Kilian’s latest conquest: Western States

Young Catalan runs steady from the start to become the first international champion
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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The Western States Endurance Run’s cougar trophy is heading overseas for the first time. Kilian Jornet, who grew up running in the Pyrenes Mountains in his native Catalonia, ruled the Sierra Nevada on Saturday. The 23-year-old navigated the 100-mile journey from Squaw Valley to Auburn in 15 hours, 34 minutes. In a field stacked with many of the top ultrarunners in the world, Jornet survived a wrong turn that cost him and several other frontrunners around 15 minutes, the heavy snow high in the Sierra and more than 40,000 feet of climbing and descending. In his Western States debut last year, Jornet did not carry water bottles. He led for much of the race before running out of steam at mile 80 and settling for third place. He carried water bottles this year and outlasted determined WS rookie Mike Wolfe, who placed second in 15:38. “All the way, I remembered last year,” Jornet said. “Last year helped for this year. It was positive. My biggest problem last year was water and that was better this year. My hydration worked.” After taking the wrong turn, Jornet had to chase down several runners, including Jez Bragg, who finished fourth with a time of 15:55. Nick Clark, who wound up third in 15:50, stayed with Jornet until late in the race. Jornet built a slim lead after the Rucky Chuck River Crossing at mile 78. Wolfe passed up Clark and reached No Hands Bridge just 2 minutes behind Jornet, but could not catch him on the final climb out of the American River Canyon. Simon Mtuy, an eight-time Western States finisher, paced Jornet to the finish. “He has a lot of energy,” said Mtuy, who watched Jornet break his record for the fastest climb and descent of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa last year. “We got to the last hill and I just told him, ‘Go! Rrepresent the international runners!’ I think it’s a good thing for the race, for Auburn.” Defending champion Geoff Roes was at the finish line at Placer High to greet the top finishers. The Alaskan ran within five minutes of the leaders for about 35 miles, but was not up to the task on Saturday. He dropped out of the race at Michigan Bluff — the 55-mile mark. “Basically right off the start I didn’t have it,” said Roes, who had won all eight 100-mile races he had entered up until Saturday. “I had moments where I thought maybe I would start feeling better. On the snow I was able to fake it a little. But I felt like every step was harder and harder.” Jornet was one of six runners who veered off course on the climb from French Meadows to Mosquito Ridge Road. He ran about two extra miles and fell behind Bragg and three other runners, but caught back up to the leader within about 10 miles. Race officials were forced to use an alternate “snow course,” due to the heavy snow high in the mountains. Wolfe, an attorney from Helena, Mont., said the runners were, “just trying to get through,” the snow, which covered the first 15 miles or so, of the race. Wolfe was the only American in the top five and was pleased with his finish. “I had a goal of top three,” he said. “I knew it would be hard. It was just fun to be a part of this competition.” Clark is an English citizen, though he lives in Colorado. Bragg is from England and Tsuyoshi Kaburaki, of Japan, finished in fifth. The race for the women’s title was not decided until late Saturday. Ellie Greenwood, who was running her first 100-mile race, made a late surge to win in an impressive 17:55. Defending champion Tracy Garneau led for much of the race before Kami Semick overtook her near Auburn Lake Trails at mile 85. Greenwood, originally from Scotland and now living in Alberta, passed them both in the final six miles of the race. Semick out-sprinted former champion Nikki Kimball around the Placer track to place second. For more on the women’s race and the rest of the Western States Endurance Run, see Monday’s Journal.