The 7th staging of the WMRA International Youth Cup was held in Glendalough Ireland. This was the first occasion that Ireland hosted a major international mountain running event and it represented a further stage in the development of mountain running for this younger age group (16-17 year olds).
Nine countries entered the competition with Ireland, Russia, and Wales fielding two boys teams and Ireland and Russia entering two girls teams. The course was set against a backdrop of the Upper Lake in Glendalough which is framed by the Spink and Camaderry mountains with an old mining village to the west and a historic monastic site to the east. All of the countries trained on the course on the day before the race giving the athletes and managers an introduction to Wicklow midges and to the ever changing Irish weather.
Over breakfast on Sunday, the sun emerged and with it a day of fine weather for the runners and spectators. Children from the local Gaelic Athletic Association club acted as flag bearers for the short opening ceremony which was presided over by the President of WMRA Bruno Gozzelino.
The girls had a short run-in of 110 metres followed by two laps of 1660m each for a total distance of 3540m with 190 metres of ascent. At the end of the first lap Ksenia Makhneva (RUS) led by around 10 metres from Sarah Hodgson (ENG) and Clare McCarthy (IRE). Caitriona Graves (SCO) was in fourth followed by Sara Jesenko (SLO), Chiara Spagnoli (ITA), Alina Subbotina (RUS B), and Weronika Pyzik (POL). The pace was fast and was likely to bring the steepish climb into play on the last lap for anyone who started too fast. Emerging into the finishing run-in Pyzik had moved through from eight into the lead with Hodgson and Makhneva on her heels. Despite a fierce battle up the home straight Pyzik held on for a narrow win from Hodgson with Makhneva two seconds behind the winner. Attention turned to the team tallymen as they marked off the first Irish runner in fifth, an Italian in eight, another Irish runner in tenth (Sorcha Humphreys), a Russian in eleventh, an Italian in thirteenth, and the vital third Irish scorer in fourteenth (Sarah Miles). With the calculations done the host country had won by eight points from Italy (37) and Russia (37) and it felt as though the sun was emerging even more to bathe the valley in sunshine. The second Irish team of Orlaith Moynihan, Rosie Hynes, and Sorcha Fallon ran hard throughout and will have benefited from competing at this level.
The pictures of the leading girls were hardly taken when the boys were called to the starting line. They had three laps covering a total of 5200 metres. The 2011 silver medallist Konstantin Galiullin (RUS) was the favourite but in this age group there are many unknown athletes in the shadows. Six runners were bunched together at the end of the first lap with Galiullin leading from Nadir Cavagna (ITA), Yemanebehran Crippa (ITA), Gwynant Jones (WAL), Patryk Lachowski (POL), and Andrew Lawler (SCO). The first Irish runner Killian Mooney was ten metres back after recovering quickly from a fall on the first lap. At the end of lap two, the race was down to two runners as Crippa and Galiullin had gone clear and were still looking like they had kept something for the last lap. James Hall (ENG) had worked his way through from ninth to third, ahead of Cavagna, and ominously the third Italian runner, Danilo Gritti, had moved through from tenth to fifth. The places remained largely unchanged on the final lap except for Crippa opening a clear winning margin of 21 seconds from Galiullin and Cavagna. The Italian runners were convincing winners of the team title with an exceptionally strong performance. Bulgaria had four points on Ireland at the end of the second lap and they maintained this to take the silver medals ahead of the host nation who had Andrew Cullen in 12th and Cillian O’Donovan in 18th. The second Irish team of Liam Fitzpatrick, Julian Martin, and Ryan Blundell all performed well.
Bruno Gozzelino, John Foley (Chief Executive of Athletics Ireland), the WMRA technical delegate Bashir Hussain, and the President of the Irish Mountain Running Association Dermot Murphy presented the individual and team trophies with assistance from WMRA Council members Tomo Sarf and Raimondo Balicco. Six of the nine nations stood on the podium after a closely contested competition. Only four points separated the fourth to sixth teams in the boy’s race, and only four points separated the fourth to seventh placed teams in the girl’s race.
From an Irish perspective the team medals consolidate the gold and bronze team medals won in 2010 in Italy, and particularly on the junior girl’s side opens up the possibility of team medals in the European and World championships.