Alternative title- US men face an up (and down) hill battle in their attempt to return to the podium
...continued from post above... This year, it will be interesting to see if our senior men’s team will be able to return to the podium. We have a very good team with talented individuals but the competition will be, well, nasty. Below, I will look at our some of the teams that have performed well in the past and see how our team stacks up. This meant as a preview for the race and not a prediction. I say this because I think that predicting the outcome of a race is not constructive- particularly since there will be an actual race outcome on Sunday and the only way to tell whether or not someone is faster on a mountain is to race on a mountain.
Italy: Italy has always been top dog at worlds. In 24 years, they have won 23 times and were 2nd only in 2006 (and, had Molinari not been left off of the team they probably would have won that one too). Based on their previous record… (do I really have to finish that sentence?). This year, as usual, their team, lead by Marco De Gasperi, is scary good. If you have not heard of De Gasperi, it is because you have not been following the sport at the international level. The highlights of his bio include four world trophy wins at the senior level and one win at the junior level (all in up and down years). Earlier this summer, he finished second at the European Mountain Running Championship. For those of you who are unaware, the World mountain race is up and down in odd years and uphill only in even years while the European Mountain Champs is opposite that (up and down in even years and uphill only in odd years). If De Gasperi, who is a good but not great uphill only runner is sufficiently fit to finish 2nd in an uphill only Euros’ watch out when the course heads downhill. Backing up (or finishing in front of- we will see on Sunday) De Gasperi will be Marco Gaiardo, the best Italian mountain runner never to win the WMRT. In seven trips to the WMRT and eight trips to Europeans’, his worst place is 11th To that consistency, you can add a WMRT medal in 2003 and two wins at Europeans’. The Dematteis brothers (Barnard and Martin) have run world cross (as junior) and Bernard has finished 5th, 5th, and 4th in the 2004, 2005, and 2008 WMRT and 2nd in the 2008 Europeans’ (the last up and down year) while Martin was 14th in 2004 and 3rd in 2005. Gabriele Abate will be running on his 6th senior squad and was 7th in the 2008 Europians', 20th in last year’s WMRT and 10th in the 2007 WMTR. Emanuele Manzi has five top-10 finishes at the WMRT with a 2nd in 2001 and Marco Rinaldi, running in his 4th WMRT/C (best finish 6th in 2001) rounds out the Italian squad as the third fastest guy named Marco. Really, the race is theirs to lose.
Eritrea: Unlike Italy, where I could provide a bit of information about each of the shockingly fast individuals that comprise the team, I know nothing about any of the individual runners from Eritrea. What I do know that since 2004, Eritrea has scored a team in the senior men’s race three time and their worst place has been second. They are also the only team to win this race other than Italy (see comment above). Given their brief history at the event, I cannot imagine that they will run poorly and I will certainly expect to see them in the top-5.
Uganda: This is the first year that Uganda has fielded a full team in any of the races and on paper, this team is pretty good (and by pretty good, I mean that the team has the best distance runners in a country with some really good distance runners). Martin Toroitich was second in last year’s WMRT and has run world xc (29th and 2008 and 10th in 2007). He ran the 10k at the world track champs this year and has run 62:19 for a half-marathon. Moses Aliwa was 15th in last year’s WMRT and 13th in 2008, was 20th in world cross in 2007, 49th in 2008 and has run 62:50 for the half-marathon. Geoffrey Kusuro won the WMRT junior race in 2007, was 19th at world cross in 2009, ran at the2009 world track champs, and has a pr of 13:18 in the 5k. Simon Ayeko is a 8:18.04 steeplechaser, has run world cross twice (55th in 2008 and 46th in 2006) and also ran at the world track champs. James Kibet has run world cross twice (80th 2009 and 39th in 2007) and has run 62:07 in the half. With the runner-up from last year (Toritich) and a proven top-15 guy (Aliwa), it will be interesting how, what is essentially their national cross team will be able to step it up in the mountains. I am not usually the type who says, “so-an-so can run x for a 5km; therefore, they will crush in the mountains” but, holy crap, these guys are fast. I will be very interested to see how this team fares. They could win it or they could fill out the top-10.
Also gunnin’ for the podium: (in alphabetical order)
France: France last won a team medal in the senior men’s race in 2005 (3rd). Since then, they have had three consecutive 4th place finishes. I know that every team mentioned here wants a spot on that podium but holy $%&, after three 4ths in a row… Raymond Fontaine has several top-10 WMRT finishes on his cv (including 2 individual medals), Julien Rancon has several top-15 WMRT finishes, Emmanual Meyssat was 15th at last year’s WMRT and has been running well in the Grand Prix, and the remainder of the team is tough as well.
