A history of the Empire State Building Run-Up: 2007

Posted: March 1, 2019 in Tower running history
Tags: , , , , , ,

With course record holder Andrea Mayr calling it a day at the ESBRU, a powerhouse of Australian athletics stepped forward to attempt to carry on her country’s winning tradition in New York. Meanwhile, the reigning men’s champion Thomas Dold was back to defend his title.

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 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-1997199819992000200120022003, 20042005 or 2006 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU in 2007.

Genesis

At the time of the 20th edition of the Swissotel Vertical Marathon in Singapore on 19th November 2006 there seemed to be nothing particularly noteworthy about the event. As had been the case since the Westin Stamford hotel first hosted the race in 1987, a good spread of runners from Singapore and beyond turned up to compete. But future events would go on to show that the 20th edition of that race was one of the most significant moments in tower running history; the debut of Suzy Walsham.

Swissotel Stamford Singapore

Swissotel The Stamford in Singapore

Very few of the people at the Swissotel that day would have known they were lining up against one of Australia’s top athletes, and even fewer would have known that the soon-to-turn 33-year old Walsham had emerged at the top of Australian middle-distance running 15 years ago. Her athletic journey to Singapore had been remarkable.

Suzy Walsham had been competing at a high level since the mid to late 1980s, finishing well every year in a range of distances at the Australian All Schools’ Track and Field Championships. In 1988 she broke the Australian under-16 women’s record for the 1500m.

Suzy Walsham 1988

14-year old Suzy Walsham in 1988, running at the site of what would later become the Sydney Olympic Park

Her performances steadily improved until she was eventually selected to represent Australia at the inaugural World Junior Women’s Cross Country Championships in Stavanger, Norway in March 1989. Competing against some of the best young runners in the world, many of whom were significantly older than her, the 15-year old Walsham put in an excellent run to finish in ninth place.

You can watch the young Walsham at those championships in the video below. Click forward to 5:07 and you will see her come into shot in the gold top and green shorts wearing #9.

Walsham 1989 3

Suzy Walsham in 1989. She raced barefoot for a lot of her teenage years.

Walsham 1989

A year later, Walsham, now 16, was competing in the 1990 Australian National Championships in the under-18 and under-20 divisions. She had set a PB of 4:11.04 at the beginning of 1990, a time that actually ranked her #1 in the world for U/20 that year, so was in fantastic form.

A precocious talent, she won the 1500m and 3000m under-20 races, plus the under-18 800m title at the national championships. Interestingly, Suzanne Malaxos, who had just won the second of her two ESBRU titles (1989-1990), was also competing at the national championships that year, where she finished second in the senior 10km track race.

Walsham’s impressive wins earned her a spot on the Australian team that was heading to Plovdiv, Bulgaria for the 1990 World Junior Athletics Championships in August.

But disaster struck just three months months before the World Junior Championships when Walsham developed a stress fracture. The battle was now on just to get to the start line. Up until 10 days before the championships she was unable to run at all and was limited to just pool running. But the indomitable Walsham battled on and made it to Plovdiv.

In the 1500m event, she finished 4th in her heat, with a time of 4:23.66, which was good enough to earn her automatic qualification for the final the following day.

The full final is in the video below (intros start at 33:47). Despite the horrible build up to the championships, Walsham still ran a good race. Understandably she was just a little off the pace of the top runners. She finished in 4:19.23, which placed her 8th in a field of 15.

Finishing eight seconds off her PB was disappointing of course, but given the circumstances Walsham was happy enough with her performance. The winner, Qu Yunxia of China (4:13.67), went on to win Olympic 1500m bronze two years later in 1992 and World Championship gold in the 5000m in 1993.

Walsham actually finished ahead of Olga Yegorova who would go on to win World Championship gold in the 5000m in 2001.

A few months later at the 1991 Australian Track and Field Championships in Sydney in February, Walsham was competing for her first senior title aged just 17.

She was up against the likes of Jodie Hebbard, who’d finished second in the 1500m at the 1982 and 1984 national championships as a teenager, and Anne Cross, who was third in the same event the year before.

walsham barefeet

“Suzy’s blistered feet after a weekend on the track. The tape she uses as protection, however, peels back the damaged skin to expose raw flesh which constantly requires bathing in salt water. One blister was so big and painful that it halted her training for a week. Fearing it was infected, Walsham went to a doctor who was shocked by what he saw. ‘The blister had spread right up into my toes, and the doctor had never seen anything like it’, she said.” – March 1991

Walsham had spent a lot of her youth competing barefoot but had recently made the switch to using spikes on the track.

suzy

Walsham 1991

Suzy Walsham, 1991

Walsham ran an excellent race, shocking many and winning her first 1500m senior title in 4:12.40.

