A history of the Empire State Building Run-Up: 2002

Posted: January 17, 2019 in Tower running history
Tags: , , , , ,

In 2002, Paul Crake was going for his fourth win in a row. But in the months leading up to the race he had lost to his closest ESBRU rival for the first time ever at a major race. The Australian champion was beatable, but could he lose in New York?

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the Empire State Building Run-Up covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-199719981999, 2000, or 2001 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at the Empire State Building Run-Up in 2002.

The phase of mastery

Mount Ainslie is a long way from Manhattan, and three ESBRU titles and a new course record don’t count for much in the mountains of Australia.

Six weeks after setting a stunning new record time at the Empire State Building Run-Up, Paul Crake was back home ready to defend his ACT Mountain Running Championship title.

The 12km race was to be run over a course that covered Mount Ainslie and the neighbouring Mount Majura.

As the reigning champion Crake had everything to lose and the new crop of mountain runners from Canberra and beyond weren’t going to make it easy on him.

Unfortunately for them, Crake was now deep in a phase of mastery that would last for a couple more years and would include some of the best performances of his mountain running career.

He took the win in a time of 50:31, ahead of Ben Rattray (52:23) and Adrian Sheppard (52:51).

2001 Sky Tower Vertical Challenge

Three weeks later, the ongoing battle between Paul Crake and Jonathan Wyatt at the Sky Tower in Auckland continued.

Crake had won the inaugural event in 1998, but for the past two years he had finished second behind Wyatt, the 1998 and 2000 world mountain running champion.

2001 sky tower race

Wyatt and Crake approach the finish of the 2001 Sky Tower Vertical Challenge

2001 played out just as the previous two years had. Wyatt took his third win in a row in a time of 5:27, with Crake settling for second once again with his finish of 5:43.

2001 auckland finishes

Melissa Moon won the women’s division in a record time of 6:57. Among those at the race was the Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark, who made it to the top in 21:48.

Australian Mountain Running Championships 2001

With the ACT championship in the bag, Crake headed to the national championship race on Saturday 19th May 2001.

But his training had been seriously hampered by a stress fracture, which had stopped him from running shortly after the Auckland race.

Although Crake had maintained his fitness with a heavy cycling and swimming workload, he had only started running again a week before the Championships, after six weeks out of action.

No one really knew what sort of shape he was in or how the event might go.

The 11.5km race was held at Camp Mountain, the same venue where Crake had lost his national title in 1999. But despite the less than ideal build up to the race, this time was to be different. Just.

He managed to hold on for the win by crossing the line in 43:10, a mere four seconds ahead of Ross Hudson.

Crake followed up his second national title win with victories in June and July at the monthly run up Mount Ainslie.

Telekom Malaysia Towerthon 2001

On Sunday 5th August, it was back to the stairs as he headed to Malaysia to race up the Kuala Lumpur Tower. He was once again racing Jonathan Wyatt, who was going for his third win in a row at the 2,058-step tower.

But there were plenty of other strong runners in Kuala Lumpur that day, including elite mountain runners and an in-form Rudi Reitberger, who had finished third the year before.

As expected, Wyatt took the win, reaching the top in 10:32.

‘I was a little bit disappointed with my time’, Wyatt said. ‘But on the whole I’m happy winning it three times in a row.’

But, in a bit of a shock result, it was not Crake who came in behind the champion. Rudi Reitberger ran the Australian hard the whole way and reached the top in 11:03, four seconds ahead of Crake in third place. This was the first time Crake had finished behind any of his ESBRU rivals.

In the women’s category, Melissa Moon also successfully defended her title, winning the race in 13:14, breaking her own course record of 13:24 set the year before.

Second place went to Angela Sheean of Australia with a time of 14:07, while Russian Tatiana Cheigas, who clocked 14:25, was third.

2002 wyatt moon 2001kl tower

2001 Malaysia Telekom Towerthon winners Melissa Moon and Jonathan Wyatt

The Wyatt Conundrum

Paul Crake is well known in tower running. His long-standing records at the ESBRU and Taipei 101 mean his name pops up in articles every year. In debates about the greatest tower runner ever, Crake is always mentioned.

But far fewer are familiar with Jonathan Wyatt. Yet during the height of Paul Crake’s stair running exploits, he never managed to get a win over Wyatt. In the early 2000s Wyatt was a formidable and pretty much invincible tower runner, so why did he never compete at the most famous race of all?

‘I was never invited to the Empire State Building Run-Up, but also I never asked, either’, Wyatt told Tower Running UK.

