The runners writhe, kick, stumble. They suffocate, too.

Damn mud.

There is no way to shake off this goo that lies, sticky, on the unfriendly paths of Laeken Park, in the heart of Brussels.

The curious Sunday person would spend their time contemplating the Atomium, which looms in the distance, but the committed runners only manage to look at their feet. They do it to see if they are still wearing shoes or if, perhaps in some sudden turn, they left their sneakers behind, since they can barely distinguish them anymore.

Everything is brown, everything is mud.

There are no magic slippers here. No carbon plate, no air chamber. The key is to lace your footwear tightly, perhaps tying it around your ankle.

In the women’s race, those who dare to look up only see how Karoline Grovdal (33) leaves, the 50 kilo, petite and blonde Norwegian, a Viking who does not disfigure herself in the mud.

Grovdal, say those who know about athletics, could be the new Grete Waitz or the new Ingrid Kristiansen, heroines of the seventies and eighties, and others point out that, at least in cross country, she is the female version of Jakob Ingebrigtsen, the hero of the present, champion in 2021 and 2022, who does not appear in this European cross country, affected as he is because he suffers an injury to the lower back.

(The men’s event suffers from this: the Frenchman Yann Schrub, a middle-class athlete who exploits the power vacuum, wins; the first Spaniard is Abdessamad Oukhelfen, who finishes seventh, and by country, Spain is sixth, with Oumaiz, 24th, and Carro, 26th; long gone are the times of Serrano, De la Ossa, Lamdassem or Mechaal, usual podiums).


Grovdal does not look at the others, the rivals who distinguish her back, she prefers to focus on her mud, mud that in her case looks like a carpet.

Grovdal is like the absent Ingebrigtsen, he neither moves nor alters nor decomposes. There are no excesses in his gestures, he does not raise his knees in front or his ankles in back, he floats and accelerates smoothly and it would seem that he is not doing anything out of the ordinary, but the rivals give us the answer.

They are unable to go after her.

Grovdal has already won two European titles in cross country, the same as Ingebrigtsen, she is the European queen of the discipline, and from the fourth kilometer (9,000 m) she marches alone towards her third consecutive crown, and behind her stubbornness is the rest: the light Battocletti hunts the forceful Donnelly, British, to snatch the bronze, while the Spanish finish second by country, with Irene Sánchez Escribano as eighth; Cristina Ruiz, 13th; and Carolina Robles, 16th.

Spain collects three podiums: along with absolute silver, a sub-23 bronze in women and another sub-20 in men.