Friday, August 24, 2012

2012 24-Hour World Championship Preview!

Sure, I won't be running in the 24 Hour World Championship on September 8 in Poland myself, but that doesn't mean I'm any less excited for the big race!

Obviously it's hard, really hard, to make the Olympics in any sport...but the lack of any slick NBC coverage at the 24 Hour World Championship doesn't mean the athletes destroying their legs out there in the name of their country are any less amazing than the folks you saw compete in London. Trust me!

I'll admit I don't know all of the runners from the 34 countries competing in Poland, and everyone knows the carnage at the top in these races always varies somewhere between "massive" and "massive", but here's a helpful preview to shed some light on the key athletes/teams for anyone interested....(cue the dramatic music and slo-mo video montage of a lonely runner out on the roads while the sun rises...):

The Men's Individual Race
At the last World Championship in France (2010), the Japanese team showed their dominance by winning the Gold without even sending their top-qualified 24 Hour runner (Ryoichi Sekiya). By the end of the race, Shingo Inoue made Ryoichi's absence an afterthought by gliding through 170 miles to take the individual Gold - his total also vaulting Japan to the coveted team Gold. For those of us who watched Shingo seemingly toy with Scott Jurek (who himself ran 165+ to break the American record) during the second half of the race with calculated surges on what looked to be fresh and light legs, we know what this unbelievable talent can do on the world stage.

That said, I'm placing Shingo at the top of a short list of men competing for the individual Gold:

Shingo Inoue (Japan): Been there, won that (see below)...

Scott Jurek (silver), Shingo (Gold), and Ivan Cudin (bronze) on the podium at the 2010 World Championship
Ivan Cudin (Italy): After not feeling so well over the first few hours of the 2010 World Championship, he showed his toughness by rallying from 40th place to knock out 163+ miles and win the bronze. He has also won the last two Spartathlon's in two of the top 6 fastest times ever. I should also mention he's a really nice guy with a gentle demeanor and a pair of glasses that fool you into assuming he's a Clark Kent at the starting line...but the reality is he has some serious Superman abilities behind those glasses (seriously, look at the photo above...wouldn't you trust him to do your taxes before asking him to join your running club?!).

Mike, ripping off a 13:11 CR at Umstead 100. Ben Dillon Photo.  

Mike Morton (USA): Just a great story behind Mike's recent return to running. Back in the mid 90's while serving as a Navy diver, Mike won a bunch of races (including course-record runs at the Western States 100 and Vermont 100). Then he had a hip injury and had to give up running for a while. After 9/11, Mike jumped from the Navy to the Army (his reasoning: "I saw the opportunity for some massive change") where he served as a Green Beret overseas for the better part of the past decade. Now that he's back in the US, Mike has run his first couple 24 hour races with eye-popping results (his 163.9 miles at Hinson Lake last year were less than 2 miles shy of the Jurek's US record). Mike recently won the Badwater 135 this past July (just a few minutes off the course record), and looks to be in stellar shape to both challenge the US record as well as compete for the individual Gold. It's great that Mike has returned to running (still in top form) in an era of the sport where his talents can now truly be showcased on an international level.

Jean Marc Bordus (France): Jean Marc is another proven 160 mile runner who will be leading a strong French squad. In looking at the talented field, I feel confident that 160+ will be needed to grab a podium spot this year, and there's a good chance 162-164 might be necessary. Bordus might not be contending for the Gold, but with bad hour or two from one of the above, a podium spot could be his.

Vladimir Vychkov (Russia): Vladimir is the last of our "160 mile men" having kicked out that total in the 2010 World Championship for a 5th place finish. While 168-170 miles will probably be necessary for Gold again this year, Vladimir will most likely be out of that mix, but he's certainly a contender for a podium spot should any of the above falter.

Dark Horses:

Kouros. 24HR World Record-holder. Photo
Yiannis Kouros (Greece) - Yes, he's 56 years old and probably not a podium contender in this race, but he is the World Record holder for this event with - and no, this is not a typo - 188 miles!  Read that again, pause for a second, and be sure there aren't any children around when that number finally registers in your brain and you say the words "Holy S#it!". Regardless of how far he runs (I'm guessing he'll be in the high 150s given his recent 12HR result of 78 miles earlier this year), the fact that no other runner will come within 15-18 miles of his record out there earns him a special mention in this section. .....Also, how cool is it that Kouros racing again?!!!!

Jon Olsen (USA) - New to the 24 Hour world, but knocked out 158.5 miles to win the 2012 US Championship in his first attempt this spring. If he can do that again, the US Team will be in excellent position to challenge the Japanese for the Team Gold. Update: Olsen is now out of the race due to injury. He will be replaced by Joe Fejes on the US roster.

