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Africa’s WMTRC 2023 performance puts spotlight on the continent’s mountain and trail running scene

Five African countries were represented at the recently concluded World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Innsbruck-Stubai, Austria.

Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, South Africa and Algeria represented the continent in different categories at the WMTRC 2023.

Although trail running is not that popular in Africa, there were exceptional performances from the continent’s athletes and teams at the championships.

ALL-AFRICAN PODIUM 

On the first day of competition, the men’s vertical uphill event saw an all-African podium with the Kenyan duo Patrick Kipngeno and Josphat Kiprotich taking gold and bronze respectively while Uganda’s Levi Kiprotich secured silver. It was a successful title defense for Kipngeno.

In the women’s event, Philaries Jeruto Kisang of Kenya took silver. Kenya won the team gold in both events, while Uganda finished second in the men’s event.

EUROPEANS DOMINATE TRAIL SHORT AND LONG 

The following day, European athletes dominated the trail short events and there were no Africans in the top ten of the men’s or women’s. The same was the case in the trail long events on June 9.

MOUNTAIN CLASSIC 

However, Africa was back on the podium on final day of competition where Ugandan duo of James Kirwa and Hosea Chemutai claimed gold and silver in the men’s U20 mountain classic race, before Leonard Chemutai of Uganda and Philemon Ombogo Kiriago of Kenya bagged gold and silver respectively in the senior category, Leonard Chemutai showing that his U20 mountain classic race at last year’s championships in Thailand was not a fluke.

The women’s U20 race produced an all-European podium, while Kenya’s Joyce Muthoni secured the bronze medal in the women’s senior category.

OFF-ROAD TERRAIN 

Some countries in Africa lack the natural off-road terrain for mountain and trail running.

But some of the best trails can be found in Southern and Eastern Africa, like in Kapchorwa town of the Eastern region of Uganda, which is home to many renowned athletes like Joshua Cheptegei, Jacob Kilplimo and Steven Kiprotich.

Called the “Land of Champions”, Kapchorwa provides a nice scenario for high-altitude training on Mount Elgon. It was in Kapchorwa that the Ugandan team underwent intensive training ahead of the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Innsbruck-Stubai.

VISA CHALLENGE 

Another challenge was, in spite of the efforts of the WMTRC 2023 organisers many African athletes experienced visa challenges and some participants and officials were denied.

This is a common problem for many African sportsmen and women who miss out on opportunities as a result of visa- related issues.

OPTIMISM FOR THE FUTURE 

However, as WMTRC 2023 has shown, African athletes can thrive on mountain and trail running.

Hence, it is important that the athletics federations give attention to off-road runners and offer them adequate preparations for competitions.

The next WMTRC will take place will take place in Canfranc-Pirineos, Spain, and hopefully more African countries will be represented.

“Every year we are getting better. In Thailand we were three Kenyans, now we are coming with seven, and every year we are increasing in number,” an optimistic Kipngeno said.

Credit: AIPS Media 

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