Joseph Gray and Grayson Murphy Win Italy’s Challenge Stellina

Double Gold for 2019 World Mountain Running Champions Joseph Gray and Grayson Murphy at Challenge Stellina: U.S. men and women’s teams earn bronze.

At the 34th running of Challenge Stellina in Susa, Italy, on August 28, 2022, Americans Joseph Gray (Colorado Springs, CO) and Grayson Murphy (Bozeman, MT) notched gold medal performances. Both USA’s men’s and women’s teams earned bronze at this international meeting of nations.

The 14.3-kilometer race started under Susa’s historic Roman arch — Arco di Augusto — at an elevation of 530 meters and would ascend some 1600 meters to the finish line at Costa Rossa, elevation 1950 meters.

The course, on pavement for the first few kilometers, transitioned to mostly single track trail for the next 8 kilometers weaving up the valley in and out of the forest before reaching a gravel service road for the next five kilometers with a screaming fast descent on grass to the finish.

Challenge Stellina

Joseph and Grayson.

Gray and last year’s Challenge Stellina champion Henri Aymonod (Italy) see-sawed the lead in the early stages followed closely by a pack that included runners from Great Britain, Slovenia, Italy, USA, and France. In the final five kilometers, Gray put a gap on Aymonod and surged to best the Italian by 26 seconds at the finish. Gray’s time of 1:20:36, although short of the course record set in 2004 by Jonathan Wyatt (1:14:37), was an impressive victory as it was the first for an American at the event. In 1993, USA’s Dave Dunham was second and in 2006, USA’s Simon Gutierrez finished third. This was Gray’s second time at Challenge Stellina having raced in 2009 finishing fifth, but it was on a slightly different route to the finish.

Gray said, “My last time here I wasn’t able to run the original course due to the washout on the course so I was excited to see the real deal this year with a strong field of athletes. It was a tight race with Italian Aymonod for most of the first half. I slowly got away near the 8k and just held steady to pull off the win for the team. My last time here I was pretty new to the sport and hadn’t really run a stout course like this yet so it was an eye opening experience. I came in today with a little more experience and a lot more fitness.”

Sharing his experience as a Challenge Stellina first timer, Andy Wacker (Boulder, CO) said, “It was special  to be part of Challenge Stellina this year. I am grateful to be here for the reintroduction of the team competition, which honors the military history through peaceful competition. It was emotional hearing the national anthem play for Grayson and Joe as the clouds blew across the mountainside. I think this is a great event and hope that we can continue the tradition with USA teams competing in the future.”

Challenge Stellina

Lauren, Andy and Grayson.

Complete men’s race results.

In the women’s race, Grayson Murphy in her debut Challenge Stellina performance, cruised to the win in a time of 1:32:43, over two minutes ahead of second place Scout Adkin (Great Britain) who ran 1:35:01. Gloria Rita Giudici (Italy) rounded out the top three timed in 1:36:26. Murphy is the first American woman to win this historic race.

After the finish, Murphy provided a short recap of her race, “Lauren (Gregory), took the race out fast and I went with her. The pace was fast, but comfortable. Once we hit the trail (just under 2K), I took the lead and held it to the finish. Running in the Italian Alps is spectacular and this finish line meant a lot to me coming off of a recent foot injury. It’s good to know the last eight to ten weeks of cross training paid off in this type of effort. I hope I get the chance to return to Challenge Stellina.”

Complete women’s race results.

Team results are decided by a compilation of finish times with two runners from each nation scoring. The Italians took gold for the men with a combined time of 2:43:41, Great Britain earned silver timed in 2:46:22. Team USA finished in bronze position with 2:51:25 Andy Wacker finished in 14th position timed in 1:30:39, followed by Dan Curts (Norwich, VT) in 16th timed in 1:31:25. France was 4th in the team competition in 2:52:20.

 Challenge Stellina

Joseph, Dan and Andy take the bronze team medal.

The women’s gold went to Great Britain in 3:13:20, followed by Italy with the silver in 3:13:46 and USA in bronze in 3:15:56. USA’s Lauren Gregory (Fayetteville, AR) cracked the top ten finishing eighth and was second for USA in 1:43:15. Rachel Tomajczyk (Williams, AZ) was 12th in 1:48:06. France was 4th in the team competition in 3:40:26

Challenge Stellina

Women’s team bronze medalists Lauren, Grayson and Rachel.

How did these American athletes qualify to race Challenge Stellina. You can read the U.S. team selection criteria on the USATF MUT webpage.