Written by Ally Bevin for the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA). ATRA founder Nancy Hobbs is is the WMRA General Secretary.
We’re now just 2 days away from the inaugural World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Chiang Mai, Thailand! The races will be streamed LIVE on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/WMTRC2021Thailand
A groundbreaking collaboration between WMRA, the International Association of Ultrarunners and the International Trail Running Association, in partnership with World Athletics, for the first time ever all the world’s best off-road athletes will come together for a single, spectacular global championship.
In another first, the mountain athletes will get the opportunity to compete in Classic Uphill and Classic Up and Down races in the same World Championship. The Uphill race, 8.5km with 1,065m of ascent, is the championship’s curtain-raiser, taking place on Friday, while the Up and Down, 10.7km with 475m of climb and descent, is the finale, taking place on Sunday.
We had a preview of this format at the European Championships in July, with multiple athletes showing it was possible to put in strong performances in both races. Who will be audacious enough to back themselves for 2 medals in Thailand?
As athlete gather in Chiang Mai and we start counting down the hours to the opening ceremony, we take a look at some of the favourites in the mountain races, starting with the women.
[Editor’s Note: Racing for the USA women in Friday’s uphill mountain race will be Lauren Gregory, Allie McLaughlin and Rachel Tomajczyk. Racing for the USA women in Sunday’s up/down mountain race will be Rachel Tomajczyk, Corey Dowe, Samantha Lewis and Allie McLaughlin.]
The standout performer at the European Championships, Maude Mathys (Switzerland, both races) took double gold, her 4th and 5th consecutive European titles. A World Championships win has proved elusive though; 4th in 2014 and 2017, a silver medal in Andorra in 2018 is her strongest performance to date. She’s maintained her form since the Euros, with 2nd at both Sierre-Zinal and Pikes Peak Ascent. Can she finally claim World Championship gold in Thailand?
Sixteen years after her first World Championship win, the great Andrea Mayr (Austria, both races) goes in search of a record equalling 7th world title in Chiang Mai! Now 43, she shows no sign of slowing down and has taken numerous big wins in 2022; Piz Tri Vertical, Fletta Trail, Vertical and Trofeo Nasego, Šmarna gora and KV Chiavenna-Lagunc, the Valsir World Cup Final.
Joyce Njeru (Kenya, both races) has been studenous in 2022. The defending World Cup champion returned to the circuit in even better form than 2021 and dominated the series, taking 6 Gold Label wins. You’d bet your mortgage on her improving significantly on the 13th place she managed at the 2018 championship in Andorra. Among her teammates is two time World Champion Lucy Murigi and Sierre-Zinal 3rd place finisher Philaries Kisang.
Defending champion Grayson Murphy may be out injured, but luckily for the U.S.A. their women’s lineup is still packed with talent. Allie McLaughlin, 2014 Long Distance World Champ, runs in both races. So too does Lauren Gregory; winner of the inaugural USATF Vertical Mountain Running Championships at Loon Mountain in July, she has followed that up with strong results at Trofeo Nasego, 3rd, and Flagstaff Sky Peaks, 5th. Gregory won junior bronze at the 2017 World Championship in Premana, can she do the same again as a senior?
The Ugandan women’s team might be the biggest unknown at this championship. While the men have swept the medals at 4 of the last 7 championships, the only time the country has sent a full women’s team was in 2015, when they came away with team bronze and Stella Chesang as World Champion. Rispa Cherop (Up and Down) looks set to lead the charge this time, having taken a comfortable win at the trial race in early October.
Finishing 18th in the long distance race in Argentina in 2019, Monica Madalena Florea (Romania, both races) has shown she could go a lot better this time round. European Championship Silver in July was followed by 3rd at Giir di Mont Uphill, 2nd at Vertical Nasego and 4th at Trofeo Nasego the next day, all Gold Label races on the Valsir World Cup. Her teammate Denisa Dragomir was long distance bronze medallist in 2017 and won this year’s Balkan Championship.
Sarah McCormack (Ireland, Up and Down) has a disappointing run at the European Championships but has been impressive since; 5th at Sierre-Zinal, 2nd at Smarna gora and a win at Trofeo Vanoni. One of a few athletes running only one race, skipping the Uphill to keep her powder dry for the Up and Down, will fresher legs make the difference?
