USATF Youth Mountain Runners Race Through History in Susa Italy

A United States contingent of six athletes, two staff members and a small squad of supporters have arrived in the Susa Valley of Northwest Italy for tomorrow’s 14th edition of the World Mountain Running Association’s (WMRA) International WMRA U18 Mountain Running Youth Cup. This classic mountain running event will feature 90 of the best under 18 (ages 16 and 17), athletes from 14 nations who will compete for individual and team medals.

James Gregory leads the team above the historic village of Susa.

Selected this past June, U.S. athletes James Gregory, William Ledden, Rafael Sanchez, Samantha Blair, Madeleine Burns and Maggi Congdon previewed the rugged 4.1-km course featuring 200 meters of climb and descent. According to course designer and President of Atletica Susa Paulo Germanetto, “I designed the course to include a little bit of all the challenges they will find in a mountain running race.” Continued Germanetto, “Young athletes will find rough, narrow cobblestone lanes, sharp turns, steep uphills, off-camber primitive trails, mountain views and a three-foot drop over a stone embankment.”

After running on the course, Team USA Track & Field (USATF) athletes were impressed and excited to run full throttle on race day. Here are their impressions of the challenge ahead:

Madeleine Burns (Durango, CO) said, “I’ve never seen anything like that (course) before!”

Maggi Congdon (Steamboat Springs, CO) remarked, “It’s definitely going to be a hard race but it’s also going to be an adventure. The ancient city parts of the course are so cool!”

Samantha Blair (Eagle, CO) said, “It’s a really different course compared to what I’m accustomed to racing. During the race it’s going to feel like a bear is chasing me in the woods. I also really like all the cool stone alleyways.”

William Ledden at the high point of the course.

About race day, James Gregory (Fort Collins, CO) said, “I’m excited for the first uphill, the drop-off in the woods will be fun and finishing in the castle is going to be crazy.”

Rafael Sanchez (Los Alamos, NM) said, “I like the downhills and those will be my best chance to catch people during the race. Also, there are great views from the high point of the course, but I don’t think I’ll be paying attention to those during the race.”

William Ledden (Lafayette, CO) reacted by saying, “Yikees! Racing through the castle is going to be super sick. I’m not accustomed to running through technical cobblestone alleyways but I’m up for the challenge.”

Madeleine Burns takes the forest drop at speed.

This short, but mighty race course is set in the historic village of Susa and will run through Roman era ruins including the Arco Di Augusto – built to celebrate the alliance between Octavian Augustus Ceasar, first Roman Emperor and Cotius, King of the Celtes. Other historic features along the course include Terme Graziane, arches of a Roman aqueduct resting on the remains of a Celtic altar, a Roman amphitheatre and the courtyard of Castello (Castle) Della Contessa Adeliade site of the race finish.

The final 200 meters of the course traces a route up stone steps in the castle.

Along with US athletes & staff, there are several athlete family members here to cheer on Team USATF including Myriah Blair from Eagle, Colorado. Blair’s daughter Joslin won last year’s WMRA International Mountain Running Youth Cup. Having been a spectator at the two previous editions of this Youth Cup, Blair remarked about this year’s course, “There are more sharp turns and uneven surfaces, but less overall climbing. All the Youth Cup events I’ve attended have been in Italy and this one features just as much history.” Continued Blair, “Having this experience helps the athletes be able to push harder when they get home and race cross country. Even for some very fit kids, the steep climbing at these mountain running races can be eye-opening. I always tell them don’t hold back – send it!”

US team leader Mark Weeks said of the Youth Cup, “Each year the mountain running course is much different than the previous year and this year is no exception. I see the Susa course as requiring a great deal of balance and agility and not as much climbing skills. The young athlete with the best all around skills may end up racing faster than an athlete who is a better pure climber. I think there’s a very good chance of both our teams getting on the podium this year.”

Race day is Saturday, August 24. The U18 girls’ race will start at 5:30 PM local time. The U18 boys’ race will start at 6:15 PM local time. Both boys and girls will race the same 4.1 km course with 200 meters of climbing and descending.

Team USATF at the 1999 Memorial Partigiani Stellina openeing ceremonies in Susa.

This weekend is the traditional date for the annual Memorial Partigiani Stellina mountain running race first held in 1989 and the first mountain running race recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). While the Stellina race will not be held this year due to the Youth Cup, many athletes will hike and run the course on Sunday and attend a commemoration ceremony at the traditional finish line – 14.4 km and 1630 meters above the village of Susa.

The Memorial Partigiani Stellina course record of 1:14:37 was set in 2004 and is held by current World Mountain Running Association President Jonathan Wyatt. Over the years, many American mountain runners have competed in this race but top results belong to Dave Dunham who finished second in 1993 (1:23:23) and third in 1994 (1:22:48). He remains the only American to stand on the podium at this historic mountain running race.

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