US Skyrunners Earn 9th Place Team Finish at Youth World Championships

Announcement written by John Kerrigan, US Skyrunning youth team coach. Learn more about how the American Trail Running Association helps to support Skyrunning.

US Skyrunning coach Ryan Kerrigan had mixed emotions going into the 2021 Youth Skyrunning World Championships held in Fonte Cerreto, L’Aquila, Italy.

This was the fourth time that the US Team participated in the last five years. The team attained top five finishes in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The 2020 championships were canceled due to the world wide pandemic. The US team had been turning some heads on the world skyrunning stage. They acquired several individual podium finishes in the past. Kings Beach, California resident Sophia Sanchez won gold medals in both the 2018 and 2019 championships.

We knew this year was going to be a different. We were not sure that the European Union was going to allow US citizens to set foot in Italy until a short month before the event. There was initially much interest from US youth skyrunners. When US participation in the event was questionable, the confidence that we would have a large field of quality runners began to wane.

In spite of the global coronavirus pandemic we were still able to have seven quality athletes on our roster. This was the smallest group we have taken to the world championships since 2017. Injuries to two of the runners while training after arrival in Fonte Cerreto limited the team to just five that were able to compete in both the Vertical Kilometer (VK) and the SkyRace.

The group we took this year may have been small in number but large in enthusiasm and in the emotion for the sport. Although they hailed from a variety of regions of the United States, they bonded quickly and displayed tremendous support for each other.

Youth skyrunning opportunities are relatively new to the United States when compared to Spain, which has a developed and successful program. In many European countries, the skyrunning athletes’ origins are from one mountain range. For example the Pyrenees’s in Spain, the Apennines in Italy, the Alps for the Swiss. Many European athletes have opportunities to compete head to head with each other with over a dozen regional races held every year. US athletes live, train and compete in isolation from each other.

The athletes representing the US trained and competed in a variety of environments. The Wasatch Mountains of Utah, the Chugiak range in Alaska, the Green Mountains of Vermont, the Sierras of California, the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and the Cascades of Washington and Oregon.

The isolation of the athletes provides few chances to compare performances and makes it difficult to choose a team. US athletes unlike their European competitors are forced to train independently with fewer opportunities to develop a supportive network.

Despite these obstacles, I was quite pleased with the athletes we chose to represent the US at the 2021 Youth Championships. This mixed bag of mountain runners was spirited and feisty. They more than held their own with the European runners that have been living and training together.

Parke Chapin

With all things being considered, I was extremely pleased with our results. The US team finished ninth in the twenty team field. The competition was won by Spain followed by host Italy and an up and coming Norwegian team. Athletes from Spain were dominant as well in the individual races receiving 27 of the 57 total medals.

For the first time ever the US team failed to place an athlete on the podium. However two runners finished just a few steps off the podium. Parke Chapin (Bend Oregon) placed fourth in the Vertical Kilometer in the U18 boys race. Nowell Spencer (Anchorage, Alaska) finished fifth in the Vertical Kilometer in the U18 girls race.

Although the US team had their best individual performances in the VK with Chapin 4th and Spencer fifth. It was in the SkyRace where they excelled. For example Finn Tower-Peirce improved ten places from the VK to the SkyRace. This truly surprised us because when we asked the runners what event they were most looking forward to it was the VK.

The conditions for the VK and Skyrace were dramatically different. Thirty Celsius (86 F) with no wind at the start of the VK. The conditions for the SkyRace were quite brutal. 90 mph winds on the summit deemed the original course unsafe. Meet referees wisely shortened the SkyRace vertical height and distance. ‘We were foremost concerned with the safety of the athletes than the consistency of the distance” said Maurizio Regis ISF meet referee.

Skyrunning racing in the US is growing in leaps and bounds. It would be great if we can get far-ranging groups of skyrunners together for several weeklong summer camps. This will help the sport grow from the core.

US Skyrunning is currently making plans for camps during the 2022 preseason. This will help us to continue to heighten our improvement and expand our results for the 2022 Youth Skyrunning World Championships.

Beyond results, the tenacity and camaraderie of this young American group is extremely encouraging for future development of the sport. We are looking forward to the continued ascent of performance but more importantly the spirit and enthusiasm that was nurtured with the 2021 group.

The 2021 Youth Skyrunning Team

Individual podiums, team results and medal count for the 2021 Youth Skyrunning World Championships can be found on the International Skyrunning Federation website. Learn more about the US Skyrunning program on their website and connect with them on Facebook.

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