based on the county where you grew up (for the most part). California kids are good at running in high school, but it’d be a fun test to see who’s long-term development has been most prosperous. It’s gotta be Michigan for the men, right? New York or Florida for the women?

Wait, this section was supposed to be about the European Championships and I haven’t said anything about that yet. Alright, here are the winners and results:

Innes FitzgeraldInnes Fitzgerald

Justin Britton / @JustinBritton

U20 Women: Innes Fitzgerald (GBR) – The 17-year-old received a lot of attention last year when she passed on the opportunity to compete at the World XC Champs because of the length of travel to Australia. Not because she didn’t have enough Netflix shows to binge-watch, but because of the carbon emissions and the impact flying has on the environment. She won the race by 19 seconds and is quite talented, so hopefully there is a good train line to get her to Belgrade so we can see how she matches up on the world stage.

Axel Vang ChristensenAxel Vang Christensen

Justin Britton / @JustinBritton

U20 Men: Axel Vang Christensen (Denmark) – Incredibly, a guy who ran 8:29 for the steeplechase at 17 was considered the underdog coming into this race. Yet with Niels Laros having run 3:31 for 1500m and 3:48 in the mile last year, can you blame those of us who gave him the favorable odds coming in? Well, mud is the great equalizer! And in a few months, we’ll probably look back when Axel runs 13:05 and be like, “oh that wasn’t an upset.”

Megan KeithMegan Keith

Justin Britton / @Justin Britton

U23 Women: Megan Keith (GBR) – The most dominant performance of the meet, she won the race by an incredible 83 seconds. And of course, she is Scottish! With this victory on top of her U20 title, there is only one more infinity stone needed to be added to the European gauntlet.

Will BarnicoatWill Barnicoat

Justin Britton / @JustinBritton

U23 Men: Will Barnicoat (GBR) – This was a battle to the line with both Barnicoat and Valentin Bresc being given the same official time. Barnicoat also won the U20 title last year in equally dramatic fashion. Get this guy some NCAA eligibility! I can think of at least five schools in the state of Oklahoma that would be a perfect fit.

Karoline Bjerkeli GrøvdalKaroline Bjerkeli Grøvdal

Justin Britton / @JustinBritton

SR Women: Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal (Norway) – The winningest athlete in European Cross Country history! With this being fourth senior gold and her tenth medal overall, I have become familiar with the keyboard shortcut for writing “ø” on my laptop. (Also, the song “Final Song” by MØ is the de facto anthem from my 2017 Copenhagen-based bachelor party and sometimes when I am on the subway I will play it and think about when life was different.) Grøvdal is one of my favorite athletes to root for because of her longevity and range across all distances and surfaces.

Yann SchrubYann Schrub

Justin Britton / @JustinBritton

SR Men: Yann Schrub (France) – The downside of not having Jakob Ingebrigtsen healthy and racing is that we didn’t get to watch Jakob, but the upside is that as a result, we did get to see an actual race. I have been trying to figure out why Schrub often puts a chicken hat on his head after races, which is certainly one of the more creative signature moves. But it’s not all fun and games for Schrub who is in his seventh year studying medicine.

Mixed Team Relay Team FranceMixed Team Relay Team France

Justin Britton / @JustinBritton

Mixed Relay: France – The French and Dutch teams were hawking down the anchor leg for the Great Britain team, as the order of men and women was not set in stone ahead of time. This is how the mixed-gender 4×400 was originally formatted and while I don’t care for the event, I thought it created plenty of drama!

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Kyle Merber

After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.