‘The time of the year never suited me with where I was in racing, often on the track in New Zealand or in heavy build-up training ready for a Euro [mountain running] season.’

Given the race record between the two, one might assume that had Wyatt made it to New York he may well have beaten Crake’s record and gone sub 9:30. But he disagrees.

‘I don’t think i would have run faster than Paul’s Empire States time. Maybe theoretically with proper stair training, more power and anaerobic work, you could say it would be theoretically possible. But with the training I was doing at the time he did it I can say with some certainty I wouldn’t have broken it.’

‘I never trained [specifically] for the races – Kuala Lumpur I did only because it was convenient as a stopover either going to Europe or coming back to New Zealand, so it was actually a nice way to run a race and break up the trip. The mountain training I was doing would put me in say 90% shape for a tower race, but to be really good I would have needed to train more specifically.’

‘I think some of Paul’s best tower races were when he had switched over to cycling and so I think there is something in that with the type of anaerobic training that you do on the bike being a help for towers.’

According to Wyatt, the difference between the pair on the stairs was possibly not as pronounced as some of the finishing times between them may suggest.

‘Paul would train specifically for some of the tower events and when we raced together he would be very close to me, much more than in a mountain race, and if the races we did had a decent amount of running to get to the tower, such as Kuala Lumpur [starts with an 800m uphill run to the tower], I had an advantage. Auckland was a short run in [150m], but there it was so difficult to pass [on the stairs] that getting to the tower door first was almost the race in itself!’

World Mountain Running Championships 2001

With a win at the Australian Championships Crake earned a spot on the national team to compete at the World Mountain Running Championships held on 16th September in Arta Terme, Italy.

Alongside Crake in the Australian men’s team was Daniel Green, who had beaten him for the 2000 Australian Championship title. From the world of stair running there was Austria’s Rudi Reitberger and Russia’s Iourri Oussatchev.

Crake had his best run at the Worlds to date, finishing in 17th position in a field of around 150.

Italy’s Marco De Gasperi won his third title in five years (he would go on to win two more in 2003 and 2007), while fellow Italian Emanuele Manzi took second. In the following years both men would go on to successfully compete at numerous stair climbing events around the world.

wmragp podium

Paul Crake (2nd from right) finished 8th in the World Mountain Running Association Grand Prix series in 2001

The end of the 2001 season

Crake’s brilliant season continued right up until the end of 2001. He defended his Sydney Tower Run-Up (1,504 steps) title with a winning time of 7:01. In November he defended his Four Peaks title, while setting a new record at Mount Feathertop in the process.

In December he won his fifth Black Mountain Challenge and then in January 2002 he secured his third Crackenback Challenge win in a row.

An incredibly successful 12 months had Crake in confident mood heading to New York for the 25th ESBRU on Tuesday 5th February.

2002 Empire State Building Run-Up

2002 esbru poster

The horror and sadness of September 11th 2001 hung over the ESBRU in February 2002. With the collapse of the Twin Towers, the Empire State Building had once more become New York’s tallest building.

The start line was peppered with firefighters and police officers, determined to give everything in memory of their fallen comrades.

Speaking before the race, Jules Pontpovero (wearing #70 in the start line image below) from the New York Fire Department said, ‘It’s gonna be a breeze for us. They had bunker gear, they had smoke, fire. We just have shorts, t-shirts and you guys giving us support, so it’s gonna be easy’.

After the event, Captain Tim Morgan from the NYFD said, ‘I was just trying to think of the guys you knew personally, from the youngest guy to the most experienced – the chief of the department we lost [on September 11th]’.

‘I thought, ‘Don’t give up. These guys didn’t quit. They were still running in the building trying to recover civilians’. He finished in 14:30.

Firefighter Kenny Bohan said the race gave people something positive to focus on. ‘In some small way, I think we did that. People showed up. Nobody was afraid of anything, and people came from all over the world to run in this race.’ His 14:15 finishing time meant he was the fastest firefighter, or policeman, on the day.

Fantastic four?

Paul Crake was going for his fourth win in a row. Only Al Waquie (1983-87) had so far managed to win more than three titles. Given his performances over the past three years, Crake should have been a certainty for a fourth title. But this time things had changed slightly.

2003 paul crake lobby

Paul Crake in the Empire State Building lobby before the start of the race

With Rudi Reitberger having finished ahead of Crake in Kuala Lumpur a few months before, the 2002 Empire State Building Run-Up took on a different feel. A thread in Crake’s shroud of invincibility had come loose. At least one man at the race knew he was capable of beating Crake. Was this time going to be different?

