World Mountain Running Trophy 2000 Bergen, Bavaria, Germany Report by Douglas Barry
World Mountain Running Trophy 2000
Bergen, Bavaria, Germany
Report by Douglas Barry
An Irish team crippled by absent runners headed to Germany and the Chiemgau ski resort of Bergen to battle the world on courses that, quite frankly, it finds hard to replicate at home in Ireland. The bi-annual uphill only courses with their relentless climbs are really a different sport altogether to the up and down courses which mark Irish races (and most of the rest of the world). The usual difficulties of finding a suitable Irish trial route were partially overcome with the routes in the Galtees, but the Galtee routes with their slower heathery going were a different kettle of fish to the faster easier tracks that featured in the German courses.
Forgetting all thoughts of the more normal mountain running found in Ireland, the team settled down to the challenge of Alpine Running, knowing that their formidable descending skills were useless, except for the jog back down to the finish. In fact for that, most of us used the cable car. The challenge was at least going to be in the sun, as the weather picked up and gave southern Germany an Indian summer after long periods of unsettled weather. As we paraded though the picturesque town in the opening ceremony, we rubbed on the sun cream.
The start of the parade proved interesting. The German organiser - a stocky lederhosened little man who was seemingly a closet muslim, but with a counterbalancing smell of drink - wanted us to cover up our arms with our tracksuits. Stabbing at the bare arms of the Irish athletes, and ranting incoherently, he said he was going to throw us out of the parade. We couldn't cover up as most of the Irish gear was locked irretrievably in Dublin due to an unfortunate accident to the keyholder's wife. This is another story. Anyway, Lederhosen was told to go away pointedly.
Lederhosen's behaviour seemed par for the course: he had refused to pick us up from Munich airport, saying that Salzburg was the local airport, and had denied us the promised accommodation in Bergen on the Thursday night. Galling, when we found a welcoming committee from the organisers for other teams at Munich Airport when we arrived. The organisers seemed bent on observing the petty details but failed to have a map of the course, accurate course profiles, any co-ordination for the cable car, no kilometre markers, and forced the runners to endure fizzy water at the first water station.
First off on Saturday were the junior men at 9.30am. The 17 year old Peter Dalton who has another two shots in this category went off hard with the leaders and bravely tried to stay with them. As a mature looking Nebai Habtegiorgis from the debuting Eritrean team went ahead of Florian Heinzle and Tonazzini of Italy, Peter found the pace too hard and started to slip back. As they passed me again at the Mittel cable car station, the Eritrean had started to power away while Niall Duncan had slipped ahead of the brave, but fading Dalton.
At the finish, Habtegiorgis had 39 seconds on the young Austrian who took his second silver medal in this event while the Italian had fallen back to fourth behind a Polish runner Tomasz Klisz who gleefully grabbed the bronze. Niall Duncan powered through to 34th and the prospects - as all the Irish have - of an even stronger finish on the up and down Italian courses of Arta Terme in 2001. Dalton was second of the Irish in 48th, Fergal Fitzmaurice pushed himself to a tremendous 55th, while the fourth Irishman Martin Bradshaw defied his ankle injury to finish 64th. The Irish team finished 15th in a junior race unusually marked by the fact that none of the juniors had to display proof of age for the first time since 1988.
The senior women's race was next off, and Lederhosen launched a stream of invective at them before the start. Later, a local woman who had watched the spectacle came up to me and apologised on behalf of the locals for his performance in front of foreign visitors. Due to injuries and other travails, we had only two runners in the race instead of our normal complement of four. As Scotland's Angela Mudge powered ahead of Birgit Sonntag, spurred on by Sonntag's alleged, and ungracious if true, comment of "You're not good enough to win", Eva Mulleady and Nina Philips were flying the Irish colours up the steep mountain.
At the finish on the summit of the Hochfelln, controversy exploded over the finishing chute where 30 metres before the official finish, athletes had to stay in order up a steep slope for their official placing. Needless to say, as exhausted runners staggered over the timing point, some were passed on the later slope and confusion reigned. Dire warnings about this possibility by some team managers beforehand had been brushed aside. It didn't affect Angela Mudge who won by 19 seconds from Sonntag (Germany). Sonntag means Sunday in German, and, as the race was held on a Saturday, perhaps it wasn't her day. Nina had a great run to finish 71st while Eva fought against her stomach problems to finish a plucky 74th.
