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What's in store – 2013 and more

Marino Giacometti, ISF President, after the 2012 retrospect in the feature, “Looking back. Moving forward”, we publish an extract from a recent interview in two parts by the Spanish website, www.carreraspormontana.com on the near and long term future of skyrunning.


Part I

Marino Giacometti. © ISFWhy did you change the SWS format for the next season?

The format in 2012 was already new.  The Trials system was abolished and the Ultras were introduced but the Main Races and a combined title remained.  Already in July at the Annual General Assembly, the new formula for 2013 was in place with a view to separating the distances and to have a clean and simple ranking system.  2012 was a year of transition between the two formats which proved problematical with the ranking and some of the new ultra distances races, but in many aspects, was extremely positive with the participation of some of the world’s top ultra athletes who hadn’t yet had a taste of skrunning and their positive feedback on the skyrunning concept – tough, technical races at altitude – thus re-affirming our heritage.


2013 was the final evolution into three separate categories and the abolition of the combined title and compulsory races. The different distances attract specialists from each discipline – there aren’t many runners like Kilian that excel in all three!  Skyrunning is about racing vertical, short, medium and long distances…at altitude of course.


One of the novelties is the first 100-mile race. Why now?

On embracing the Ultra concept, it was a natural evolution.  The demand is out there too and we listen to what the runners want.  We had been considering the Ultras for some time and were observing their development. After many mountaineering expeditions and speed records in the Himalayas and in South America, including in winter, I have a pretty good idea where sport finishes and survival begins… Running at night, cold and rain, is not only sport, but adventure and survival.


A Federation must always put the safety of the athletes above all else and I admit I had some apprehension in including the 100-miler although I got the support of the federation’s members to go ahead as well as the support of the Ronda dels Cims organisers.  Sports and mountain federations have a moral obligation to work with organisers and athletes for safety, preparation, equipment and guidelines.  We intend to lead this cause with the direct collaboration of organisers and athletes, pooling our resources for an optimum result.  On our side we offer 20 years of experience (having created and organised 80 races worldwide at high altitude and co-ordinated ten years of the World Series).


Will we see more 100milers in SWS in the future?

Probably yes.  We are examining some options for 2014.  Within the SWS we want to keep a balance with the long and ultra long distances. Throughout the season, an athlete can do many Sky or 50 km races, but of course can’t compete at top level in more than two or three longer distance races a year. We’re working on a world ranking (of the most representative races) covering 20 ultra, 20 sky and 10 vertical to list the world’s top athletes.


Marino Giacometti. © ISFWhat’s your opinion about the launch of the ultramarathon series this year?

First I need to go back to explain our heritage – which lies generally in marathon distance races, but at high altitude which makes a huge difference.  Don’t forget that mountains are measured by their vertical climb, not distance (as Kilian Jornet points out – counting hours and vertical climb, not distance). Our first race in 1992, from Courmayeur to the summit of Mont Blanc was 54 km but with 3,900m of positive vertical climb – half of which above 2,000m altitude!

The races we organised in Nepal, Tibet, Kenya, Mexico and America, were marathon distance, but at high altitude between 4,000 and 5,2000 metres. That means 5 hours for the winners and 12 hours for a normal runner.  We also organised a 24 hour ascent race in Val d’Isère and, in 2002, the week-long crossing of the Alps from Courmayeur to Cortina…


Now back to this year – twenty years on. For some time we had been receiving requests to include Ultra distance races and, apart from the Kima Trophy (50 km), which we created in 1994, we immediately embraced the Transvulcania Ultramarathon (83 km) as it so perfectly embodied the skyrunning concept.  The other three races proved problematical, due to a different approach by the organisers and seriously bad weather.   The Ultra Series was a learning experience and has given us the tools to move forward and to create organisers’ and participants’ guidelines for the future.  With the support of the athletes, we are convinced we’re on the right path and consequently were confident to include the first 100-miler next year.


Earlier, you spoke about the 100 mile race. Why did you introduce it now?

On embracing the Ultra concept, it was a natural evolution.  The demand is out there too and we listen to what the runners want.  We had been considering the Ultras for some time and were observing their development. After many mountaineering expeditions and speed records in the Himalayas and in South America, including in winter, I have a pretty good idea where sport finishes and survival begins… Running at night, cold and rain, is not only sport, but adventure and survival. A Federation must always put the safety of the athletes above all else and I admit I had some apprehension in including the 100-miler although I got the support of the federation’s members to go ahead as well as the support of the Ronda dels Cims organisers.  Sports and mountain federations have a moral obligation to work with organisers and athletes for safety, preparation, equipment and guidelines.  We intend to lead this cause with the direct collaboration of organisers and athletes, pooling our resources for an optimum result.  On our side we offer 20 years’ experience after creating and organising 80 races worldwide at high altitude and co-ordinating the World Series for ten years.


