Written by Kristy Reade for the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA). Republished here with permission. ATRA founder Nancy Hobbs is the treasurer of the World Mountain Running Association.
Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been taking a look back at some of the “greatest of all time” athletes in mountain running. We’re going to recap them with one article on the men and one on the women and then we’re going to ask you to VOTE for your male and female Greatest Of All Time mountain runners. Which athletes will be crowned #WMRAGOAT?
Scroll to the bottom of this page to VOTE!!!
Obviously these sorts of lists are never perfect and they can be subjective. We’ve based our selection of the top six on results achieved but also on contribution to the sport. To help you make your mind up about who to vote for, we’ve included the opinions of well-respected runners at the bottom of the article.
Here are our six Greatest Of All Time men of mountain running:
Bernard Dematteis (Italy) – With his twin brother Martin, Bernard has been a hugely popular runner on the mountain running circuit for the last 15 years. The ultimate team player, Bernard has won 10 team medals with Italy in the World Mountain Running Championships, as well as an individual silver, and 14 medals at the European Mountain Running Championships, including 3 individual gold medals. A very strong performer in the WMRA World Cup, he has finished 4th for the last 3 years.
Marco de Gasperi (Italy) – In any other era Marco would probably have dominated, but he was unfortunately running in the same era as Jonathan Wyatt! He still won 5 World Mountain Running Trophy golds between 1997 and 2007 (competing in a record 15 World Mountain Running Trophy events), he won the WMRA World Cup in 2001 and also 8 medals at the European Mountain Running Championships. He won Sierre-Zinal twice, among many other race wins and accolades.
Joseph Gray (United States) – Joseph’s hard work and consistency over the years can be best illustrated by the fact that he is an 18 time U.S. National Champion. He won the World Mountain Running Championships in 2016 and 2019, he’s the U.S. record holder for the Mount Washington Road Race, he’s won the Pikes Peak Ascent, has an impressive collection of FKTs and he’s come second at Sierre-Zinal. He’s also an incredibly adaptable athlete, having run cross country and track at a college level and he also has a long list of snowshoe accolades. He is also known for being a passionate advocate for giving back to the sport, particularly with his Project Inspire Diversity grassroots program aimed at seeing inspiration and motivation among young minority distance runners.
Kilian Jornet (Spain) – When you think of Kilian, you think of mountains. Whether he is running, mountaineering, climbing or doing ski-mountaineering, he’s moving fast in the mountains. He also excels at every distance, from vertical kilometers to 100 miles. For the purposes of our feature let’s consider his record in mountain running – he’s won Sierre-Zinal 7 times, finally taking the record in 2019, he’s won Zegama 9 times and he’s a multiple winner of the Skyrunner World Series. Unfortunately we haven’t had the excitement of seeing Kilian compete at a World Mountain Running Championships, but there’s plenty of time for that!
Antonio Molinari (Italy) – Antonio put together an incredible string of results over more than 30 years. He competed in the World Mountain Running Trophy an incredible 12 times, winning individual gold once and team gold 12 times. He also won the WMRA World Cup in 1998 and 2000, he won 3 European Mountain Running Championship golds and 5 national titles. The statistics on his website say that between 1982 and 2016 he competed in an incredible 946 races and he won 428 of them and finished on the podium 684 times. The depth of his achievements in mountain running are surely unbeatable.
Jonathan Wyatt (New Zealand) – Certainly the most decorated male athlete in mountain running, Jonathan won the WMRA Grand Prix Series (now the World Cup) an unprecedented 8 times and the World Mountain Running Trophy 6 times. Coming from a track background he also competed in two Olympic Games over the 5000m and marathon. He also competed for New Zealand in cross country running, demonstrating his diverse background.
Here’s what some current mountain running athletes said about our top six men when asked who were the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) mountain runners:
- Francesco Puppi (Italy) on Jonathan Wyatt: “He achieved so much in mountain running and set incredible records (many stand still today like Jungfrau marathon, Hochfellnberglauf, Challenge Stellina and Mount Washington road race). Also, for me it is very important that he always kept the focus on running fast on any surface. The fact that he competed in two Olympic Games over 5000m (Atlanta) and the marathon (Athens) is astonishing, besides winning 6 world mountain running championships (the only ever athlete to with both on uphill and up and down course) and having amazing track and road personal bests. He’s inspiring because he did so much for the sport and continues to promote it in humble yet effective way.”
