Story and photos by ATRA Executive Director & WMRA Treasurer Nancy Hobbs.
For the first time in the 12-year history of the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) International Youth Cup, USA Track & Field sent a full squad to this championship event held on Saturday, June 24, in Gagliano del Capo, Italy. Comprised of three boys and three girls (ages 16 or 17 in the year of competition), as well as two staff members, Team USA posted a solid result with a fifth place finish on the girls side, and seventh for the boys.
The girls ran approximately 4 kilometers on a course which included pavement, single track over steep and rocky terrain, accented with ascents and descents overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The total elevation gain was just over 250 meters. The boys ran a course with over 340 meters of climbing for a total of 5.5 kilometers.
The sunny, cloudless race morning was void of even a slight sea breeze making for very hot and humid conditions for the competition. First up was the girls’ race at 10:30 a.m., followed by the boys just after 11:00.
A quick downhill start on pavement for 250 meters quickly turned to the mountainous course on a short steep rocky ascent, followed by a short technical downhill section. A slight bottleneck at the narrow access to the trail proved not to be a problem, as race strategy would develop over the next 20 minutes. Patience was the key strategy as runners jockeyed for position using their specialties on the course, whether uphill, downhill, or on the paved faster sections.
Home nation Italy ran to victory in both the girls and boys’ individual positions and also captured gold on the girls’ side for the team with a score of 18 followed closely by Czech Republic with 19 points, and further back, Turkey with 42 points. Team USA amassed a score of 56 to finish in fifth of the 13 girls’ scoring teams.
Girls’ winner, Nadia Battocletti, ran a time of 18:45, just ten seconds ahead of Barbora Havlickova, Czech Republic. Alesia Hecico, Romania, was third in 19:09. On the boys’ side, Alain Cavagna crushed the course in 23:37, and bested Omer Yilmaz, Turkey, by 11 seconds at the finish. Just one second behind his countryman was Sirin Karabal who posted a time of 23:49.
Turkey Team B (Turkey fielded two boys’ teams which were declared in advance), went on to win team gold with 14 points, followed by Italy for silver with 18 points, and England capturing bronze with a score of 20. Team USA finished in a solid seventh place with a score of 67, just one point behind the German team.
Of the competition, USA’s Mary Fox exclaimed shortly after her finish, “That’s the hardest race I’ve every done!” Fox finished third for Team USA in 27th position with a time of 21:52. In a post race interview, Fox said the one word she would use to describe the course, “Ridiculous.”
Fox went on to describe her experience in Italy, “I liked coming and doing everything around the race. The positive vibes that come from everyone and meeting all the countries, becoming close with all my teammates, all added to the great experience I had.
“The course was very difficult and very hot, but very fun,” continued Fox. “I’d like to do this again – have this experience (with a chuckle), but maybe not this course.”
In the theme of temperature, Joslin Blair, the team’s youngest member, finished first for Team USA in 11th position timed in 20:38, and used “Hot,” as the one word to describe the course.
Her experience was summed up in a post-race interview. “It was really cool to get to come here and meet my teammates. Getting here early to spend time on the course was really helpful,” said Blair. “In the race, we tested ourselves on the course. I was happy with my effort. It felt like it took a long time, like the course was longer than it was.”
Soleil Gaylord finished between Blair and Fox in 18th position with a time of 21:12. Her word for the course, “Intimidating.” She added, “I had an excellent time. I enjoyed my teammates, the venue was absolutely stunning and the course offered a challenge for all. I’m excited to return home and use my international racing skills in future events.”
One of those events includes the World Mountain Running Championships on July 30 in Premana, Italy. Soleil is one of the four juniors on this year’s Team USA squad and will be her second year on the junior team.
Nathan Davis, the only non-Colorado team member, used the word “Technical,” to describe the course. Davis was the first to finish for Team US in 18th position with a time of 26:01. Davis ran aggressively and during the second lap of the course, pushed his way to the front of the pack where he led for about one kilometer.
“I had an amazing experience,” said David. “I got to meet people from a lot of countries, probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my entire life.”
Davis went on to talk about the course, “I was glad that it was an up/down year. I made up a lot of ground on the downhills. I did not feel properly trained for the climbing. I know I’ll probably make some adjustments of how I train for something like this. I was pleased with my effort and I gave it 100 percent.”
Davis said he was especially pleased with his closing 800, “I passed a lot of guys in that last 800, maybe eight. I picked it up a lot on the downhill section after the rocky steps and kept that speed to the finish (which included a fair bit of climbing).
“I felt like we had a good team,” continued Davis. “More experience would have helped – I’ve never raced anything like this. I actually liked the course. In a way it was tougher than I thought it would be. I didn’t think the inclines would be so hard. I was glad for the technical parts. I would just open it up. I knew where to step (having done a course preview) and that’s where I passed a lot of people.
“When I found myself in first place, I was surprised. I thought they wouldn’t be so cautious, that they would be more aggressive on the downhills,” said Davis. “I just took the lead in stride, but it wasn’t a position I wanted to be when we got to the climb. I wanted to relax on the uphills and save it for the final section.”
Tyler Scholl, after a conservative start, was the epitome of patience, moving from nearly last place on the first climb to finish second for Team USA in 24th position timed in 26:26, just one place ahead of teammate Jamison Cartwright in a time of 26:31. Scholl’s word for the course, “Unequivocal.”
Said Scholl, “I wasn’t able to warm up too much because of the heat, so I had a slow start. Then I started to catch a lot of guys on the first uphill. After picking off guys on the climbs, I was able to finish my position of 24th. I definitely couldn’t have gone any harder. I was completely maxed out.”
As for the course, “I loved it – maybe not so much the downhill, but the technical side. I absolutely want to do more mountain running and support Team USA.”
Cartwright chose, “Challenging,” to describe the course. “I found several strategies during the race. One, when people walk, I can close the gaps so I used that to my advantage. Second, I have a talent changing gears from up and down so I can catch people. Third, never give up…keep running.”
To that end, Cartwright was happy with his effort and said, “I ran my body out. I was tired.”
Team Coach Mark Weeks, a former high school cross country and track coach, in his first experience on the international level with mountain running used two words to describe the course, “Surprisingly difficult.”
Weeks added, “I didn’t expect such an extremely technical course – both the ascents and descents. I envisioned it being something like running on my home trails in Palmer Park (Colorado Springs), or the trails in Summit County (Colorado). These trails were gnarly.”
As for the Team’s effort, “I thought they all did great. I was surprised at their level of drive to leave it all on the course,” said Weeks. “Each one of the kids ran to their full potential.”
Like all of the team members, this was Weeks’s first trip to Southern Italy. “It was surprisingly beautiful…I had no idea.”
This venue at Gagliano del Capo will host the WMRA/WMA Masters World Mountain Running Championships in September 2019. Everyone is encouraged to make plans to visit the region #weareinpuglia.