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Newcomer Morgan Arritola leads US women to third team gold; men place fourth
Morgan Arritola (above) finished third in her first World Mountain Running Championship and the U.S. women’s Mountain Running Team (USMRT) placed three runners in the top eight to win their third-ever team gold medal Sunday, September 2 in Ponte di Liego, Italy.
“I knew it would be fast and aggressive from the start so I got out and made sure I was in front and stayed safe. I’m not afraid to throw some elbows, which definitely happened,” says Arritola, 26, of Ketchum, Idaho, who covered the mostly uphill 8.8-kilometer course in 47 minutes 26 seconds.
Austria’s Andrea Mayr won the individual title in 46 minutes 35 seconds, finishing solidly ahead of runner-up Valentina Belloti of Italy, who crossed the line in 47 minutes, four seconds. Stevie Kremer, of Crested Butte, Colorado, finished second for the U.S. team and seventh overall in 48 minutes 54 seconds, and Boulder, Colorado’s Melody Fairchild finished third for the team and eighth overall in 48 minutes 57 seconds. Brandy Erholtz, of Evergreen, Colorado, finished 40th overall in 53 minutes 13 seconds. Their 18 team points bested second-place Italy by 11 points.
“It wasn’t a surprise that the women were gold medal winners as a team,” says USATF Mountain/Ultra/Trail Chair Nancy Hobbs, who helped lead the U.S. delegation to Italy. “I knew they had the ability to come out on top, but you never know until race day how things will unfold. The competition is more fierce every year and athletes need to be on top of their game to medal.”
For Arritola, a former Olympian in Nordic skiing, this race capped off a remarkable debut season as a mountain runner that included winning the US title in July. “I felt like I have a good third gear but I don’t have that fourth and fifth gear at the moment so I wasn’t able to hang on during the really steep climbs, which was where I lost contact with first and second,” she says. “All in all though it was a really great atmosphere and gave me goals for next time.”
The U.S. women won the team gold in 2006 and 2007. Last year, former team member, Vermont’s Kasie Enman earned the first individual gold for the U.S., and the team finished fourth overall.
Men repeat fourth place finish from 2011
In the men’s race, another newcomer – and former Nordic skier – led the U.S. team to a fourth-place finish. Glenn Randall, 25, of Mesa, Colorado – who finished fourth at the U.S. men’s team qualifier in June – finished ninth overall, covering the 14.1-kilometer course (which featured over 1100 meters in elevation gain) in 1:05:48.
“I managed to move up into the top 20 or so very early, and tried to hold that position through most of Temu, the village where the race started,” says Randall. “After we left Temu, the race flattened out a bit…during this section I used my leg speed to move into the top 10. At this point, the Eritreans were really pushing the pace, and I held a pace that I felt was reasonable, telling myself that I definitely wanted to have energy for the latter stages of the race.”
“I felt like I did a very good job preparing for the course,” he continues. “The really steep ups and downs seemed to catch a few people off guard, but I was happy with my preparation for them. There are almost always parts that I wish I’d done a better job with, but I think I prepared as well as I could have.”
Fellow newcomer and 2012 U.S. Mountain Running champion Sage Canaday, of Boulder, Colorado, finished 12th overall in 1:05:55 and USMRT veteran Joe Gray, of New Castle, Washington, finished 14th overall in 1:06:20. Eric Blake, of New Britain, Connecticut, rounded out the team scoring with a 53rd-place finish in 1:10:00. The US men’s team scored 88 points – lower than the 112 it scored last year – but matched its fourth-place finish of a year ago. Eritrea won the team title with 17 points; Italy won silver with 31 and Russia finished third with 75.
“Having interviewed all of the seniors post-race, those that had a less-than-expected result learned a lot from what went wrong and plan to apply what they learned to future races,” says Hobbs.
She also noted that the junior team members gained valuable experience by racing in a world championship event. The junior women’s team, led by a 17th-place finish by San Diego’s Kelly Lawson, placed ninth of 15 teams; the junior men’s team, led by University of Richmond runner Jordan Chavez’s 17th-place finish, placed sixth out of 16 teams.
“The U.S. mountain running program is thriving,” says Hobbs. “There are more athletes interesting in being on the team than ever before and the competition for team spots is lifted a few notches every year. I think we’ll see some of the same athletes on the 2013 team, and perhaps some newcomers.
A record 40 total nations competed in the 212 World Mountain Running Championships, which was the 28th edition of the event. Complete results can be found here.