Also foregoing the Uphill is Chiara Mainetti (Argentina). She added a South American title to her multiple national titles in San Juan in August, before taking to the roads and making her marathon debut in London. Will the extra leg speed and endurance allow her to improve on the 13th place she achieved on home soil in 2019?
It is hard to pick the standout from the Italian ranks as a number of athletes have taken turns coming out on top in their head to heads this year. Alice Gaggi (Up and Down) has abundant championship experience, taking the title in 2013 and finishing in the top 6 no fewer than 6 times. Her recent form looks good; she won Trofeo Ciolo in late September, beating a number of her teammates in the process. Elisa Sortini (Uphill) has also shown strong form recently, finishing 2nd at Trofeo Vanoni behind McCormack and ahead of Gaggi.
Also look out for Scout Adkin (G.B. & N.I.) and Christel Dewalle (France) who won Bronze in the Up and Down and Uphill races respectively at the European Championships in July.
[Editor’s Note: Racing for the USA men in Friday’s uphill mountain race will be Dan Curts, Joseph Gray and Cameron Smith. Racing for the USA men in Sunday’s up/down mountain race will be Morgan Elliot, Andy Wacker, Joseph Gray and Mason Coppi.]
Defending champion Joseph Gray (U.S.A., both races) is back to defend the title he won in Argentina in 2019. He has had some mixed results this year but always seems to find something extra when he’s racing in his national colours, as his win at Challenge Stellina in August demonstrates. One of only 2 people to have won a world title in both the Uphill and Up and Down formats, can he manage a double in Thailand? Gray’s teammate Andy Wacker is another returning Worlds medalist, taking Long Distance silver in 2015.
The revelation of the 2022 Valsir World Cup, Patrick Kipngeno (Kenya, both races) may well be the man to beat. With 6 Gold Label wins on the World Cup, including multiple course records, and further victories at Dolomitenmann and Thyon-Dixence, his season has been spectacular. His teammate Philemon Kiriago, 2nd in the Valsir World Cup, joins him in Chiang Mai. Both will be looking to become the first Kenyan man to win be mountain running world champion.
Joel Ayeko (Uganda, Uphill) has an impressive World Championships CV. Junior champion in 2016, he has twice finished 2nd as a senior, in 2017 and 2018, on both occassions finishing behind a teammate. Having won the Ugandan trial race in early October, he will be looking to go one better this year. Among the Ugandan team for the Up and Down race is Timothy Toroitich, a championship debutante whose 27:21 PB for 10,000m could make him a handful.
Cesare Maestri (Italy, both races), silver in Argentina, was the best of the men in the 2 race European Championships, taking gold in the Uphill and silver in the Up and Down. As ever the Azurri bring a strong squad; alongside Maestri are the likes of 2021 World Cup winner Henri Aymonod, who looks to be back to full strength after injury, and 2017 European Champion Xavier Chevrier.
The surprise package at the European Championships, Maximilien Drion du Chapois (Belgium, both races), timed his race perfectly to take the Short Trail title. Moving down to the shorter distances in Thailand, he will be a marked man this time around.
Zak Hanna (Ireland, Uphill) came within seconds of a medal when he finished 5th at the European Championships Uphill. He’s also had 3 Valsir World Cup podium finishes this year and finished 3rd in the series overall.
Sprinting for the finish with Hanna at the European Championships was Miquel Corbera (Spain, both races). He followed that 4th place with 8th in the Up and Down race 2 days later. Corbera is part of a very strong Spanish contingent which also features Sierre-Zinal winner Andreu Blanes (Up and Down) and 2019 Long Distance medalist Oriol Cardona (both races). Look for them to feature in the team competition.
Other possible contenders include South American champion Javier Carriqueo (Argentina, Up and down), Chris Richards (G.B. & N.I.), 3nd at Fletta Trail and Challenge Stellina, and Marek Craschina (Czech Republic, both races) whose bronze medal in 2019 lead Czechia to team gold.
As ever with a championship, there will be surprises in store! Who is flying under the radar, waiting in the wings to upset the favourites? Keep an eye on social media for all the action through the weekend!
For more detail on start times, courses etc., check the General Information Sheet on the event website: https://wmtrc2021thailand.com/.
The full entry list is here: https://wmtrc2021thailand.com/media3/2022/10/WMTRC-ENTRY-LISTS-MOUNTAIN.pdf