Part II

What are the major challenges the ISF is facing in the near future?

The ISF is the only international running federation operating at high altitude in the mountains. Our main objective is to offer a concrete point of reference for athletes and organisers, to develop the sport with our members and future members with national circuits.  In other words, to grow the sport on an international level together with the principal players:  the runners,organisers and industry.


A major challenge is represented in growing the sport globally. In a sport that takes place in the mountains, it’s difficult to find a balance between growing the number of participants while capping races for safety and ecological reasons.  It’s clearly not a spectator sport and therefore can’t compete with the big league sports and mainstream media.  The federation doesn’t receive public funds like many other similar organisations, which partially limits the scope, but we believe with the backing of the runners, organisers and industry we can go far.


In growing the sport we must turn to the industry and a growing number of companies are investing in this new sector, lead by Salomon and The North Face in Europe. Companies with a traditional sports background are breaking out into outdoor and trail, such as Adidas, Asics, New Balance… The industry must invest in their testimonals and ambassadors to enable runners to become professionals …..

We aim to keep skyrunning open to investors in all areas, races, teams, individuals, because only with investment right across the board can the sport grow.


What is the role of the Athletes Commission?

A number of top international athletes volunteered and were elected to stand on the Athletes Commission, which this year has finally become fully active.  Their role is invaluable in the development and strategy of the sport, their consultation on a number of issues (including those pertinent to the Board or Management Committee) and generally to represent a voice for runners. This important role reflects the ISF philosophy where the athlete is central to its development.


Year after year, there are more races outside Europe, especially in the US. Do you think there’s more interest in the SWS there?

The participation of many top American ultra runners this year (Dakota Jones, Anton Krupicka, Rickey Gates, Joe Grant, Nick Clarke and Ian Sharman, Mike Wolfe, Geoff Roes, Joe Grant, Alex Nichols, Nikki Kimball, Darcy Africa) and WMRA world champions, like Marco De Gasperi, Max King, Kasie Enman and Stevie Kremer competed in SWS races on both sides of the Atlantic is proof enough.


At the Seminar held in May on La Palma, for a new generation of American runners, the skyrunning concept was a revelation and the outcome was a desire for steeper, more technical races in the US. In the next couple of years I’m confident you will start seeing this kind of race modelled on the skyrunning concept, rather that the typical runnable trail/no switchback cutting formula we have seen up to now.

Forestry permits are an important reason for this in the US, but from 1993-1998 we conceived and organized many races at 4,000m altitude in Colorado, with the relevant permits of course.  (Practically all the races take place in national parks or protected areas across the world and, working with sensitive race directors and following the proper guidelines, don’t represent a threat to the environment).   It all depends how you go about it.


The choice of the 2013 Ultra Series final in Vail, was an open door on our part and on the part of European runners to share the concept on US soil.  American team managers will now begin to support their runners to attend events in Europe and further afield and Europeans will do likewise.


How is the ISF working towards making skyrunning an Olympic sport?

On our foundation in 2008 we started off basing our Statues on those of the Olympic Charter with a view of following that road.  After a meeting with the IOC Committee in July 2011 and subsequent meetings with consultants and athletes alike, there is no question that skyrunning will continue to carry out the sport in the mountains, for us, the only conceivable arena.


Possibly the short steep vertical distances and the skyscraper races could fit into an Olympic format, but whatever the case, as things stand, 50 member countries are required and 2020/24 would be the earliest opportunity. Our heritage is the mountains and we have enough conviction and support to carry on developing the sport right there.

We suggested to the IOC to stage an “Outdoor Olympic Games”, similar to the Winter Olympics.  The idea was well accepted, but until there is more money in this area, it will remain nothing more than a dream for many…and possibly a nightmare for others.


What are your aims for the next SWS?

The continued affirmation of the Skyrunner® World Series as a point of reference for global outdoor running, our first 100-miler, the new races, the pleasure of repeating successful quality events.   Next year the participation and ranking of teams will have a special focus and we look forward to the participation of the world’s top runners and all those who aspire to skyrunning at the highest levels, to measure their performance or just to see Kilian running with ease, where they are struggling.  More emotion, more inspiration!


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