A history of the Empire State Building Run-Up: 2008

Posted: July 18, 2019 in Tower running history
Tags: , , , , , ,

In 2008, Thomas Dold went head-to-head at the ESBRU with a mountain running champion who had just won his fifth world title. Could the king of the mountains derail the two-time champion’s attempt to win three in a row?

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, 200420052006 or 2007 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU in 2008.

Racing as the champ

After securing his second ESBRU title in February 2007, Thomas Dold focused heavily on tower running for the rest of the season. Already a well-established reverse-running world record holder at multiple distances, the German champion took a break from racing backwards and turned his full attention to the stairs.

First up was the Ramada Tower Run in Basel, Switzerland, where Dold had set a course record in 2006.

Facing him in the race up the tower’s 542 steps was the Swiss multi-sport athlete Gabriel Lombriser, whose 2005 record Dold had broken the year before.

It wasn’t the ideal day for Dold, as Lombriser reclaimed his course record with a finishing time of 2:43. Dold had to settle for second, with a finish of 2:45.

The next big race on the calendar was the SkyRun Berlin at the 770-step Hotel Park Inn at Alexanderplatz on Whit Monday, 28 May 2007. Dold had won the event in 2006 and was keen to get back to winning ways in a building he was familiar with.

BERP1_ParkInn-Berlin-ExteriorView

The Park Inn hotel in Berlin

He won his second SkyRun Berlin title in a time of 3:17, finishing a mere 0.57 seconds ahead of Matthias Jahn.

‘That was one of the tightest races I’ve ever experienced’, said Dold. ‘All the more, I am pleased that I was able to win despite the very strong competition.’

Less than two weeks later, on Thursday 7th June, Dold was in Stuttgart where he was aiming to break his course record at the 850-step TV Tower.

He managed to do just that, smashing his record by 12 seconds to finish in 4:32.

Dold Stuttgart TV Tower 2007

Dold celebrates his win at the Stuttgart TV Tower

A quiet, race-free summer followed and it wasn’t until 11th November that the German powerhouse was back in the stairwell. This time in Vienna for the Donauturm Treppenlauf, where he was aiming to win for the second year in a row.

Dold maintained his winning form, taking victory in 3:32.22, to earn a travel package to the Empire State Building Run-Up 2008.

In the women’s division that day, Andrea Mayr took victory in 4:16.78. But the three-time ESBRU champion would choose not to take up the opportunity to head back to New York to attempt to win for a record-equaling fourth time in 2008.

The man to beat Dold?

Meanwhile in Italy, a four-time world mountain running champion had crossed over to stair racing and was making waves.

At the start of 2007, Marco De Gasperi took his first major stair race win at the 710-step Pirelli Tower in Milan, with a time of 3:44.

Pirelli Tower race Milan

Pirelli Tower, Milan

De Gasperi had blown onto the international mountain running scene when he won the World Junior title in 1996, aged 19.

The following year, 1997, he made his senior debut and won his first major world title. Over the next six years he would go on to alternate world championship wins with the legendary Jonathan Wyatt. De Gasperi was champion in 1999, 2001 and 2003.

He then secured a final World Championship win in September 2007. He had also finished second at the 2007 European Championship in July, so was heading into the end of the year full of confidence and in outstanding form.

Due to his mountain running pedigree, and tower running win earlier in the year, De Gasperi was invited to take part in one of the biggest races in the tower running calendar; the Taipei 101 Run Up.

Marco De Gasperi 1997

Marco De Gasperi after winning his first mountain running world title in 1997

Paul Crake, the course-record holder and winner of the first two editions of the Taipei 101 Run Up, had been tragically paralysed from the waist down in a cycling accident shortly after winning the event for the second time in 2006.

Could De Gasperi be the man to pick up the mantle for mountain runners and dominate in tower running? Taipei 101 would be his first major test against many of the world’s best.

Taipei 101 Run Up 2007

At the time, Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world. All eyes were on the race, as in the men’s division the reigning world mountain champion was going up against arguably the best tower runner in the world, Thomas Dold.