Masahiko Honda (Japan) & Takahisa Furukita (Japan) - Both have 160 mile potential, and both will certainly look to work together in order to determine the fate of the Japanese team behind Shingo. If either runs into a tough patch, the race for team Gold becomes wide open.

John Pares (Great Britain) - Earned an 8th place finish in 2010, and certainly has the ability to climb to 160 if he closes his eyes and rides the wave of cheers still emanating from London in support of their country's runners!

Emanuel Fontaine (France) & Ludovic Dilmi (France) - Two key cogs in the line-up for Team France. Both have 160 potential, and the close team competition could have them digging deep all the way to the end.

Micheal Vanicek (Germany) & Florian Reus (Germany) - Vanicek grabbed 3rd at the Spartathlon last year in 24:55...flatten out that 153 mile course and Mr. Vanicek could be looking at 160 miles. Same 160 potential for Reus who boasts a 158+ PR.

Notable Absences:
Two of the top 5 from last World Championship will not be running this year: Scott Jurek (US, 2nd place) and Yuji Sakai (Japan, 4th). From a team prospective, it's also worth mentioning that France's Fabian Hoblea (6th in 2010) will also be missing, which is a definite blow to his country's medal chances, but more on that later.

Many, I'm sure, are wondering why Jurek will be absent from this year's race. The answer is quite simple: He wanted to run in this race, but he did not run a qualifying 24-Hour distance in the past two years (his only attempt since the 2010 World Championships ended early at 106 miles last December in Soochow). Since the race is "closed", meaning only open to those athletes competing on a national team, Jurek is unable to run in this Championship even as an "independent". As a supporter of the US Team, it's a bummer not to have him on board this year, but the rules are the rules, and we all need to tip our caps to those who worked so hard to earn their spots on both the Men's and Women's teams this year, as you'll read below, both are stellar squads!

Men's Team Competition:
Again, I don't know all of the runners on all of the teams, but since a country needs 3 top scorers to contend for the Team Gold, I feel confident enough in my knowledge of the deeper teams to say that the race will come down to the following super-talented countries. Oh, and if you bet according to my predictions and lose million of dollars, don't blame me, these are just educated guesses!

Team Japan - Maybe not as deep as the 2010 team, but if their Big 3 come through (Shingo, Masahiko Honda & Takahisa Furukita), they're looking at totals of 170, 157, 157 = 484 Team Miles. Of course, with a bit of a drop after those top 3, one bad day for any of these guys could knock them down the podium steps and potentially out of the medal mix. Shingo is obviously the key slice needed in their gold medal pie.
Team France - Much like Japan, they're missing a 4th stud (in their case, Fabian Hoblea) to make them a deeper threat. While they are rich in low 150 runners who could step up, they don't have an ace like Shingo to lead the way, so they really need their Top 3 to run PR races. With Bordus, Fontaine, and Dilbi scoring high, I see their totals at 160, 157, 157 = 474 Team Miles.

Team USA - While the team's chances for Gold took a big hit with the loss of Jon Olsen from the roster due to injury, the good ol' Red, White and Blue still looks to stack up favorably against the top teams for a medal. I believe Morton has the ability to score as high as 170 with the competition in this race pushing him, and those would be huge miles in the bank for the team. Behind Morton, Serge Arbona and Phil McCarthy are both capable mid-to-high 150 scorers. Having the depth of both Arbona and McCarthy really helps keep the US in strong medal contention with the loss of a 158+ mile guy like Olsen. Prediction: 169, 157, 154 = 480 Team Miles.

While they may not rack up 150+ scoring totals this time around, the remaining three US runners, Jonathan Savage, Joe Fejes, and Harvey Sweetland Lewis, could all end up contributing with strong mid-140 runs by the final gun. All three runners have come into their own in the 24 hour world in the past couple years, and none of the three appear to have reached their peaks just yet. It'll be exciting to watch them climb up to the level of Arbona, McCarthy, and possibly beyond in the coming years. It is, indeed, a good time to be a fan of US 24 hour racing!

Team Germany - They've got 2 studs in Vanicek and Reus who can rack up high 150s, and they've got plenty of talent right around the 150 level with basically the rest of their roster in Kai Horschung, Patrick Hoesl, Michael Hilzinger and Oliver Leu. The problem is, without an ace with 165 potential, the Gold is probably out of their grasp, but they'll certainly contend for Bronze if their top 3 hang tough. I figure them for 160, 155, 150 = 465 Team Miles.