The start line was packed with talent. In the colour image below there’s 1990 ESBRU champion Scott Elliott (9), Paul Crake (25), Markus Zahlbruckner (6), Rudi Reitberger (8), Sproule Love (red bandana) and Jaroslaw Lazarowicz (5, with water bottle). In the black and white photo the shot opens up and in comes Bernd Hammer (45) who was 3rd in 1997 and 2nd in 1998.

2002 mens start

2002 mens start two

Sproule Love was first through the door. Love had transitioned to stair running from elite level international winter biathlon and had finished seventh in his ESBRU debut in 1999. An injury while cycling had ruled him out of the event in 2000, but he blew back onto the scene in 2001 with a third place finish, despite entering the stairwell in 11th or 12th position.

In 2002 he was determined to get a better start.

‘In my third running of the race [2002], I hadn’t yet learned the difficult lesson about pacing on the stairs and was convinced that one had to be first to the stairwell to contend for the win (now I’m not so sure that is the case). I was a 4:22 miler in high school and had a decent kick, so I figured that with some speed work I could beat everyone to the door. Although I managed to do that, it came at a cost’, Love recalled in 2019.

‘After leading for about 25 stories, I realized I had gone too fast and throttled back. But the die was cast: Paul caught me, of course. I stayed with him for a while, but couldn’t manage to hang on. Later, near the 65th floor traverse, Rudi caught me as well and moved into second place. Fortunately, I didn’t completely blow up and held on for another spot on the podium in exactly the same time as the year before.’

As he had done in all his previous wins, Crake pulled away in the final third of the race with a show of strength that couldn’t be matched by his rivals.

He once again ran sub 10-minutes, this time finishing in 9:40. Rudi Reitberger was second, but still some way back in 10:36, with Sproule Love managing to hold on for another podium place with a finishing time of 11:09. Just behind him in 11:13 was Markus Zahlbruckner from Austria.

2002 crake wins

‘It’s really something to come back and win this race again’, said Crake. ‘I think really it couldn’t have gone better’.

The battle for fifth place was a tight one, as you can see in the video below (@ 2:05). With 20 floors to go, Filipino athlete Arland Macasieb was under serious pressure from Poland’s Jaroslaw Lazarowicz and the 1990 ESBRU champion Scott Elliott.

Macasieb managed to hold on to the fifth spot, reaching the top in 11:54. Scott Elliott followed in 12:00 and Lazarowicz in 12:13.

Moll goes for a record fourth title

In the women’s division all eyes were on Cindy Moll who was also going for a record fourth title, which would have made her the most successful female competitor at the ESBRU. Interestingly, another three-time winner was on the start line that day. Nina Kuscsik (1979-81), now 63 years old, was back at the race again after a 20-year hiatus. She would go on to finish in 28:07.

The feeling in the lobby was that Moll would saunter to a record win. The start line was devoid of her rivals of recent years. The race was practically ceremonial.

Unfortunately for Moll, nobody had told the young German mountain runner Kerstin Harbich.

Like Markus Zahlbruckner in the men’s event, Harbich had earned her spot at the ESBRU by winning the 776-step Danube Tower race in Vienna in November 2001.

Harbich came in well under the radar, but she had been training with ESBRU legend and three-time winner Kurt König (1995-97). For seven months she had trained specifically with the ESBRU in mind. First to win in Vienna and then in New York.

‘My new trainer, Kurt König, has chased me countless times over the 250 steps of the Mittenwald Calvary in addition to my regular mountain running training’, said Harbich.

The starter’s horn failed to go off, which led to confusion at the start line. The focused Moll took instant advantage of the pondering around her and was into the stairwell comfortably ahead of the others. Harbich quickly realised what was happening and she weaved past a couple of women to get in behind Moll. Now the race was on.

The German kept close behind Moll all the way through the first 64 floors and then made her move. In the race video below you can see Harbich’s decisive pass (@ 1:52-1:58).

‘I felt so good and I knew that I would be faster on the last 22 floors’, said Harbich.

She pulled away to win in 12:46, while Moll finished in 13:25.

2002 harbich wins

Kerstin Harbich crosses the line to win the 25th Empire State Building Run-Up, 2002

2002 winners photo

2002 ESBRU winners – Paul Crake and Kerstin Harbich

 

The elderly man at the start and finish of the video is Chico Scimone from Sicily, Italy, who at the age of 90 was taking part in his 12th ESBRU event.

2002 Empire State Building Run-Up results

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s