While in the women’s division, the new ESBRU champion Suzy Walsham was challenging reigning Taipei 101 champion and course-record holder, Andrea Mayr.

Mayr had won the inaugural Taipei 101 event in 2005, climbing the 2,046 steps in a stunning time of 12:38 (a record that still stands). She defended her title in 2006. She was also a three-time ESBRU champion (2004-2006), and had finished second at the World Mountain Running Championships two months prior, so everyone was eager to see how the newcomer Walsham would fare against the more experienced Austrian mountain runner.

Melissa Moon, the former world mountain running champion (2001, 2003), and winner of the first tower running world championship in Kuala Lumpur in 2002, was there, too. The New Zealander was expected to provide a strong challenge to Walsham and Mayr.

Also in the lobby was a selection of tough local athletes looking to secure a first Taipei 101 title for a Taiwanese runner.

tAIPEI 101 2007 START

Andrea Mayr put in a brilliant run to once again go under the 13-minute mark (12:54) and take her third win in a row at Taipei 101.

‘I did well today because I put pressure on myself,’ said Mayr. ‘When I return home, I will rest up and prepare for the next season’s races.’

AM T101 2007

Andrea Mayr reaches the top of Taipei 101 to secure her third title

The impressive Walsham, still with less than a handful of stair races to her name, managed to secure second place in 13:42.

Suzy Walsham Taipei 101 Run Up

Suzy Walsham, second place at Taipei 101 Run Up 2007

Taiwanese athlete Jenny Hsiao-Yu Li was third in 14:16, and Melissa Moon took fourth place in 15:17.

World Mountain Running Champion vs ESBRU Champion

In the men’s race, Thomas Dold went off first. He finished in 11:56, well off the 11:16 he had set the year before when he finished second behind Paul Crake (10:31).

Thomas Dold Taipei 101

Thomas Dold sets off at the 2007 Taipei 101 Run-Up

Dold’s time held up through the first nine challengers. Then Marco De Gasperi set off. The Italian reached the top in 11:39, taking the title and sending a small shock through the tower running world.

‘I am excited,’ De Gasperi said. ‘I think I won the title for Paul Crake who cannot attend this year’s race because he was injured.’

Taipe de gasperi

Marco De Gasperi reaches the top of Taipei 101

Thomas Dold told reporters, ‘I thought I was prepared and was in good shape, but still came second. However, to come second in an international race is still great.’

Taipei 101 2007 winners

2007 Taipei 101 Run-Up winners – Marco De Gasperi and Andrea Mayr

Everything was now set up for a brilliant showdown in New York in three months time. Some were prematurely calling De Gasperi the best stair racer in the world. One big win does not a world beater make. But, if he could repeat the feat at the Empire State Building three months down the line, and halt the winning run of Thomas Dold, maybe then he could fairly be called the best in the world.

Empire State Building Run-Up 2008

59 women were in the lobby on Tuesday 5th February, 2008 for the 31st edition of the Empire State Building Run-Up.

Cindy Moll-Harris and Fiona Bayly were back again. Their long-running rivalry had been ongoing for a decade and the pair had finished on the podium behind Walsham in 2007.

Moll-Harris was in form, having won the Bop to the Top in Indianapolis for the 14th time in a row just three days before the ESBRU.

At the 2007 Empire State Building Run-Up, Moll-Harris had finished just 12 seconds behind the debutant Walsham. This year she was once again expected to provide the Australian with her strongest challenge.

Unknown to Moll-Harris, Walsham’s preparation had been seriously impeded by a calf strain that had prevented her from running for the two weeks leading into the race. In fact, as the event approached Walsham wasn’t even sure she would make it to the start line. Would the injury slow the defending champion down enough to allow her rivals to put even more pressure on her?

2008 walsham warmup

Suzy Walsham limbers up before the start of the 2008 Empire State Building Run-Up

Also lined up in the lobby was 24-year old Caroline Gaynor, a former rower at Columbia University who had turned her focus to Ironman events and other triathlon distances. Evidently a strong athlete, she was an unknown factor. But it would be a major upset for her to topple Walsham or Moll-Harris.