A month later, Walsham was back out on international duty, competing in the junior women’s race at the 1991 World Cross Country Championship in Belgium. There was a strong field of runners assembled, including future multi-Olympic and world champions, plus the current marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe.

Once more Walsham proved she could more than hold her own with the best in the world. She managed to finish 13th in the field of 124 finishers, and even crossed the line ahead of Paula Radcliffe who was 15th.

A decline in fortunes

And then things started to go wrong. Beset by injuries and illness, Walsham’s athletic career stuttered before it had the chance to pick up full steam.

In 1992, Walsham didn’t get to defend her senior 1500m title at the Australian Championships. Instead she ran in the under-20s race, where she finished 4th. It was a frustrating time for the promising young athlete as she struggled to meet the same times that had earned her her first title 12 months prior.

Just over a couple of weeks later, she was in Boston for the junior women’s race at the 1992 World Cross Country Championship. She finished 76th out of 104 racers. Paula Radcliffe won the race.

Walsham didn’t feature in the 1993 national championships, but did return to the senior ranks in 1994 where she finished 7th in the 1500m.

She finished 7th again in the 1500m in 1995, but was still struggling to get back to the form that had secured her first senior title in 1991.

Then from 1996-1998, Walsham didn’t appear at the nationals at all, and it’s hard to find any results for her during this period.

Emerging from the shadows

But toward the end of 1998, Walsham began to emerge again, picking up podium places at regional races and racing in the 800m as well as the 1500m. She took this good form into the start of 1999, picking up wins and podium places in the 1500m and 800m at races in Sydney and Canberra. The comeback was on.

She wasn’t quite there yet to race at the 1999 or 2000 national championships, but she finished 9th at the Australian Olympic Trials for the 1500m in August 2000.

Walsham 2000

Suzy Walsham on the comeback trail in January 2000

Then on Saturday 24th March 2001, a decade after winning her first national senior title, Walsham was finally back on the start line for another 1500m national championship race. She was the fastest in the heats the day before and headed into the final full of confidence.

Her incredible determination and perseverance earned her a second Australian Championship title. Her winning time of 4:14.61 was the quickest she’d run for some time.

Walsham nationals 2001

On her way to winning the 1500m at the 2001 Australian Championships

In February 2002 she won the 800m and the 1500m at the NSW Championships, but could only manage 5th in the 1500m at the Australian Championships in April. At the end of the year, Walsham began to work with a new coach, Said Aouita.

Aouita, a former world record holder for the 1500m and 5000m, had won 5000m gold at the 1984 Olympics and 1987 World Championships, and bronze in the 800m in Seoul in 1988. Walsham began to improve immediately under his guidance.

In April 2003, Walsham won her third national title, taking victory in the 1500m in 4:12.96.

Walsham wins 2003

Crossing the line to win the 2003 Australian Championships

Seven weeks later she set a new personal best in the 1500m of 4:07.08 while racing at the famous Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon. The week before she had set a new 800m PB at a race in Portland.

The 2004 national championships were a bit of a disappointment as Walsham aimed for the 800m and 1500m double. She managed 4th in the 800m and 5th in the 1500m.

By the time the 2005 nationals came around, she had parted ways with Aouita and was now working full time and being coached by her younger sister Debbie.

She made it to the final of the 1500m, where she managed to finish in third place.

Walsham 2005 AC

Walsham in action in the 1500m heats at the 2005 Australian Championships

Then in 2006 everything came together.

On Friday 3rd February, Walsham ran in the final of the 1500m at the Australian Championships and placed second in 4:08.72, which was one of the fastest finishes she’d managed for a long time.

The next day she ran in the heats of the 800m and qualified easily for the final on Sunday. In the final she did what every athlete dreams of. She ran a PB of 2:01.85 to win a fourth national title, an incredible 15 years after her first one.

2006 walsham nationals1

800m final at the 2006 Australian Track and Field Championships

walsham 2006

walsham 2006 800

walsham wins 800m

Walsham was now on the Australian national team that was selected to compete at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, and she was finally going to fulfill a long held ambition to represent her country at senior level at a major championships.

‘I think I’ve finally reached a place in my life where I’ve got a bit of balance,’ Walsham told reporters after her 800m victory. ‘I’m just so excited about it. I’ve had five months of injury-free training. Debbie’s just been fantastic.’

Asked whether she could win double gold at the Commonwealth Games, Walsham said: ‘Both races are going to be tough, but I’ve just got to get my foot on the line and then anything can happen.’

