Rickey Gates November 16, 2012 TWEET COMMENTS 1

Speedgoat 50K Has Decadence and Decree - Page 4

Karl’s final decision was to award Kilian the win and the points for the ISF Ultra Series but to shift the prize money and course record down a place. All told, the decision earned me an extra two grand for a total of $4000.

No sooner had Karl made his decision did the armchair ultrarunning judging begin. And for the next couple of days I did something that I had never done before—I followed the cyber ultrarunning experts word for word. I scanned through hundreds of comments both praising and condemning Karl’s decision.

Overall race winner Kilian Jornet played by a different set of rules, and was given the Skyrunner victory but denied the course record and cash prize.

“Killian did not break Skyrunning rules,” Karl explained, “and because in my ‘rules,’ it did not say to not cut switchbacks, I let him run under the other rules. But in my race, he doesn’t win the money because he cut corners and it was not a 50K per se. He didn’t gain four minutes, that’s doubtful, but, hey, he didn’t follow the route.”

The wad of hundreds in my pocket made me want to leave the matter at rest. My interest in the controversy, however, inclined me to find an answer. I sat with Kilian the morning following the race. He was eating cold oatmeal. Windshield-size checks lay on the floor around us, Tony’s, Anna’s, my own. Kilian’s demeanor was no different than it was before the race nor immediately after, when he was told that he’d not be given the prize money. He remained calm and cheerful. I asked him if he was OK with Karl’s decision.

“I’m OK with it because it is an American vision for the sport,” he replied. “The mentality in Europe is to go straight. To go up and then go down. It is an exercise of visualization and not just running with blinders. When I go running I can’t enjoy it if I’m not looking where it’s possible to go. I don’t have the same mentality, but I agree with the decision.”

The differences in rules between American and European races, I was beginning to realize, were not just about cutting switchbacks. The issue brought to light quintessential differences between two cultures that have been growing steadily apart for several hundred years. The issue is about how we interact with our environments. It is NASCAR versus Formula One. It is McDonalds Quarter Pounder versus Le Royal. The issue is about American Order versus European Entropy.

In the five years that I’ve known Kilian I have watched his name become known to nearly every mountain culture in the world. I have seen in him a transformation of a timid but eager boy fighting to win and dominate a sport to a calmer, more mellow man to whom it couldn’t matter less whether he wins, loses or gets disqualified.

One question burned and I hesitated to ask but went forth—“You’re tired of racing, aren’t you?”

He laughed uncomfortably as though I’d seen something I wasn’t supposed to see, as one would if a girl’s phone number fell out of his pocket.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s important to me to keep moving and not do the same things all the time. I’ve raced almost all the races I want to race and have achieved almost all of the things that I want to achieve in racing. I don’t go for the win anymore.”

He continued, “I go for the fun. Of course when I’m racing I try to win because I am competitive but the motivation to train for specific races is no longer there.”

This apathy towards winning, losing or disqualification highlights the one thing that needs to be understood about Kilian—that he is bigger than mountain running. He is bigger than skiing. He is bigger than climbing. Kilian is the sum of these sports and his ambitious projects require the full quiver of all that he has mastered over the past several years.

“Now,” Kilian said, “I am more motivated about some mountain projects."

On a hot day in July, the Speedgoat 50K, with both decadence and decree, found itself in the center of all the world’s mountains. The armchair argument that emerged from it, perhaps more than anything, illuminated a growth in the sport and a rupture between the two continents where it has been most popularized. Regardless of where the course goes from here though, one thing can be guaranteed—it’s going to be difficult, weird and unique.

Rickey Gates is still waiting for his 40 bucks from Tony.


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