The 25th running of the World Mountain Running Championships were held under clear and crisp blue skies with temperatures in the upper 50s for the start of the competition. The venue was in the winter ski village of Madesimo, Italy, located three hours by bus from Milan. The course was lined with fans not only from the host country, but with worldwide fans. The sound of ringing cowbells and pulsating air horns filled the air. A total of thirty-five countries were represented in the four races.
The junior women started the day with a single lap of the 4.3 km course. The runners were tested with steep climbs and some rocky sections on the descents. The terrain was a mixture of grass, packed dirt trail, and grassy sections with some rocks and roots to keep the athletes focused on their footing. In order to run well the athletes would have to be strong climbers, fearless descenders and able to transition between the various grades.
Megan Morgan, 17, Del Mar, CA, was the first U.S. athlete of the day to cross the finish line, earning a silver medal – the best individual junior finish following last year’s bronze medal by Californian Alex Dunne. Turkey’s Can Yasemin won the gold medal with a time of 22:18 with Morgan just 17 seconds in arrears. Angelica Mach of Poland was the bronze medalist in 22:56. Robyn Arnold, 16, Redlands, CA, rounded out the U.S. scoring taking 23rd in 25:39. Alex Dent, 17, Scott Dep ot, WV, was unable to finish after taking a spill on a road crossing approximately two miles into the race. In all 42 juniors (at least 16 in the year of competition and not yet 20) completed the course. Turkey captured the team title with five points (the top two finishers on the team count in the scoring). Romania placed second with 13 points and Poland finished in bronze-medal position with 20 points. The next three teams were all separated by just one point. Team USA finished in seventh position with 25 points. A total of 14 full teams competed in the junior women’s division. This was the second best finish for the junior girls trailing only the 2007 team which finished second.
Following the race, Robyn Arnold said, “I started out maybe a little bit too fast, dropped places, but was happy with my result. I learned a lot and hope to apply what I learned this year to next year if I make the team.”
Megan Morgan was beaming when she accepted her award at the post-race flower ceremony immediately following her finish, “We got our medals and then when we left the podium they took them back from us. I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t see my medal again, and then I then realized we’d get them back at the awards ceremony in the evening.” Morgan told her Mom, who accompanied her to Italy, that the race was one of the best she’d ever done.
The junior men were up next, with two circuits and 8.6 km’s to complete. The teams from Turkey and Italy had a close battle with Italian Xavier Chevier taking a decisive victory, crossing the line in 38:26 nearly a minute up on his closest challenger. Turkish team mates Mzaffer Bayram and Alper Demir, took second and third respectively in 39:22 and 39:32. Nineteen seconds later Brandon Lord, 17, Hixson, TN, crossed the line after running a controlled and very20regulated race starting in ninth position and moving to eighth after the first loop and picked off other competitors to move up in the standings. Lord bettered Tim Smith’s fifth place from 2008 and is now the all-time top placing junior man. This is all the more impressive as this was Brandon’s first mountain race. Dan Nafziger, 18, Harrisonburg, VA, and Brian Rooney, 19, Arlington, VA, were the next two U.S. finishers closing out the team scoring in 39th and 41st places respectively. They finished 12 seconds apart in 44:11 and 44:23. Tim Smith, 19, Roanoke, VA, took 55th place in 46:10 in the field of 68 finishers. Turkey was the top team with 14 points (three runners score) with Italy a mere two points back. Great Britain took home the bronze with 52 points. The U.S. team finished 8th among the 17 countries. The 8th place finish ties the second best (2006) all-time.
Nafziger, although not pleased with his finish felt that he learned so much from the experience, “I thought my cross country training would be enough, but it wasn’t. There were Italians and others walking on some of the steeper sections and then cruising the really fast sections of the course. I was pushing my climbs and didn’t have enough at the top of the hills to take advantage of the descents like I wanted to. I hope to come back next year and really train more specifically for the event.”