Among the other women taking part that day was the incredible three-time winner Nina Kuscsik (1979-1981), the original queen of the ESBRU. But at 69 years old her fastest days were behind her – she would go on to finish in 25:07.

On the start line, Suzy Walsham (#101) was lined up in the centre of the front row. To her left was Moll-Harris (102) and next along, closest to the inside wall, was Fiona Bayly (103). On Walsham’s right was the debutant Gaynor (104).

At 1:01 of the first video below (skip to 1:01 and don’t watch whole video if you want to avoid SPOILERS in the men’s event), the camera pans along the start line with someone trying to elicit a reaction from the athletes. Bayly raises her eyebrows and nods her head. Next, a nervous looking Moll-Harris forces a nod at the camera. Walsham gives absolutely nothing, before the excited, smile-filled face of Caroline Gaynor rolls into shot.

The defending champion looked fully focused.

With the introductions over, the runners prepared themselves for the blast of the starter’s claxon. Walsham was crouched low, poised and ready to push hard off the line as she had done so many times before throughout her successful middle-distance track career.

YSTAIRCASE1-jumbo

She got a good start, managing to reach the doorway first, gaining a step on Moll-Harris who followed just behind her. Gaynor edged in front of Bayly and off they went.

As so often the case, specific details on exactly how the race played out once inside the stairwell are hard to come by.

We know that Walsham pulled away from Moll-Harris at the 35th floor, and then had a unchallenged run through to the finish.

In the video above at 1:45 (don’t watch whole video if you want to avoid spoilers in the men’s event) we see Walsham climbing on her own on an unspecified part of the course.

When the Australian reached the top, she had taken a massive 28 seconds off her 2007 winning time to finish in 12:44 and secure a second straight win. She was well clear of Cindy Moll-Harris, who took second in 13:33, and Fiona Bayly, who was third in 13:57. Caroline Gaynor (14:35) just held on to fourth place under serious pressure from the experienced Stacey Creamer (14:37).

2008 walsham wins

Suzy Walsham wins the 2007 Empire State Building Run-Up

‘It was fantastic to win such a famous race again this year. New York is a special place and this is a special building, so it’s a huge achievement for me’, Walsham told assembled reporters after the race.

‘Last year I was new, and I let everyone go at the start. I didn’t get a good position going through the door, and I didn’t go out very fast—I was way back in the pack. This year I got a much better position and I was the first going into the stairs. I led the whole race but the second place girl was right behind me for the first 30 floors and that probably made me go a whole lot faster. The last 20 stories were really hard.’

‘I knew I was winning, then I really wanted to get a fast time. But I really slowed down a lot in the last 10 to 15 floors. I couldn’t hear the girl behind me, but I was just trying to put one foot in front of the other. You’ve just got to get to the top.’

‘Bizarre’, commented Walsham on the lack of impact the calf strain had on her going up the stairs. ‘I nearly didn’t come, but I did a stair session on Friday and it felt okay. Today it was fine.’

Dold vs De Gasperi II

The start line for the men’s elite race was crammed full of established and emerging talent.

Joining Marco De Gasperi among the debutants that day was Tim Donahue, who would go on to be a very successful stair climber in the following years.

Fu-Cai Chen was also there. He had finished third at Taipei 101 Run-Up, where Dold had beaten him by less than half a second. He was definitely one to watch.

Jesse Berg was back for another try after his impressive seventh-place finish in his 2007 debut. Joining him for a second go were Canadian Shaun Stephens-Whale and Tim Van Orden from the USA.

Van Orden was coming into the race in what he said was ‘the best shape of my life’. In October 2007 he had won a race at the US Bank Tower in Los Angeles, beating Jesse Berg in the process, and proving himself one of the best American tower runners.

Among the well-established ESBRU runners in the lobby were Markus Zahlbruckner, Stephen Marsalese and Tomasz Klisz.

Not since Paul Crake’s final ESBRU run in 2003 had an Australian featured among the top finishers in New York – in fact only one Australian male had even raced at all in the intervening period.

