The European Cross Country Championships is celebrating its 20th anniversary in the Serbian capital of Belgrade this weekend. So to toast the annual mud-fest, we present you ten reasons why the Euro Cross rules.

1. Something for the winter

The month of December is traditionally the quietest for athletics, so the Euro Cross offers an opportunity for fans to be given their regular fix of top-class international action until the indoor season starts next year.

2. Under 23

The addition of an under-23 category to the championships, to run alongside the senior and junior (under-20) races - was a welcome move taken by organisers to help European endurance athletes make that bridge between junior and senior competition.

It certainly helped 2012 senior champions Andrea Lalli and Fionnuala Britton, who finished first in 2008 and second in 2006 in their respective under-23 campaigns.

3. Tough cookies

Cross country is not for softies. Those who competed in the 1999 edition in Velenje in Slovenia will never forget the hellish mud slog they faced that day. Competitors faced harsh sub-zero temperatures and a snow encrusted surface in Szentendre, Hungary last year.

4. Off the beaten track

Part of the allure of the event are the remote towns that have hosted it. In 2004, runners travelled to Heringsdorf on the German island of Usedom.

The Hungarian Air Museum in Szentendre hosted last year’s event, and the first two European Cross Country Championships were held at Alnwick Castle in the north east of England, where they shot Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies.

5. Great stories

The 19 previous editions of the annual event have thrown up quite a few shocks and surprises. Perhaps the most unlikely winner came in 1997, when Danish orienteer Carsten ‘The Moose’ Jorgensen scored a major surprise to take victory in the senior men’s race. Great Britain’s Hayley Yelling regained the senior women’s title in 2009, having retired from the sport until four weeks prior to the race.

6. A stepping stone to greatness

The event has provided a great stepping stone for the future success of distance running greats. Both world marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe (in 1998) and distance running god Mo Farah (in 2006) claimed their first major senior international successes at Euro Cross.

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7. Mr Euro Cross

The blonde-haired Ukrainian cross country ace Sergiy Lebid, from Dnipropetrovsk, has competed in all 19 editions of the championships. He has struck gold in the senior men’s race a staggering nine times between 1998 and 2010.

8. Team Euro Cross

One of the endearing qualities of cross country is the team element, with the top finishers from each country gaining points for where they place.

9. Rare victories

Only eight men have ever landed gold in the men’s senior race, with Lebid winning nine times and Portugal’s Paulo Guerra triumphing on four occasions. Meanwhile, Fionnuala Britton of Ireland became the first woman in the history of the Euro Cross to land back-to-back victories in the senior women’s race. 

10. Progression

Since the junior race was introduced in 1996 it has spawned some great champions of the future. Among the former under-20 gold medallists: Italy’s Andrea Lalli (the 2012 senior men’s champion) and Turkey’s Elvan Abeylegesse (the 2008 Olympic 5000m and 10,000m silver medallist).

Interestingly, 2012 Olympic triathlon champion Nicola Spirig also cut her teeth at the Euro Cross. The Swiss was a two-time silver medallist in the women’s junior race in 1999 and 2000.

Eleven national broadcasters are showing the Euro Cross, including the BBC. You can stream the races live online, from 9am-2pm GMT, here: http://eurovision.digotel.com/ea/index.html.