Lucy Murigi Wambui on her way to winning the WMRA World Cup race in Sierre-Zinal (© Justin Britton / organisers)
Some of the world’s top mountain runners, hailing from 40 nations, will line up at the 34th edition of the WMRA World Mountain Running Championships as the event goes to Andorra for the first time on Sunday (16).
Defending champions Victor Kiplangat and Lucy Murigi are back to take on the 12km uphill-only course with 1028m of ascent.
The course from the town of Canillo will not be particularly technical and has been described as fast. After a tarmac start, runners will face a mixture of steep sections, forest trail, mountain path, gravel tracks, stony paths and meadow with just over 100m of descent in total, before finishing at Forn de Canillo chairlift at an altitude of 2400m.
Kenya’s Murigi has backed up her 2017 win on the up-and-down route with victory in the Sierre Zinal mountain race recently. Last year she beat Austria’s six-time world champion Andrea Mayr by 78 seconds, but the 2:30 marathoner will be better suited to this uphill course.
In fact, Kenya are likely to do well on an uphill year, particularly with a solid team this time. Viola Jelagat, who was fifth in 2014, returns having run a 2:26 marathon last year. Joyce Njeru, third in the Italian uphill classic Stellina three weeks go, is also on the squad.
Since winning the European title in July, Switzerland’s Maude Mathys has been injured and hopes she can be back to her best after having to pull out of Sierra Zinal.
France’s Anais Sabrie and Britain’s Emma Gould, who were second and third behind her in Skopje, could also be factors. Supporting Gould will be compatriot Sarah Tunstall, who was third last year.
USA, team winners last year, arrive with a strong team, including 2011 winner Kasie Enman, plus Allie McLaughlin and Addie Bracy, who were also on the winning 2017 US team, and 2:28 marathoner Annie Bersagel.
Czech Republic, team bronze medallists last time out, feature Lucie Marsanova and Pavla Schorna Matyasova, who were top 10 on that occasion.
Also hoping to make an impression will be Italy’s Gloria Giudici and the Irishwoman who was convincingly ahead of her and Njeru in Stellina, Sarah McCormack.
Other challengers include France’s Christel Dewalle, who will be hoping to upgrade from her bronze two years ago, Uganda’s Patricia Chekwemboi, who was sixth as a junior in the senior race in 2014, and Turkey’s Bahar Atalay, junior silver medallist last year.
Kiplimo expanding his range - men's race
On the men’s side, Victor Kiplangat is back to defend his title as he and his Ugandan team-mates look to continue the nation’s strong recent showing in these championships.
However, having won last year just four months before his 18th birthday, another 17-year-old from Uganda could replace him as champion. Reigning world under-20 cross country champion Jacob Kiplimo not only finished fourth at the Commonwealth Games this year but more recently took silver in the 10,000m at the IAAF World Under-20 Championships, beating Kiplangat into sixth. Despite his tender years, Kiplimo is not short of experience as he competed in the Rio Olympics at the age of 15, having earlier a year won a national mountain title.
Last year Uganda completed their third men’s podium sweep in five years. With their runner-up then, Joel Ayeko, and 2:10 marathoner Robert Chemonges in their squad, it could happen again.
Joseph Gray, the winner in 2016, is representing the United States at these championships for the 11th consecutive year. He will be supported by Andy Wacker, Matt Daniels and David Fuentes, who were also part of the winning 2016 team.
Mexico’s Israel Morales, who was second in 2016, will be hoping to go one better, while Turkey’s Ahmet Arslan, third two years ago, is also lining up.
Italy will have a strong team, led by the Dematteis brothers - Bernard, who won the European title this summer, and Martin, the 2016 European champion. Francesco Puppi, the 2017 world long-distance mountain running champion, is another Italian with high hopes.
Kenya are yet to win a medal in the senior men’s race, but hoping to change that will be Timothy Cheruiyot, a 63-minute half-marathoner with mountain experience, Japhet Mutwiri, Stephen Ndege, and 2:08 marathoner Geoffrey Ndungu.
Others to watch out for are Britain’s Andrew Douglas, who was ninth last year and rising star Jacob Adkin, who beat him in their trial race, plus Czech Republic’s Jan Janu and Norway’s Johan Bugge.
Chelimo back to defend junior title
The junior races will be held over 7.3km with 576m ascent. Uganda’s Oscar Chelimo will line up to defend his title. Romania’s Gabriel Bularda, Britain’s Joseph Dugdale and Italy’s Giovanni Rossi, the top three at the European Championships, plus International Youth Cup champion Matthew Mackay of Britain will challenge.
The women’s champion also returns as Uganda’s Risper Chebet goes against Italy’s recent European champion, Angela Mattevi. Britain’s Anna MacFayden, who won European silver this year, and USA’s Joslin Blair, winner of the International Youth Cup, could also feature.
These championships will be the first to take place since the announcement last month of a closer partnership between the IAAF and WMRA from next year onwards.
Ryan Simpson for the IAAF