Team Russia - Beyond Vychkov and his 160 potential, their next two scorers will probably be in the low 150s. Much like Germany, they won't contend for the Gold, but they're definitely in the mix for a remaining podium spot of their Top 3 score to their potential. Prediction: 160, 152, 152 = 464 Team Miles

Team Italy - Cudin is obviously key, much as he was in 2010 when he led his team to Silver. The apparent difference this year is the team's #2 and #3 scorers from 2010 (Ulrich Gross and Tiziano Marchesi) will not be lining up with Cudin this year. Italy does have a 150 mile guy on their roster in Paulo Rovera, but they'll need Cudin to rack up close to 170 to keep them on the podium this year. Prediction: 167, 150, 145 = 462 Team Miles.

Bold Podium Prediction:
Gold - Japan
Silver - USA
Bronze - France

The Women's Individual Race:

Mami Kudo (Japan) - Any time you have the current World Record-holder (158.45 miles, set just last December) racing in her prime, it makes a blogger's job very easy to fill out his individual Gold medal prediction. Thanks, Mami!!

Fontaine chats with the press after her 2010 Gold
Anne Cecile Fontaine (France)- Much like Shingo and Japan on the men's side, the 2010 Women's Championship was all about Anne Cecile Fontaine of France. Her 148.8 miles dominated the race to win the individual Gold while also leading her country to the Team Gold as well. With a PR of just over 150 miles, and a nasty streak seemingly unrivaled in the sport*, she'll once again be in the mix for a shiny medal, and possibly the Gold if Kudo has an off day.

*Seriously, if you've ever run a loop course with her, you know she has the sharpest elbows of all time, and she's more than happy to give you first-hand knowledge of that fact if you're in her way!

Anne Marie Vernet (France) - There's a reason Team France is so good. Two, actually, and Vernet is the second part of that reason along with the above-mentioned Fontaine. Vernet has proven she can rack up 148+, and doing that again will keep her right beside Fontaine in the medal hunt.
Side note - Perhaps I should change my name to "Anne Dan Rose" for my next race as it seems to be working for the French. Can't hurt, right?

Sabrina Moran (USA) - Really coming into her own in the 24 Hour world with a steady progression of performances leading up to her break-through 147.9 mile American Record run to win the 2012 National Championship this past May. Just like Fontaine, she has a legitimate shot to sneak in and grab the Gold if Kudo falters. Update: Sabrina is now out of the race (getting married!). She will be replaced by Lana Haugberg on the US roster.

Michaela Dimitriadu (Czech Republic) -  A slight notch below the above four in terms of her top personal performances (right round 145 miles), but certainly in the running for a podium spot.

Connie Gardner (USA) - She's been racking up the 140-something races for quite a while, and seems to be running just as strong as ever. With a 145.26 PR and a 144.72 to win the 2011 US National Championship, she's proven she can be right there in the mix for an individual medal.

Dark Horses

Monica Casiraghi (Italy) & Annemarie Gross (Italy) - Tough to call the individual Silver (Casiraghi) and Bronze (Gross) winners from 2010 'dark horses', but the talent in this year's field has both of these 140-142 mile ladies most likely just outside the individual medal mix this time around. The good news for them is if they both execute like they can on race day, their team has a great shot at the podium.

Melanie Strass (Germany) & Antje Krause (Germany) - Just like the Italian duo above, Germany has a solid 1, 2 punch with Strass and Krause both lining up with recent 141 mile PRs. Not enough for Gold, but both of these ladies are certainly long-shot podium contenders.

Suzanna at the 2010 World Championship
Anne Riddle Lundblad (USA) & Suzanna Bon (USA) - Both have long track records of speedy shorter ultras and, in my opinion, haven't reached their potential at the 24 Hour Distance yet. Much like Sabrina Moran had a 10.8 mile PR in her "breakout" race this year, I know both of these ladies have the talent to do something similar very soon. Anne's 140+ PR and Suzanna's 137.7 PR could both be toast this time around given the stage and the talent they'll be running with in Poland.

Women's Team Competition:

Barring a total melt-down of Contaminated Aid Station proportions, it looks like the podium will be filled from the pool of these four very deep teams: Italy, France, Germany and USA. While there are some super-talented individuals running for other countries, their teams overall don't have the talent and depth of the above four squads. A record-level run by Mami Kudo of Japan, for example, could help fill the gap of her team not having two more high-level performances, but I just don't see it being enough this year for Japan given that they're only sending two other runners whose combined PRs are well below their counterparts on the four leading teams. ....So, USA, France, Germany and Italy it is...