The last race of the Saturday was the Junior women's. The Irish team of Deirdre Hopkins, Dervla Mulligan, and Sheila Farrell disembarked off the cable car at the Mittel station and stared in awe at the precipitous route that led to the dizzy summit of the Hochfelln. All are good descenders and reasonable climbers, but this was something else. The profiles supplied by the organisers implied an easyish doddle. A doddle it wasn't. France's Elise Marcot relished the steep climb and moved to 2000 gold from 1999's 13thplace. The Irish team finished 13th with Deirdre 35th, Dervla 36th, and Sheila 37th in the torrid conditions.
Sunday dawned even hotter. After watching the efforts of some of the Irish supporters like Paddy Lord, Catherine Quinn, and Paul Cullen - the Irish management rep - in the curtain raising open race which used the same 11.6 kilometre course with its 1204 metre climb as they would, the Irish senior men lined up. Spearheaded by a confident Noel Berkeley who was doing his first ever uphill only race, the Irish were surrounded by a quality field. The expected star from the entry was New Zealand's Jonathan Wyatt. The winner in 1998 in Reunion, Wyatt had been leading by a country mile in last year's event in Borneo. 400 metres from the finish, he staggered to a crawl and had to watch his title disappear into the hands of Italy's Marco De Gasperi. Wyatt eventually finished 7th.
This year, Wyatt had demolished all elite opposition in his few preparatory races in Europe. His outstanding track speed gave him an edge in the early easier part of the races. He just got away and, despite the best efforts of classy opponents, stayed away. The Bergen race followed the same pattern. By the Mittel station, the Kiwi was well clear ahead of the Austrian runner Hans Kogler with Noel Berkeley obviously struggling in 36th place. Later, Noel said he had gone out with the leading bunch and felt comfortable, but, when they hit the hill with Wyatt already gone, he had cramped on the climb. "I need to practice this!" he said grinning.
Noel had only come in when Robin Bryson had cried off due to injury and was intended to be a strengthener to John Lenihan and an Irish team reinventing itself after its early successes in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Kerryman, who had won the Worlds in 1991, then cried off himself at the last minute due to a niggling injury, and the team was reduced to five runners as a suitable replacement could not be found. So Irish hopes rested mainly with Berkeley the six times Irish 10,000 metre champion who had his attempt to make the Sydney Olympics qualifying time snuffed out by an ill timed injury.
I cheered on the rest of the Irish at the Mittel station as Noel Marum followed his namesake through, albeit some way back, with the amazing Mark Doyle next, then Jonathan Lamont, and a strong looking Bob Lawlor. I legged it back on to the cable car and, staring into the void, roared encouragement down to the pain wracked warriors struggling up the Hochfelln. While the steep Hochfelln wore down most of the Irish, Mark Doyle who had made a seamless transition from the junior to the senior team began to close runners down. After a world record six appearances in an Irish junior international vest, the Ringsend runner was showing that an equally long career in the senior ranks beckoned.
At the summit finish, mercifully cleared after protests of the previous day's ambiguous double finish lines, the rampant Wyatt strode purposefully through to gold - a full 2 minutes and 19 seconds ahead of Hans Kogler who was followed 26 seconds later by the Swiss Alexis Gex-Fabry. 4 minutes and 36 seconds after the Kiwi crossed the line, the 1999 World Champion De Gasperi followed suite in 17th place. The unlucky De Gasperi didn't even count as a scorer on the winning Italian team as four other Italians finished in front of him. Wyatt's new Zealanders lacked the strength in depth to take the silver. It fell to the strong Austrian team but the Kiwis just pipped by only three points the unlucky Germans and English.
Behind the struggle at the front, the Irish dug in resolutely in the hot conditions. Noel Berkeley had to endure a stream of people passing him as his stomach cramps slowed his progress, and he finally finished 59th with the determination to try to top ten next year. Behind him in 87th Mark had a more pleasant task as he swallowed up blown runners on the climb, even nipping past a struggling John Brown (England) on the line. Noel Marum struggled at the end, but was pleased with his 97th place at the finish. Jonathan Lamont was pleased to survive in 109th, while Bob Lawlor came through strongly to finish 112th. Ireland took 19th in the team competition.
While Ireland didn't come home with any medals, many new runners were baptized. Baptized? Not so much a baptism, more like been hit in the back of the head by a sock full of sand. Italy will be a different proposition. Shorter climbs punctuated by descents should suit the Irish style. We've a chance to move up the ranking lists and push down some of those uphill only specialists. Italy's Marco De Gasperi feels the same. He won in 1997 in the Czech Republic and in Borneo in 1999. Both of those races were up and down courses, as will be the Arta Terme course in 2001. But watch out Marco, Noel Berkeley's a-coming and he likes eating Italian.
Senior Men results - Senior Women results - Junior Men results - Junior Women results
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