2006 Commonwealth Games, Melbourne

In Melbourne, she qualified for the semi-finals of the 800m, as one of the fastest runners-up in the heats. But the pace in her semi-final was a bit too quick and her 2:04.02 finish wasn’t good enough to get her to the final.

In the 1500m she fared much better. She qualified for the final automatically by finishing fourth in her heat.

2006 commonwealth walsham

Walsham leads the pack in the 1500m heats of the 2006 Commonwealth Games

You can watch the full race from the final in the video below (spoilers under video).

Walsham finished in 6th place, and with that final high she called time on her track and field career. Her athletics journey had been incredible. Battling through multiple injuries and setbacks to take a fourth Australian Championships title 15 years after first winning as a 17 year old. Then to cap off your career with a 6th-place finish at the Commonwealth Games is so impressive and inspirational.

On the rise

Walsham relocated to Singapore later in 2006 and when there she saw an advertisement for the Swissotel Vertical Marathon. What caught her eye was that first prize was a trip to New York to race at the Empire State Building. She’d never raced in a tower before, but backed herself as having a good shot given the shape she was in.

So there she found herself lined up at the hotel in November 2006, not knowing what to expect.

The 73-floor/1,336-step tower was going to be a baptism of fire, but Walsham was more than up to the task. She won the race and set a new course record in the process. She was heading to New York.

Dold goes from strength to strength

After securing his first ESBRU title in February 2006, Thomas Dold went from strength to strength on the stairs. Throughout the rest of 2006 he secured wins in Basel, Berlin and Stuttgart. He also set more world records in backwards running, with new best times for the 1500m and 3000m.

Dold 2006 SkyRun Berlin

Thomas Dold on his way to winning the SkyRun Berlin 2006

In October he competed at the second Taipei 101 Run Up and finished second to Paul Crake, who won the race in 10:31. Dold was second in 11:16, which was 37 seconds faster than third-placed Rudi Reitberger. It was an impressive performance by the young German that would have been looked upon ominously by his ESBRU rivals.

Then on the 11th November 2006 he finally won the Donauturm Treppenlauf in Vienna at the fourth attempt. Everything was set up perfectly for Dold to try and win his second ESBRU title.

Empire State Building Run-Up 2007

On Tuesday 6th February, Suzy Walsham was lined up in the lobby alongside 55 other women.

walsham lobby

Suzy Walsham (centre) prepares for her ESBRU debut in 2007

Four-time winner Cindy Moll-Harris was back, and would probably have been backing herself to win for a record fifth time, given that the supreme Andrea Mayr wasn’t there.

Her long-time rival Fiona Bayly was also on the start line. Bayly had debuted in 1995 (coming second in a personal best 13:10) and had finished on the podium multiple times, most notably in 1998 when she finished just a second behind the winner, Moll-Harris.

Amy Fredericks, who had finished fifth in 2006 and third in 2004 and 2005, was also there. The casual observers would have been looking for the winner among those three.

That trio was lined up in the centre of the front row of racers. The unknown Walsham stood behind them.

Fredericks got a typically fast start and was through the door first, followed immediately by Moll-Harris and then Bayly.

2007 womens start 2

Amy Fredericks heads for the stairwell door at the start of the 2007 ESBRU

2007 womens start 3

Walsham managed to make it through the door in around 13th position. Not a terrible start, but she was going to have her work cut out passing a heap of women who were definitely slower than her.

But she powered through them and by the 65th floor crossover she had established a narrow lead. You can see her in the video below displaying that now familiar rhythmic and staggered stair climbing style that has served her so well since (@0:40).

Walsham managed to maintain her lead despite Moll-Harris and Bayly pushing hard just a couple of floors below. She finally exited onto the observation deck and crossed the line in 13:12 to win on her debut.

2007 Walsham wins

Suzy Walsham wins her first ESBRU title in 2007

Moll-Harris was next in 13:24, with Bayly once again a mere second behind her in 13:25.

‘The start was a nightmare’, said Walsham. Trying to get out in front wasn’t too pleasant either for the Australian. ‘I pushed my way through. There was one girl who was holding both sides and I said “I want to get past, hold one side”‘.

2007 Walsham celebrates

walsham celebrates

Dold goes for two in a row

With his dominance at several stair races throughout 2006, Thomas Dold was expected to defend his ESBRU title.

Alongside him in the lobby were plenty of experienced ESBRU athletes, including Rudi Reitberger, Jaroslaw Lazarowicz, Tomasz Klisz and Dold’s German team mate Matthias Jahn.

