The World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) conducted a fun competition over the past few weeks with thousands of fans voting for their favorite mountain race through a knockout competition. The ultimate quest was to identify the greatest mountain race of all time, and with all the votes counted, the winning race is Slovenia’s Smarna Gora.
This classic mountain race is 40 years old and it has been part of the WMRA World Cup (perviously Grand Prix) 18 times. Previous winners include: Ines Hižar, Rosita Rota-Gelpi, Izabela Zatorska, Petra Majdič, Mateja Kosovelj, Victoria Wilkinson, Andrea Mayr, Lucija Krkoč, Alice Gaggi, Sarah Tunstall and Lucy Murigi for the women and Lucio Fregona, Marco De Gasperi, Jonathan Wyatt, Emanuele Manzi, Mitja Kosovelj, Antonio Tornielli, Ahmet Arslan, Alex Baldaccini, Yussief Tekle, Fred Musobo, Petro Mamu, and Johan Bugge for the men.
Smarna Gora proved a highly popular race at all stages of the “greatest race of all time” competition. Its long history, the caliber of runners it has attracted over the years, its welcoming atmosphere and the fact that it remains close to its roots as a pure, unspoiled mountain race all contributed to its popularity. Congratulations Smarna Gora!
So how did the World Mountain Running Association get to the winner? They started off with 10 long distance races and 12 short distance races.
Just to review, these were:
Long distance (over 21 km): Mount Fuji Ascent, Sierre Zinal, Three Peaks Race, Kepler Challenge 60k, Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon, Giir Di Mont, Canfranc Canfranc, Jungfrau Marathon, Pikes Peak Marathon (USA), K42 Argentina.
Short Distance (under 21 km): La Montee Grand Ballon, Snowdon International, Hochfelln Berglauf, Smarna Gora, Challenge Stellin, Kitzbuhel Hornlauf, Skala Opp, Drei Zinnen, Mount Washington Road Race (USA), Grossglockner Berglauf, Schlickeralm Lauf, Trofeo Vanoni.
Fans voted for their favorite races among this original list and the most popular 4 from each group went through to the quarter final stage. These were: Sierre Zinal, K42 Argentina, Canfranc Canfranc and Three Peaks Race from the long distance races and Smarna Gora, Mount Washington Road Race, Grossglockner Berglauf and Snowdon International from the short distance.
The races went head-to-head and this gave us semi-finals of K42 Argentina vs Three Peaks Race and Smarna Gora vs Snowdon. This decided the favored long distance race, which was K42 Argentina, and the favored short race, which was of course Smarna Gora.
The two finalists, K42 Argentina and Smarna Gora, were blown away by fans’ support and both wanted to say something to the voters and to the other races which were in the contest. Here are their kind words.
Firstly, from the runner-up, K42 Argentina represented by Diego Zarba (pictured above):
Public voting put us in the final of the Greatest Race of All Time and we feel really happy about that!
I know perfectly well that this is the result of the passion of our audience and does not necessarily represent an objective comparison that makes us better than the rest of those who have participated in this fantastic WMRA initiative, therefore, and we try to accept it with the greatest humility and respect. Therefore, we try to accept it we the upmost respect and humbleness.
I want to express to you that, myself and the rest of our team, have been inspired by you during all these years. We have tried to take the best of each race; we have admired the excellence of all of you and we will continue doing it beyond this circumstance.
We send you a warm hug from Argentinian Patagonia and we hope that this contest unites our interests and projects to continue growing together!
WMRA Council member Tomo Sarf (pictured above, right) representing Smarna Gora wrote:
Public voting is a strange thing. It is like a wild river, unpredictable, unmanageable.
And in this game of the votes Smarna gora has shown its true nature, that has been developed during the four decades of the race.
We are completely aware that Smarna gora cannot be compared to the beautiful scenery of the Drei Zinnen or Grossglockner, to the extremes of Sierre Zinal, to the mass participation of some other races, or to the budget of the others.
Smarna gora is not even a mountain, with 669m it is just a hill, the trails are narrow and space on the summit is very limited, so we can simply not organize a mass event. But it is the most visited peak in Slovenia, in a county where mountaineering and hiking and recently mountain running are a kind of national sport.
After 40 years of the race and after hosting 18 years the World Cup final and 25 years of the Slovenian Cup final, we were determined to fight for the first ever title “the greatest”. We have activated hundreds of fans of mountain running and Smarna gora in Slovenia and abroad.
And we were successful.
We know that our race is not “the best” on the world, simply because the criteria for this are not defined. We are just the winners of the WMRA contest for the “greatest mountain race all times”.
Finally, on behalf of the Smarna gora team, I would like to thanks all the people, who participated in this “voting game”, of course especially to the ones, who supported our race in all four circles of voting.
I would also like to congratulate all the race contenders; I’m sure any of those 22 races would deserve to be a winner.
Editor’s Note: ATRA founder and executive director Nancy Hobbs is a WMRA Council member. Photos courtesy of the World Mountain Running Association.