Two groups of South African trail athletes will be competing against top global competition along Spanish mountain trails within the next two weeks, with the first ASA-supported representative team set to compete in the ITRA World Trail Championships over the weekend.
A reduced-strength team of three ultra-distance athletes will take part in the IAAF-supported championship tomorrow (Sunday) in the Penyagolosa National Park in Spain’s Castelló* province over an 85km route with 4900m of total ascent, while a trio of talented marathon-distance athletes will take part in the high profile Golden Trail Series opener over 42km in Zegama in the Pyrenees in two weeks’ time.
A World Heritage Site, Penyagolosa represents a cultural and geographic reference and a deep-rooted tradition for the Valencian people. Considered a holy mountain, full of mystery and magic for local communities, access to its spectacular trails are limited, providing participants in tomorrow’s championship a rare opportunity.
After an absence of two years, an officially-sanctioned team arrived in Spain this week to compete with some of the best on the planet. Following strong performances in the primary selection race – the 76km Addo Elephant Trail Race in March – race winner, Pretoria athlete, Stewart Chaperon, was chosen alongside Naomi Brand, who placed second at Addo and third in last year’s Ultra-trail Cape Town, and newcomer Annelise Scholtz.
Winner of the Addo women’s race, Johannesburg’s Nicolette Griffioen, withdrew from the team after initial selection, citing doubts on her condition to compete at the top level.
“I’m delighted that South Africa is back competing at the official world trail championships again,” said team manager, Altus Schreuder. “And this time it is with the full backing of ASA, who have been behind the team every step of the way. Although we may not have had time to prepare fully on this occasion, it points the way to the future, which can only enhance the sport of trail running in South Africa.
“The athletes are really eager to succeed. Naomi has been close to national selection before and has been one of our leading ultra-distance athletes for some years, while Eastern Cape’s Annelise is a remarkable talent and former junior track and field star. I believe she will excel on trails in the future.”
Defending champion, local Spanish star, Louis Alberto Hernando, will be out to make it three in a row at the championships and will be hard to beat in front of his home supporters, but his teammate, Christofer Clemante, 2015 champion, Sylvain Court of France, the British pair Tom Owens and Tom Evans and vastly-talented American, Zach Miller, will be doing their best to unseat him.
The withdrawal through injury of leading French athletes and former champions, Caroline Chaverot and Nathalie Mauclair, has opened the way for impressive Spanish athlete and 2017 Zegama winner, Maite Maiora, to finally add a world championship gold medal to her formidable collection. Defending champion and runner up, French pair Adeline Roche and Amandine Ferrato, American Clare Gallagher, Dutch athlete Ragna Debats and Britain’s Holly Page will provide strong opposition for the title.
Griffioen’s 5th place at the 2016 World Mountain Championships and Landie Greyling’s 9th at the 2013 World Long Distance Trail Championship have been rare top ten achievements at this level and the South Africans are unlikely to emulate these feats at Penyagolosa. Renewed participation in world trail competition, backed by ASA, with a view to future success, and even the potential of hosting a future championship is a cause for celebration this weekend.