Nick Griggs leads Ireland to historic gold at European Cross-Country Championships

Tyrone teenager takes home two medals, claiming bronze medal in the individual under-20 race

Rarely has a picture of mud-splattered young men standing arm-in-arm on a battlefield in sheer exhaustion been quite so welcoming. A first, as it turns out, in the long history of Irish cross-country running.

Hailed as a return to the proper traditions of the sport, the European Cross-Country Championships around Laeken Park in Brussels also marked the last under-20 race for Tyrone teenager Nick Griggs, and he made the absolute most of it – leading the Irish team to their first ever gold medal in the grade.

Griggs also lined up in the individual event against two of the similarly lauded talents of this age, Axel Vang Christensen from Denmark and rising Dutch star Niels Laros. They only got away towards the end, Christensen fighting back to outkick Laros while Griggs held on comfortably for bronze.

With two more runners in the top-10, Niall Murphy and Jonas Stafford nailing ninth and 10th respectively, Ireland came through to win team gold, denying Great Britain by two points, reversing the order of the last two years.


With two team medals already, plus individual silver from last year, Griggs brings his under-20 tally to five, plus two more won on the track, making him by far the most decorated Irish distance runner of his age, his senior career only now beginning.

“It was an amazing battle,” said Griggs, who turns 19 next week, meaning he will just miss out another under-20 appearance next year. “I knew it was going to be tough, the two lads beside me, absolutely world class athletes at senior level. But I just tried to stick with them as much as I could, and it was just on the last lap they pulled away from me.

“While I wanted to win, wanted to come second, I can’t complain about bronze. Because to lead this team home to a gold medal is pretty special, after what happened last year, and two silvers the last two years. So buzzing for the lads, a very special day.”

For Murphy and then Stafford, the target was always to get Ireland into the team-winning position and they did exactly that; Murphy, who runs with Ennis Track Club, went out with the early leaders and held his place, while Stafford, from Wicklow, chased down over a dozen runners on his last lap.

No one had quite expected Fionnuala McCormack to run herself close to the medal podium a week after running the Olympic marathon qualifying, But the 39-year-old clearly believed in herself.

Despite her exertions last week, McCormack only missed that podium by one place, finishing fourth for the fifth time in this, her record 18th appearance in the event.

“Fourth place, as everyone knows, is one of the hardest places to finish,” she said, “and yet it’s better than any other place that’s not first, second or third.

“I did believe for a while I could get a medal out of it. But there was just too much left for me to do on the last lap. It’s hard to sum up, really. I’ve come fourth so many times, I really want to be on that podium again. I’m going to have to come back again now so.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics