Written by US Youth Skyrunning Assistant Coach John Kerrigan. ATRA is an associate member of the International Skyrunning Federation (ISF). Photos courtesy of US Skyrunning and the International Skyrunning Federation.
The 2019 US Youth Skyrunning Team and their coach Ryan Kerrigan are en route home after a successful third appearance at the Youth Skyrunning World Championships held in Gran Sasso, Italy.
The US team finished fifth out of the 28 countries competing in the championship for Skyrunners under 23 years old. The number of countries was up from 14 teams in 2017 and 18 teams in 2018. The US team finished fourth in their previous two appearances at the world championships. “Our athletes keep getting stronger but have slipped one place lower in the team standings,” laughed Kerrigan.
One explanation is that the sport of Skyrunning has exploded in popularity over the past couple years. In 2017 there were 70 competitors at the Youth World Championships and 140 in 2018. This year there were 192 competitors. “We took a 24 hour plane ride to get here but we would do it all again next year,” said David Byrne the combined Australian, New Zealand coach.
Connections made through social media is one reason for the growth of Skyrunning. Young athletes have only to go to skyrunning.com to see very exciting videos and learn about top performances and scenic venues around the world.
The appearance of the South Korean Skyrunning team is an example of the far-reaching influence of social media. “One of our runners saw the posts about Skyrunning on Facebook and messaged other young runners. We all thought Skyrunning looked really cool. We got together on weekends and trained by running repeats on an 800 meter high mountain in Seoul,” said team member Jeong Yun Choi. They next found themselves a team leader, Kyeong Sik Yang and he contacted Sergio Roi (president of Federazione Italiana Skyrunning) and now the rest is history.
The camaraderie and esprit de corps among all of the international runners all week was amazing. American coach John Kerrigan was there when one of the South Korean runners Yong ju Lee was struggling 100 meters from the summit. “There is no mountain in South Korea that compares to this one. Seeing it on social media was one thing, actually running it was another. It was the toughest thing we have done in our lives but we loved it!! We all hope to be back next year.“ said Jeong yun Choi.
US Skyrunners won several medals at the Youth Skyrunning World Championships. Sofia Sanchez (Kings Beach, CA) earned silver in the Vertical Kilometer (VK) and a gold in the 21 km SkyRace. Mikey Connelly (Chugiak, AK) earned a bronze in the Vertical Kilometer. Mikey’s finish in the VK was just a mere 6 seconds ahead of 4th place runner Aitor Ugarte Eriz of Spain and 2 minutes behind the winner, Oriol Olm Rouppert of Andorra. Due to the interval start order, The Spanish runner started behind the strong Alaskan and passed him about 2/3 of the way up the climb.
“I thought you may beat be by time, but there is no way you are going to physically beat me up this mountain,” said the Chugiak, Alaskan native. In one final burst Mikey surged ahead of the Spaniard. Although he did not beat the Spaniard’s time it was just enough to earn him the coveted bronze. “Standing up on that podium, I thought of all of the training and effort, I have given since last year when I finished fifth,” said Connelly.
Halfway through the race a summer thunderstorm brought lightning, hail and 100 km winds at the summit of Gran Sasso. The weather most likely worked in the native Alaskan’s favor. While runners from Brazil, Greece, Portugal and other warmer climates were shocked, Mikey enjoyed the cooler temps, pelting hail and high winds. “It felt just like home” said the Alaskan.
The team winner was Switzerland finishing just ahead of two time defending champion Spain. Team Norway accepted the Bronze. The US finished fifth, just behind host Italy. The US beat teams from 23 other nations including strong teams form Russia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Japan.
“This was the first time that all of our runners were experienced climbers. All had run at least one VK prior to the championship. All of the runners that competed this year are eligible to return in 2020. These athletes are the products of strong high school or club programs in the US. There is no doubt that they will bring an even higher level of fitness and more experience to the championships next year.” Said US Youth Skyrunning Coach Ryan Kerrigan.
The site for the 2020 championships will be announced in late October after the International Skyrunning Federation’s annual meeting. The US team should be even stronger next year as Coach Ryan Kerrigan is hoping that more young American runners get bitten by the Skyrunning bug, as the South Koreans did this year.
“This sport is not for everyone. It requires a strong will and experience running on steep terrain and the world championships are on race courses 2000 meters in elevation or more. Skyrunning is not like your average trail running race. Unlike most mountain or trail running events, the Skyrunning courses are not always on well-established trails. Skyrunning goes the straightest route up and down the mountain!!! Skyrunning requires both physical stamina and skill especially when running the down hills. Flat is boring, running without ceilings is exciting!!” said Kerrigan.
“We are hoping to raise money so that we can provide scholarships for athletes competing in next years Youth Skyrunning World Championships. It is our hope to have an even greater diversity of US athletes at the 2020 Youth Skyrunning World Championships. If you are interested in donating or would like to apply to be a member of the 2020 US Youth Skyrunning Team or just want to know more about Skyrunning events in the United States we hope you’ll visit www.skyrunningus.com or me at email@example.com.” Added Kerrigan.
All US finishers finished in the top half the competitors in their age group. The US finishers and their best finishing places are as follows:
U18 (under 18 years old) Females
Naia Tower-Pierce (East Burke, VT) – 9th place in the Vertical Kilometer (VK)
U18 (under 18 years old) Males
Mikey Connoly (Chugiak, AK) – 3rd place in the VK
Brendan Magill (Moretown, VT) – 9th place in the SkyRace
Jeffrey Bert (Bend, OR) – 11th place for combined VK and SkyRace
Gavin Block Palmer, AK) – 19th place in the VK
Phoenix Sanchez (Kings Beach, CA) – 20th place in the VK
U20 (under 20 years old) Females
Sofia Sanchez (Kings Beach, CA) – 1st place in the SkyRace
Erin Magill (Moretown, VT) – 6th place in the SkyRace
U20 (under 20 years old) Males
Andrew Owens (Lafayette, CA) – 18th place in the SkyRace
U23 (under 23 years old) Males
William Haig (Stratton, VT) – 21st place in the VK