Finally now a top athlete was being sent over from Australia to try and reclaim glory for the country that had secured an incredible 11 elite men’s division wins in the 30 years the competition had run.

Scott McTaggart was a highly impressive athlete with experience on the track, mountains and stairs. He had won the Sydney Tower Run-Up in 2006 and 2007, and was expected to be among those challenging for a podium place.

The bulk of the chatter in the build-up was all about the De Gasperi vs Dold showdown. Could the Italian replicate his success at Taipei 101 on a New York course that the young German was fast making his own?

But, although the focus was on those two, it would have been foolish to overlook the two men that had joined Dold on the podium in 2007.

Second in 2007 (and sixth in 2006), Matthias Jahn had once again spent the year training with Dold, pushing his training partner as close as possible at the SkyRun Berlin in May. He had made obvious improvements, but bettering his excellent sub-11 minute personal best time would be some achievement.

Rickey Gates had been stuck a few rows back from the front of the elite men at his debut in 2007. Despite the poor starting position that year he had managed to work his way up through the field to finish in third place.

Following that race, Gates had gone on to win the USA Mountain Running Championships and USA Trail Running Championships (10km) on back-to-back weekends in June 2007. In December he was crowned the USATF Mountain Runner of the Year.

RICKEY GATES

Rickey Gates winning the 2007 US 10km Trail Running Championships

In February 2008 he was in the front row in the Empire State Building lobby and was expected to provide Dold with a very serious test.

Over before it started

The lunacy and mismanagement of the start of the Empire State Building Run-Up was never so apparent as in 2008.

To be fair, the organisers did get the front row of the start line almost right, but ‘almost right’ really wasn’t good enough this time around, and it cost one man a chance of challenging for the title.

As ever, Thomas Dold was front and centre, preparing to spread his arms wide as soon as the claxon sounded to try and prevent anyone from passing him. Matthias Jahn was on his right, ready to assist his training partner in blocking people from passing.

Rickey Gates had rightly been moved to the front, and also lined up there was another American, Jesse Berg. All were rightly given prime spots.

Shaun Stephens-Whale was on Jahn’s right-hand side. He would go on to become an accomplished stair runner, but in 2008 he shouldn’t have been in the front row.

It could well be argued that the experienced Tomasz Klisz should have traded places with one of the faster runners behind him (at least ones he knew about, such as Markus Zahlbruckner). That really depends where you stand on start line etiquette. He had managed a sub 12-minute run in 2006, but only 14:10 in 2007. What form was he in this year? His position on the front row is questionable.

But then the shit show really starts.

Salvatore Ferrara (#69) had some how found himself on the front row unchecked, albeit out to one side. Sporting what seems to be a picture of the late Chico Scimone (the veteran ESBRU participant who took part into his 90s) on his t-shirt, the 54-year old Italian would go on to finish in 21:13.

On the other side, by the inside wall, was Fabio Silva (#12). Certainly deserving of being closer to the front than Ferrara, but still way out of place. A polite word from one of the officials and he should have been shuffled back.

In fact the man arranging the start line made a call for ‘numbers one through nine’, but it didn’t quite materialise. One through nine would have been a fairer front row, but still some way off the most desirable line up.

Among those in row two stood Van Orden, Zahlbruckner and De Gasperi. Shockingly, Van Orden hadn’t been seeded at all. His initial position was way back in the field, but with some last-minute negotiating and shuffling he rightly managed to get himself in among the race favourites.

Criminally, Fu-Cai Chen was way down the order as well. He was a definite contender for a podium spot, but wasn’t even in the second row of runners.

Accidents happen, even with the best planning. What’s to say that even if all the fastest men had been out in front, one wouldn’t have tripped anyway. We’ll never know. But the set up for the start of the ESBRU certainly did nobody any favours, that’s for sure.

When the starter’s horn went off, Dold, Jahn and Gates got a jump on everyone else, with the reigning champion reaching the door first. Behind them disaster was striking.

2008mensstart

Rickey Gates (#3), Matthias Jahn (2) and Thomas Dold (l-r) race out in front

Dold was already at least two metres ahead of De Gasperi when the Italian was tripped and fell.