Among the others in the lobby that day were several men that will be familiar to many readers: Jesse Berg, Ralf Hascher, Tim Van Orden, David Tromp and a 17-year old Shaun Stephens-Whale.

Ultra-runner and adventurer Rickey Gates was also in the lobby ready to make his ESBRU debut. Well known now for his endurance feats, which include his TransAmericana project in 2017, he was one of the hottest new prospects in US mountain running back in 2007. Later in the year he would go on to be named USA Track and Field Mountain Runner of the Year, after winning both the U.S. Mountain Running Championship and U.S. Trail Championship in back-to-back weeks. Unfortunately for him, he was placed pretty far back in the pack at the Empire State Building. He certainly had the caliber to be in contention for a podium spot, but given his position in the pack it was going to take some serious work to catch up with the front runners.

Matthias Jahn got a good start and seemed to open up a gap for Dold to come through. Perhaps they had a plan for Jahn to tail the stronger Dold who would pull him onto the podium.

You can see Dold in the yellow vest in the picture below, looking like he’s about to be passed by a bunch of guys.

2007 mens start 0

2007 mens start

But the reigning champion quickly powered through and by the time they reached the door he was in first place, with Jahn right behind him.

2007 mens start 05

2007 mens start 2

2007 mens start 1

The Empire State Building Run-Up is renowned for its mass start, and in the days before it streamlined the elite race it was often derided as being ridiculous and unnecessarily dangerous. There had been stumbles before in the men’s elite race, and there had been falls at the back of the women’s elite starts before, but never had there been a significant pile up at the front of the men’s race. This time, unfortunately, was different.

Jose Mateo Martinez went down hard just before the door (you can see him falling in some of the images above) and the surrounding runners ran over him. Most managed to stay on their feet but Tomasz Klisz went down – you can see his journey to the floor in the two images below.

2007 mens start 3

2007 mens start 4

The whole sequence was recorded and later uploaded by Tim Van Orden. You can watch it in the video below (some of his annotations are incorrect, Klisz is Polish not Austrian).

Out in front, Dold and Jahn maintained their positions. The faster Dold began to pull away in the later stages of the race and as Jahn began to tire, the climbers below him started to close in.

2007 Dold solo

Thomas Dold builds his lead

At 0:24-0:30 in the men’s race video below you can see Rudi Reitberger (#2), Rickey Gates (#51) and Tommy Coleman (#27) battling for a podium spot around the 65th floor. Up ahead and out of shot is Pedro Ribeiro.

Dold crossed the line in 10:25, aggressively ripping the tape from the grasp of the two men holding it at the finish line and throwing it on the floor. In the race videos below you can hear someone saying what sounds like, ‘shit…SHIT!’ as Dold crosses the line to win for the second time. The young German was already building a fan base.

2007 Dold approaches finish

Thomas Dold turns the corner on the observation deck heading for the finish

2007 Dold wins

Dold reaches out to tear down the finish line

Matthias Jahn managed to hold on to second place, crossing the line in 10:56. Dold ran back along the observation deck to check if his countryman was coming behind him and when Jahn emerged the pair yelled and hollered across the line before embracing.

2007 Jahn and Dold

Matthias Jahn jumps for joy as Thomas Dold cheers him on

You can see it in the video below (and hear the comical ‘shit, SHIT’ a bit clearer, too). Their impassioned antics are reminiscent of the beach scene in Rocky 3 when Balboa and Creed embrace in the surf after an intense sprint session.

Rickey Gates managed to win the battle for third and crossed the line in 11:02, ahead of Pedro Ribeiro in 11:10 and Rudi Reitberger in 11:12.

‘I might have done a little better if I didn’t have to start 30 feet back,’ said Gates.

‘It’s just a mob mentality. Off the start, it goes from about 30 feet wide down to 3 feet wide in about five seconds…It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like it. It’s certainly a new experience trying to cram 50 runners into a little 3-foot-wide stairwell.’

‘My time was fast. Certainly a lot of Americans have run faster than me in previous years, but it was cool to be the top American finisher. I knew I was going to do well – I was just not sure how well’.

He even spoke of one runner intentionally reaching back and trying to slap him in the face as he attempted to pass on the stairs. But he was unperturbed and determined to return in 2008 where he would be given a better place on the start line.

2007 Dold Jahn hands

Dold and Jahn celebrate on the observation deck

2007 podium in lift

Men’s podium in the lift: Matthias Jahn, Rickey Gates and Thomas Dold (l-r)

2007 Dold winner

2007 winners

Thomas Dold and Suzy Walsham – ESBRU winners 2007

2007 Empire State Building results

Read the next installment in the series – the 2008 Empire State Building Run-Up.

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