Team USA - With the loss of Moran and her potential 147+ score to lead the way, it'll be tough for the US squad to match France's dynamic duo of Fontaine and Vernet. If Gardner can cancel one out with a strong mid-140 performance, that would leave the key to victory most likely being a PR day from one or both of Lundblad or Bon. They can hit 140+ on a good day, and if they falter, steady Team USA veterans Carilyn Johnson and Debbie Horn have proven themselves to be solid low-mid 130s scorers on big stages in the past. With 24 hour races frequently becoming battles of attrition, the US squad finds themselves in a tremendously advantageous position of being deep enough to lose a top runner like Moran but remain in medal contention. Young (25 yrs old!) Lana Haugberg will step in to fill the 6th spot on the roster and will no-doubt earn valuable experience from this race. A PR run into the low 130s would be a great step forward for this young talent on a major stage. Prediction: 144, 141, 139 = 424 Team Miles

Team France - As I mentioned above, Fontaine and Vernet will be forces to reckon with, and if both execute to their abilities on race day, it will be tough for the US to answer their two mid-high 140s. If one of the two French stars has on off day, their medal fate will come down to their two 139 mile PR runners, Cecile Nissen and Sylvie Peuch. Both of those PRs put them right at the same talent level of Lundblad and Bon on the US side. The US has already had its share of bad luck with Moran being out, so if a similar fate hits one of the top two ladies on the French side, this race for the Team Gold could literally come down final minutes. Prediction: 148, 144, 139 = 430 Team Miles

Team Germany - In addition to Strass and Krause (and their 140 potential), the German ladies are lining up with two more low 130s scorers in Heike Christ and Marika Heinlein. In the end it most likely will not be enough fire power to compete with the US or France, but it'll certainly be enough to stay in the hunt for the bronze along with Italy. Prediction: 140, 138, 132 = 410 Team Miles

Team Italy - Similar to Germany, Italy will suffer from a big drop-off after their two stellar scorers Gross and Casiraghi. They do have a depth of high 120s scorers to keep them on the podium, but given the depth of talent on the US and French squads, I see Italy as most likely fighting it out with Germany for the bronze. Prediction: 140, 138, 128 = 406 Team Miles

Bold Podium Prediction:
Gold - France
Silver -USA
Bronze - Germany

Following the Race:

The IAU will be posting updates on their site and Twitter feed during the race. 
US Runner Suzanna Bon's family will be updating via this blog throughout the race.
Want to have fun following on a clunky euro site? Click here!


stevetursi said...

Amazing detailed analysis. Thanks for this. I enjoy following the how the USA 24-hour team develops as people race and get spots. But I rarely see international coverage, so it was interesting.

If you don't know about it, Phil M runs a great facebook group for 24-hour runners.

Ric Munoz said...

Thank you for putting this together Dan -- love all the stats! It's sure to be an exciting race especially the Mike Morton prospect. He lapped me 3 or 4 times at Umstead this year - he's a truly phenomenal talent.

I got to chat with Suzanna Bon at this past weekend's Run-De-Vous 100 (she ran/won the 100-K race) and she looked as smooth as smooth can be. She also lapped me at least 20 times (it was a 2-mile loop course). Amazing lady: she had an encouraging word for me each time she lapped me!

I only wish you could be in Poland yourself, Dan -- each race of this kind should always feature a member of the "World's Nicest Guys" club!

Dan Rose said...

Steve - I definitely signed up to Phil's 24Hr page. Some of the excellent international contacts I've made there in the past few weeks really helped write this post!

Ric - So great to hear from you! Just when I sit back and think "I wonder what Ric's up to?", I scan the latest 100 mile finshers list and see your name proudly staring back at me. Well done, yet again, at Run-De-Vous!!

Phil McCarthy said...

Glad I could help, Dan! haha! Excellent write-up!

Newton Baker said...

Very exciting to find your great report about the "Olympics" of the running distance I love the most. Your research and analysis is as amazing as your own running! Thanks so much for doing this!!

Running with MTP said...

As a fan, I am disappointed for the injury to Olsen and the Wedding (happy for her - sad for us) of Moran.

To me it is funny how Deb Horn is always over looked, but them ends up being a team scorer for the Women.

I would add that with US Men - We need at least one of Lewis, Fejes or Savage to come up big (150-155 range) As Phil will attest - You cannot do anything without a solid 3rd scorer (Canada)

Dan, its great to see you back on your horse!

Mark Manz said...

As a novice ultrarunner and aspiring 24 hour runner in particular, I've been pretty interested in the upcoming championships. Thanks for this detailed write-up, very cool.

Anonymous said...

Let's go U.S. Ladies (especially YOU, Suzanna Bon!)

Florencia said...

Go Suz Go !!! - We'll be keeping our fingers crossed and sending you good vibes from Mill Valley, California!

Dan Rose said...

She's charging hard!! We need every km to beat the speedy Brits!!

Ric Munoz said...

After 20 hours the USA women move into 1st and overtake Great Britain! The lead is only 2k, but a lead nonetheless! Hope they hang on for the title - go Suzanna!!

Dan Rose said...

Gold for both teams?!! They're just ratifying the totals, but it looks that way. Huge high five to Suzanna and her great strategy to finish so strong as the 2nd scorer for the US behind the gutsy Connie. Can't wait to write the recap of this race!!