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WMRA World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships. Sierre Zinal.Report

Mexican Ricardo Mejia and Swiss Angelina Joly become the first long distance champions.

1st WMRA World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships

Sierre-Zinal. The race amongst the five 4000 m high mountains.

The 31st edition of Sierre-Zinal took place on the 8th of August 2004. Almost all the course of this classic race of 31km, with an ascent of 2000m and descent of 800m is run at an altitude between 2000 and 2500 meters. As usual, the organisers staged a wonderful event, and a great atmosphere created. The World Mountain Running Association, who organise the Mountain Running World Trophy for IAAF, decided to create a new award which gives recognition to the specialists of long distance mountain running. They were delighted that the great Sierre-Zinal race agreed to support this initiative, and to their event being classed as the first World Long Distance Mountain Running Championship. The first three men and first three women received WMRA /IAAF medals and the two winners are the first official World Champions of long distance mountain running.

The story of a legend

In Switzerland, in the early seventies, the only mountain race was โ€œFionnay-Panossiรจreโ€, where about 60 people โ€“ most of them Nordic skiers โ€“ ran with skiing sticks. Jean-Claude Pont dreamed of a beautiful mountain race which would combine his two passions, running and mountaineering, since he was also a mountain guide! He choose a long course between the town of Sierre in the valley of Valais, and Zinal high in the mountains. The course went straight up to Ponchettes and then along the slope through Chandolin, Tignousa, past the famous Hotel Weisshorn, to the mountain pastures of Nava and Barneusa before finishing by means of a steep descent to the ski resort of Zinal.
For the first edition in 1974, less than 1000 participants entered the race. Great champions such as the Belgian, Gaston Roelants (World cross country champion), the Frenchman Jean-Paul Pierrat (winner of the Vasaloppet), and Chantal Langlacรฉ (a former world record holder for the womans marathon) have competed.
There is also a โ€œtouristsโ€ event which starts four hours before the โ€œeliteโ€ and encourage them when they are passing. Many mountain races now accommodate walkers in this way, allowing them to start before the runners on the same course.

31 years later, in 2004, 3000 runners participate.

Jonathan Wyatt, 2003 winner and record holder for the course, was absent as he prepared for the Olympic marathon. The favourites were the Mexican Ricardo Meija (three times winner), the Englishmen Billy Burns (one time winner and three times second), Martin Cox and John Brown. But the Colombian Jacinto Lopez (winner in 1994, when 24 years old), and Swiss Christian Charriรจre (best Swiss last year) could not be discounted. Other potential medallists were Sรฉbastien Epiney, Tarcis Ancay, and Jean-Yves Rey.

In the womens race, Scotlands Angela Mudge (World mountain running champion in 2000) the only woman to complete the course in less than three hours, was absent due to a knee injury. So, the race was more open with the Russian Vera Soukhova (winner in 1999), the Colombian Maria Rodriguez, running in Europe for the first time this year, the Swiss girls Angeline Joly and Nathalie Etzensperger (respectively 2nd and 3rd last year), and the French Isabelle Guillot, four times world champion of mountain running, and still 4th at the European mountain running championship this year, testing herself over the longer distance and the rocky passages for the first time.

Sierre-Zinal is a race not only for the champions.

It is also an exhilarating experience to run together in awe-inspiring scenery, and through villages full of spectators. The 2900 participants arriving in Zinal exhausted by 31 kilometres, 2000 m up and 800 m down on steep paths have their reward in completing this marathon in the mountains.
The โ€œtouristsโ€ who start at five oโ€™clock before the rising sun take between 5 and 8 hours to walk the course. The serious runners who start at nine take an average of 4 hours.
The Mexican favourite Ricardo Meija took the lead from the start. Only the German Schiessl followed him and everybody thought that he was going too fast. But the order remained the same until the finish. The Englishman Billy Burns repeated his fine performances of recent years by finishing in 3rd position, following by the local Swiss Tarcis Ancay, who lives near Zinal, recording a personal best time for his favourite race.

Isabelle Guillot leading the entire ascent is passed in the technical passages.

The suspense was higher during the ladies competition! Isabelle Guillot showed her World championship form with a fast ascent, knowing she would not be so good over the rocky narrow paths along the top of the course She led the race for the first 2 hours 20 minutes. But behind her, four women ran together until almost the Hotel Weisshorn. A very good athlete over the technical parts of the course, Angelina Joly, passed Guillot on the narrow path of Nava after 22 km, and raced to her first Sierre Zinal victory and the first female World Long Distance Mountain Running Champion. This was the first important title for schoolteacher Angelina, 29, and a member of the Swiss National Team of mountain racing. Her power during the ascent, and her strength in technical passages, show great potential for her future career. Behind her, the young Colombian Maria Rodriguez took the silver medal running confidently over the last technical quarter of the course. Isabelle Guillot succeeded in keeping in the bronze medal position thus claiming her 10th international individual medal in mountain racing!

Serge Moro (Marketing Director โ€“ The World Mountain Running Association.)