What better than to close the season with 20 countries participating in the European Skyrunning Championships where Norway and Russia shone alongside favourite, Spain. The biennial event kicked off today with the SKYULTRA discipline in São Pedro do Sul, in the north of Portugal. The Pisão Extreme is 65 km long with 6,500m vertical climb reaching 1,075m altitude where the demanding terrain challenges even world-class athletes.
The super-strong Spanish team didn’t disappoint with Manuel Merillas clinching a well-deserved gold for the men and breaking the race record by an astounding 1h23’. The hard-fought battle for silver went to Norwegian Anders Kjærevik and closing the podium was Spaniard Manuel Anguita with the bronze.
Merillas ran a phenomenal race. He fell at km 15 and injured his thumb and a rib. He decided to keep going, strongly challenged by Kjærevik, taking the lead in turns. He gave it his all and pushed on the last 900m uphill climb to close in an incredible 8h31’14”. “I wasn’t sure about winning until the last minute,” he confided at the finish line. Merillas excelled in July this year taking the 2020 Skyrunning World Champion title for the SKY discipline and the silver for the combined.
The women’s race saw an astonishing time by Spaniard Sandra Sevillano slicing no less than 4h14’10” off the previous record to close in 10h37’28” guaranteeing her the Skyrunning European SkyUltra title and the gold medal.
An ecstatic Sevillano commented, “It was a very tough race and I struggled until I started using the poles. It’s tough, technical…it’s pure (and hard) skyrunning! I kept seeing Shikanova behind me, so on the last downhill I tried to put some space between me and her and win – and I did it!”
Russians Varvara Shikanova, closed just seven minutes later to take the silver and Zulfiya Gaynanova, the bronze.
The strong competition in the Championships pulverized the previous standing records, with the top nine men and thirteen women (at the time of writing) beating the 2019 winning times.
2021 European Skyrunning Championships – SKYULTRA
Gold: Manuel Merillas – ESP – 8h31’14”
Silver: Anders Kjærevik – NOR – 8h40’26”
Bronze: Manuel Anguita – ESP – 8h43’51”
Gold: Sandra Sevillano – ESP – 10h37’28”
Silver: Varvara Shikanova – RUS – 10h44’58”
Bronze: Zulfiya Gaynanova – RUS – 11h04’40”
On Saturday November 20 it’s the turn of the SKY discipline with the Pisão Skyrunning – 35 km long with 3,500m vertical climb where no doubt records will again fall. The 2019 records were set by Spaniard Fran Salgueiro in 4h40’53” for men and Portugal’s Sabina Marques in 6h25’03” for women.
Favourites include Norway’s Stian Angermund-Vik who set the 2019 record for the SKYULTRA; Italy’s Cristian Minoggio, 2019 European Champion for the ULTRA; Spain’s Zaid Ait Malek and, in the women’s field, Italy’s Fabiola Conti and Spaniard Mireia Pons will all be aiming to set another record in tomorrow’s shorter SKY distance.
The Skyrunning European Championships, celebrating their tenth edition, are open only to official national teams and have a separate start from the event open to the public. More than 100 athletes from 20 countries have registered, coming from European countries as diverse as Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Kosovo, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine.
Fifteen medals across the two disciplines will be awarded together with the Skyrunning European Champion titles.