The senior women were the third to compete over two loops of the course which featured 1,800′ of climb and descent. Average grades on the climb were 20% and 10% on the descent. The U.S. women ran packed tightly together passing through the first lap with the four athletes each in the top 20. That grouping would not cha nge by the finish with all four crossing within 48 seconds. Elisa Desco (43:39), Valentina Belotti (44:04), and Maria Grazia Roberti (44:23) all used their “home field advantage” to lead Italy to a total domination of the team scoring (three runners score) with a perfect score of 6 points. Brandy Erholtz, 32, Bailey, CO, led the way for the USA finishing tenth in 45:23. Christine Lundy, 39, Sausalito, CA, (45:41) 13th, Megan Kimmel, 29, Silverton, CO, (45:46) 15th, and Megan Lund, 25, Basalt, CO, (46:11) 17th were able to grab the bronze medal with 38 points. They finished 16 points behind the silver medal squad from Great Britain. The third place finish trails only the two gold medal finishes of 2006 & 2007. In all there were 69 finishers representing 14 countries.
The final race of the day was the senior men’s three grueling circuits of the course, all between 5,000′ and 6 ,300.’ The African teams moved to the front in the early going. Geoffrey Kusoro of Uganda forged a 54 second lead by the end, crossing the line in 54:51. Azerya Teklag Weldemariam of Eritrea placed 2nd in 55:45. The final medal was taken by James Kibet (Uganda) in 55:54. The U.S. team was led by former junior team member (12th place 2006) Andrew Benford, 21, Roanoke, VA. He moved into the top 15 and passed teammate Joe Gray, 25, Lakewood, WA, with approximately a mile to go. Benford placed 13th in 58:09 with Gray finishing 16th in 58:43. The final four team members all finished in a tight pack in places 42, 46, 47, and 48, with only 12 seconds separating them. Matt Byrne, 34, Scranton, PA, and Zac Freudenberg, 31, St. Louis, MO, were the scoring members in 1:01:26 and 1:01:34 in a field that featured 138 finishers. Rickey Gates, 28, Boulder, CO, and Tim Parr, 27, Gunnison, CO, crossed seconds later in 1:01:36 and 1:01:38. The team competition was won by Eritrea with 24 points with Italy second with 39 points and Turkey rounding out the medals with 75 pints. USA finished in sixth with 117 points.
Team manager Nancy Hobbs, Colorado Springs, CO, team leader Richard Bolt, Portland, Oregon, team manager for the juniors Dave Dunham, Bradford, MA, and women’s team manager Ellen Miller, Vail, CO, accompanied the team to Italy.
At the USATF annual convention in Reno, NV, on December 6, the Mountain Ultra Trail Running (MUT) Council chose two races from which automatic qualifiers to the U.S. team will be selected. The USA Mountain Running Championships were hosted at Mt. Cranmore (11km) on June 28 in North Conway, NH. The top three U.S. men – Gray, Freudenberg, and Byrne – and the top U.S. woman finisher – Lundy – earned automatic berths on the team.
The Cheyenne Canon Mountain Race in Colorado Springs, CO, was the site of the second and final selection race on July 26 (approximately 8km for wo
men and juniors and 12km for men) where the top two U.S. men – Parr and Benford – and the top two U.S. women – Kimmel and Lund – earned automatic berths.
After the final selection race, the remaining members of the senior squad, (one male – Gates, one female – Erholtz), were chosen by the Mountain Ultra Trail Council with input from the team staff based on results at the selection races, past World Trophy events, national and international racing experience including mountain, road, cross country, and track.
The junior team members were selected based on their running resumes and required a letter of support from a coach, parent, or mentor. To see hour-by-hour coverage of the World Mountain Running Championships from team leader Richard Bolt, you can go to: http://twitter.com/usmrt. For a complete list of results visit www.wmrc2009.org.
Slovenia is slated to host the 26th World Mountain Running Championships in early September 2010 on an uphill only course. Selection races for the U.S. team will be determined at the USATF Annual Meeting in December 2009.