The SPAR European Cross Country Championships have twice taken place in Portugal since 1994 and on both occasions the Portuguese flag was hoisted aloft and the national anthem played out.
The European Cross Country Championships first took place in Portugal in 1997 when the senior men won the team title in Oeiras despite the absence of eventual four-time individual winner Paulo Guerra due to injury.
Thirteen years later and Jessica Augusto and Ana Dulce Felix – both of whom are still active and could feature in the Portuguese team next month – won gold and bronze respectively in the individual senior race, leading Portugal to the team title. There was almost a double for the hosts but the senior men were beaten to the team title by France by a meagre two points.
Portugal’s rich cross country tradition predates the European Cross Country Championships. Carlos Lopes, the 1984 Olympic marathon champion, won three editions of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships between 1976 and 1985, the third of those triumphs on home soil in Lisbon.
The Portuguese capital of Lisbon has the honour of staging this year’s European Cross Country Championships for the first time and the seven races will take place on an undulating course in the city’s popular Bela Vista Park – the venue for many outdoor festivals and events throughout the year.
From the seven events to comprise the programme, the women’s U20 is the event which is arguably most likely to foster domestic success as Mariana Machado will be looking to sign off her junior career with a crowd pleasing performance in front of her home supporters.
Machado might not have distinguished herself in her two prior appearances at the European Cross Country Championships but the 18-year-old boasts some of the best track credentials among the athletes in her age-group. Machado finished fourth in the 1500m at the 2018 World U20 Championships and won silver in the 3000m at the 2019 European Athletics U20 Championships.
Last year’s winner Nadia Battocletti from Italy is eligible to defend her U20 title but there will be a new champion of the men’s U20 race for the first time since 2015 as Norway’s three-time Jakob Ingebrigtsen will eschew his final year of eligibility in the U20 ranks.
Denmark’s Anna Emilie Moller and France’s Jimmy Gressier are both eligible to defend their U23 titles while last year’s senior races were won by Norway’s Filip Ingebrigtsen and Turkey’s Yasemin Can who became the first three-time winner of the senior women’s race.
Aided by two individual gold medals from the Ingebrigtsens, Norway topped the medal table at the European Cross Country Championships for the first time last year with three gold medals ahead of France and Turkey with two titles apiece.
According to the preliminary entries, 547 athletes representing 38 nations are due to participate this year. The programme begins with the men’s U20 race at 10:00am local time and all seven races will be streamed live on the European Athletics website.