Austria's Andrea Mayr will command much of the spotlight at the Smarna Gora Mountain Running Race, the final event of the 2018 WMRA World Cup season, whose rich tradition as a World Cup event will continue with its 39th edition on Saturday (6).
The weekend gathering at this popular mountain just north of Slovenia's capital Ljubljana will welcome runners from 19 countries, many of whom will still be in the hunt for the overall World Cup title. Mathematically, anyway.
Mayr will no doubt start as favourite in the women’s race. The 38-year-old was dominant at last weekend's Hochfellnberglauf, the fourth stop of this year's World Cup, and always finishes the season strongly. Mayr has a virtually unassailable lead for the overall World Cup title -- but in mountain running anything can happen. However, it would take a winning performance from closest rivals Sarah McCormack of Ireland or Kenyan Lucy Murigi and a DNF by Mayr to throw the Austrian off course. It’s a technical course and the downhill can make a big difference. "Being very focused during the descent will be a strategy given I don’t want to fall as happened before," said Mayr, who took a rough tumble in the race two years ago, but went on to win anyway.
It is well worth further mentioning both McCormack and Murigi. McCormack has had consistent results and raced the World Cup circuit on a regular basis, currently sitting in third position. While she's had a long season, McCormack has been racing strongly in the latter stages of the season.
Murigi meanwhile is coming off victory at the World Championships and is very strong on both the climbs and descents. She’ll be hoping to take advantage of the fast flowing course to challenge Mayr for the win. Murigi is currently in fourth position but is aiming for a podium at the World Cup.
Another strong contender is Germany's Michelle Maier who hasn’t yet confirmed her start but if she does race, will arrive sitting in fifth place in the World Cup standings. If she wants to hold this she will have to start because Czech Pavla Schorna, currently sixth, is racing and she loves this fast and technically challenging up and down course.
Over the last 38 years many world and European championships medallists have been tested on the demanding Šmarna Gora course that takes runners 360 metres uphill to the first summit, followed by 300 metres of technical descent before a 300-metre climb to the finish. The top men will race just over 40 minutes for this 10-kilometre course which finishes near a medieval church at the summit.
Course record holder Teklay returns
The men’s competition will be an interesting affair. Azaira Teklay of Eritrea is the course record holder and is coming back to race after a five-year absence. We don’t know what shape he is in but another former winner in Norway's Johan Bugge will be on the line and after his fine fifth placed showing at the World Championships he will be prepared to go out hard with the leaders. Expect him to set the race alight with a strong first climb.
A surprise is that World Cup leader Francesco Puppi of Italy will not be on the start line, opening the door for Kenyan Geoffrey Ndungu. With 15 bonus points on offer in the final race, Ndungu can finish as low as seventh and still take the overall title. Andrew Douglas of Great Britain sits in third at the moment in the World Cup ranking, is looking to bounce back after a difficult run at the World Championships where he collapsed at the finish. This is a trail he will enjoy. He is also another runner who has supported the World Cup and this consistency could be enough to hold on to a podium position.
However three athletes in the next Cup positions will all be on the start so Douglas's third place could be in jeopardy. Timothy Kirui of Kenya, Italy's Bernard Dematteis and Czech Jan Janu are all capable of strong races. Dematteis is also an excellent descender and will try to break the others on that section.
Organisers for the IAAF