SA’s best trail run­ners aim to shine on the world stage in Spain

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - STEPHEN GRANGER

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 (Satur­day) in the Penyagolosa Na­tional Park in Spain’s Castel­lón prov­ince over an 85km route with 4 900m 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.

Naomi Brand

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