Great Britain and Northern Ireland: With this being the first year of the World Mountain Running Championship, it is also the first year of GBR competing as a team. In the past, England, Scotland, Wales, and NI have all run individual teams. England alone has always been tough, and, despite a recent drought, has brought home many team medals over the years. This year, they are apparently deep enough to leave Jon Duncan (4th at Skaala) off of the team. I always thought that the best of England, Scotland, and Wales (NI is just tiny) would be a formidable team and this year, the team will (predictably) consist of 5 from England and 1 Scot. That 1 Scot is Joe Symonds who was 4th in the 2007 WRMT. His south-of-the-border teammates will include Adam Grice who was 5th in 2007, Billy Burns who has five top-10 finishes, a bronze from 2001, and a win at Sierre-Zinal, Simon Baily who was 11th in 2003, Nick Swinburn (33rd in 2007, 19th in 2006) and Adam Osborne (34th at Europeans). This is an experienced and talented team but one that needs everyone to run well to get a medal.
Switzerland: Like the French, the Swiss have a very consistent history of running well as a team in this race in recent years. They are the defending silver medalists, were third in 2007, and 6th and 5th in 2006 and 2005. Two podiums in the past two years; that’s not bad. They return three athletes from the team that won bronze in 2007 (the last time that the race was up and down) and they are led by the very consistent Sebastien Epiney, (17th in 2008 and 8th in 2007) who is coming off of a 3rd in the 2009 Europeans and David Schneider (10th in 2008 and 22in in 2007).
Turkey: Turkey was 5th last year and has placed as high at 3rd in 2006 when they set up a two-month-long training camp at the Bursa WMRT site complete with assessor personnel (such as, but not limited to a chief!). The team is lead by Ahmet Arslan who is quickly becoming one of Europe’s top mountain runners. Arslan won the last three European Champs and was 3rd at the 2008 WRMT. Selahattin Seluk was 4th at the 2006 WMRT and, well, it’s four to score.
USA: This brings us to the senior men’s team for the United States of America… After a long history of excellent individual performances in the WMRT (Johnson, Dunham, Gall, Vigil), the US men began running well as a team in 2004. We had reasonably good performances from 2004 to 2006, had an off year in 2007 and won bronze in 2008. Four of the athletes from that 2008 team are back this year with Eric Blake and Simon Gutierrez (who is officially retired from downhill running) missing. Everyone on the team has been to a world trophy before including Andrew Benford who will be running in his first senior men’s race after become the first US athlete (male or female) to make both the junior and senior teams. Rickey Gates, in his 4th trip to the WMRT/C in four years is the veteran of the team and Tim Parr will be running in his third WMRT/C after a few year hiatus. Matt Byne, Zac Freudenburg, and Joe Gray will all be running in their second WMRT/C but in their first up and down WMRT/C. While this is a deep team, Joe and Rickey are definitely the ones to watch. Rickey broke 60 minutes on The Hill this June (which is awesome) and then ran poorly a week later at Cranmore (the USATF Mountain Running National Champs). Joe ran ok on The Hill (3rd) and turned around to win Cranmore. Both runners have been in Europe for a while now and have raced well with Rickey running faster than (his excellent performance) last year at Heiligenblut and running an excellent 2:38 at Sierre-Zinal. Joe has bested Rickey and Rickey's Sierra-Zinal-weary-legs in their last two meetings at Skaala and Susa and I expect both of them to perform well this Sunday. Both are in potential top-10 shape and both could finish top-20 without running their respective best. Matt has been all over the place (geographically) winning the LaSportiva Mountain Cup Series. He ran well again on The Hill, finished a close third (9 seconds back) to Zac at Cranmore, and beat Simon Gute in the rarefied air of Nederland. In Simon’s defense, this was after his official retirement from downhill running. Before he ran 62:21 on The Hill last year, I had always thought of Zac as a long distance runner (due to his good performances at Jungfrau and the PPM a few years back). Since then, he has finished 36th in the WMRT and 2nd at a well-attended USA nationals in Cranmore. He also ran a few minutes faster at the PPA this year than in 2008 (albeit while getting crushed by Tim Parr). He is consistent and has the endurance to run well here. Tim Parr ran well at the WMRT back in the day (36th in 2005 and 38th in 2004) and he walked away from the competition at the Cheyenne Canon Mountain Race (where the common comment from spectators was that he looked as though he was not running all that hard). Three weeks ago, he won the PPA in 2:12:32 (a pretty good time) and two weeks ago, he won the Leadville 100. Timmy is definitely on fire and if he can recover from Leadville, he will run well. This is not a schedule that I would attempt and I wish Tim luck with it. Andrew made the team by snagging the second automatic spot at Cheyenne Canyon ahead of some pretty fast runners. He prepared specifically (and quite well) for the Cheyenne Canyon race and I expect that he has prepared for the WMRC with the same specificity and determination. I really have no idea how he will run and I look forward to seeing his (and everyone’s results).
So, the summary… The US senior men’s team has two studs (potential top 10ers) in Joe and Rickey, two solid guys in Matt and Zac (potential top 20ers) and two question marks* in Tim (Leadville legs?) and Andy (just plain young) *the phrase ‘question mark’ is not meant to be derogatory in any way; rather, it indicates that I really do not know how either of these guys will run- both have the ability to run very well on Sunday. All that it takes is for four men to put it together on the same day and run well. There are eight very good teams listed here and only three medals. This, of course means that many good teams will not make the podium! Sunday will be an interesting race… What do you think?
If you would like to know more about the team, please visit the Teva U.S. Mountain Running Team website