CAPE TOWN – Trail running reached new heights at the Otter Trail in October, with the world’s best athletes unanimous in their praise of both the inaugural Golden Trail Series and its grand finale at the Otter.
Next year marks round two, with the series now known as the Golden Trail World Series (GTWS).
And with the recent announcement of an additional race in Italy and a Himalayan finale, the GTWS will likely continue to take the sport to new heights.
And while there is no 2019 GTWS event in South Africa, the prospect of the country’s top trail athletes competing abroad against the world’s best will provide keen interest in the outcomes of some of the world’s finest footraces.
The inaugural series comprised of the Zegama Marathon in Spain in late May, the Mont Blanc Marathon in France in early July, Sierra Zinal in Switzerland in August, Pikes Peak Marathon in the United States a week later and the Ring of Steall in Scotland in September.
The Grand Finale took place with the Otter African Run in October.
These races have been retained in the 2019 line-up, but rebranded with alluring epithets such as “Basque Fever” (Zegama) and “Scottish Vertigo” (Ring of Steall).
The mid-July Italian mountain race, the Dolomyths (“the Couloir from Hell”), has been added, with the Annaperna Marathon providing a Himalayan climax to the season.
“What made the series special is that it delivered great competition amongst top athletes in every race,” 2018 series winner and top Norwegian athlete, Stian Angermund-Vik, remarked at Storms River in October, following the Otter Trail finale.
“Many events attract just one or two top-flight athletes, and the outcome is usually quite predictable. The depth of quality of athletes on GTS sets those races apart.”
While live-streaming brought this year’s GTS races to global audiences, media coverage of the 2019 GTWS is expected to be at another level, with the very real prospect of mainstream television coverage of certain events set to change the sport’s profile.
Last year’s series delivered stand-out performances, notably Spanish trail genius Kilian Jornet’s trilogy of wins at Mont Blanc, Sierra Zinal and Ring of Steall following his post-stress fracture comeback to racing, and Megan Kimmel eclipsing a 37-year-old race record at Pike’s Peak.
Arguably the performance of the year came at the Otter African Trail Run, when Polish athlete Bartlomiej Przedwojewski did a demolition job on Marc Lauenstein’s 2016 “unbreakable” record.
South Africans enjoyed mixed fortunes during this year’s series, with Meg Mackenzie the stand-out, bagging an overall 10th place in the series and a superb sixth at the Otter Trail.
Kane Reilly, Thabang Madiba and Christiaan Greyling would have benefited from the experience at the highest level, and will be looking for improved performances in GTWS races next year.
But a trio of young South Africans, who shined at the Otter against leading internationals, have the talent to shake the world.
If Toni McCann (who led the women’s race until the final quarter), Robbie Rorich and Rory Scheffer can find their way to Europe, who knows what they might achieve against the best trail athletes on the planet?@StephenGranger3