- Sarah Tunstall (Great Britain) on Jonathan Wyatt and Andrea Mayr: “there’s no real doubt in my mind that Andrea and Jono are the greatest mountain runners of all time. Their longevity, Championship victories, race records and Olympic Games appearances, for me, stand head and shoulders above any of the other “greats”.
- Francesco Nicola (Italy) on Marco de Gasperi: “Marco de Gasperi is the greatest because of his ability to run fast across a whole range of courses and distances. His 5 World Mountain Running Trophys’ and all the records he set speak for themselves.”
- Andrew Douglas (Scotland) on Bernard Dematteis: “Bernie is one of the most genuine and humble athletes on the circuit, and along with his twin brother Martin, are fantastic ambassadors for mountain running. I’ve spent many a race in awe of his ability to bound his way so effortlessly up the mountain, and then absolutely hammer it down the descent; although usually I wouldn’t see him on the descent as he’d be so far ahead! In each of the first 3 up and down championships I competed in (2014 & 2016 Europeans, 2015 Worlds) he was virtually untouchable to his fellow Europeans, such a fantastic racer. But not only that, he always makes time to chat with his fellow competitors and is someone I’ve always looked up to in terms of the way he conducts himself.”
Other mountain runners considered for the list include:
Helmut Schmuck (Austria) – Helmut was dominant during the 1990s, winning the World Championships in 1992 and 1994 and the European Championships in 1995 and 1997. He also competed in the marathon in the 1992 Olympic Games.
Marco Gaiardo (Italy) – Marco won the European championships in 2003 and 2006 and world championship bronze in 2003.
Currently active younger mountain runners who’ve already made a big impact on the sport:
Andrew Douglas (Scotland) – After bursting onto the scene and winning the World Cup in 2015, Andrew Douglas then became frustrated with a string of results where he finished second. So, having taken a year’s sabbatical from his job in 2019 he set about regaining the world cup and it paid off. Has achieved a number of top 10 finishes in both the European and World Championships
- Sandor Szabo (Hungary) on Andrew Douglas: “I vote for Andrew because we are the beasts who race all the races we can in the World Cup, and he cheers me up every time we talk. He’s really motivating to me, just like Andrea (Mayr) also!”
- Fujio Miyachi (Japan) on Andrew Douglas: “His performance last year was very good all year round, and he was a deserving World Cup champion.”
- Jacob Adkin (Scotland) on Andrew Douglas: “an incredibly genuine guy. His attention to the details of training, life-balance and getting the best out of oneself is truly motivating.”
- Sarah Tunstall (Great Britain) on Andrew Douglas: “Andy is a racing machine! To watch him race is amazing as he can dig so deep. I’d love to see him get a medal as he’s been at the top of his game for so long but even a bit of silverware wouldn’t quite do justice to how versatile he is as a mountain runner.”
Francesco Puppi (Italy) – Still a young athlete (at 28) with his best yet to come, Francesco has already won the world long distance mountain running championships in 2017 and finished second after an epic duel with Jim Walmsley at the 2019 championships. He also finished 3rd in the long distance championships in 2015 and has won 2 bronze medals in the Europeans.
- Jacob Adkin on Francesco Puppi: “inspirational for his will-power and determination to achieve goals and not scared to dream, always with a smile.”
Robbie Simpson (Great Britain) – Robbie has achieved a huge amount in mountain (and road) running over the last decade, so it’s hard to believe he is still only 29. He finished 3rd at the 2011 long distance championships, won a silver in the 2014 Europeans and a bronze in the 2015 World Championships. He has also had considerable success on the road, most notably winning a bronze in the 2018 Commonwealth Games. He’s won the Jungfrau Marathon twice and he’s finished in the top 5 at Sierre Zinal an incredible 7 years in a row, including three 2nd places.
- Sarah Tunstall (Great Britain) on Robbie Simpson: “I’ve met very few people with Robbie’s work ethic in training. I think he must rank as GB’s best male mountain runner ever in terms of medals and performances on the big stage. Many of his race results over the past five years or so are incredible and, maybe with less questionable competition, I think we would be talking about him in relation to Jono.”
Voting is open now, so get thinking about who your male greatest mountain runner of all time is and VOTE below before June 10.