2008 mens start final

Marco De Gasperi falls at the start of the race

de gasperi falls

Tim Van Orden (centre blue vest) skips around the fallen De Gasperi. On the other side by the wall is Markus Zahlbruckner, with Tim Donahue behind him with a hand on his back. The man with the blue vest heading out of shot on the right is Shaun Stephens-Whale. On the far left, in the yellow vest and wearing glasses is Stephen Marsalese. Fu-Cai Chen can be seen just to the right of the man in red (Kurt Hess, #78, another man woefully out of place). The diminutive Chen is wearing glasses, and a flash of his yellow vest is visible among the melee.

2008 deGasperi on floor

Marco De Gasperi scrambles towards the stairwell

A loud gasp ran through the lobby as the assembled reporters, photographers and spectators saw the Italian go down and winced as the mass of runners bundled over him. De Gasperi, to his credit, did a fantastic job of scrambling to get his feet back under him, all while moving towards the doorway on all fours. He managed to save himself from the bulk of the crowd following in behind and get on to the stairs in one piece, although now well out of the running.

The much anticipated New York showdown between the reigning ESBRU champion and the reigning world mountain running champion was over before it barely got going.

Apparently, by the time De Gasperi had reached the 10th floor, he was in around 50th place.

But up above, a serious battle was still going on.

Thomas Dold had hit the stairs in first position, followed by Jahn, Gates, Klisz and Berg.

The group settled in at a fast pace, the fastest that Dold had ever raced at the ESBRU.

As they climbed floor after floor, much of the chasing pack began to fade away. Tomasz Klisz slowed along with Shaun Stephens-Whale.

Australian Scott McTaggart pushed up into the chasing pack, where a tough battle for a top five finish ensued between him, Jesse Berg, Markus Zahlbruckner and Fu-Cai Chen.

Incredibly, Marco De Gasperi was going flat out floors below, powering his way through dozens of runners, hoping to close in on the top 10. Would he be able to do it?

Up ahead, Dold, Gates and Jahn climbed alone. They were tracking 10 seconds faster than the previous fastest time Dold had run in 2006. Eventually the pace became too much for Jahn and he began to fade.

But Rickey Gates was sticking with Dold and making him work harder than he’d ever had to before.

As he reached the 80th floor, Dold looked down over the railing and could see the American less than two flights behind him. He wasn’t slowing down.

The champion soaked up the pressure, though, and reached the observation deck eight seconds ahead of Gates.

A quick glance behind as he turned the corner for the finishing straight and Dold knew he had it. The hands went up and a cry rang out as he crossed the line in 10:08. A third straight ESBRU win, and with it a share of the record (with fellow German Kurt Konig) as the most successful European stair climber at the Empire State Building Run-Up.

2008 dold celebrates at line

DOLD WINS 2008

DOLD WINS 2

‘At this moment, I’m feeling so tired, but I’ll feel good soon,’ said Dold after his win. ‘It’s always a really hard fight, especially at the start. Then you leave the other runners behind and you hope you don’t see them again, and you just focus and don’t think about anything except the victory’

‘It was really hard to pass the women in the race ahead of ours. Starting at the 30th floor I had to pass three and four and five of them at a time. Normally this is not so much of a problem. I am a little bit disappointed in the time, but I will feel good about it tonight.’

Rickey Gates was second in 10:16, followed by Matthias Jahn in 10:56. Scott McTaggart (11:30), Fu-Cai Chen (11:32) and Jesse Berg (11:41) followed.

Then, almost miraculously, came Marco De Gasperi in 11:46. What might the Italian have achieved if he had been allowed a clear run?

‘Maybe I was a little naive, but I didn’t expect such a difficult and tight initial fight’, commented De Gasperi. ‘Certainly the best athletes had more experience and cunning than me. This is a particular and fascinating event that I have the chance to win. I will certainly try again next year.’

2008 WINNERS 2

2008 Empire State Building Run-Up winners, Thomas Dold and Suzy Walsham

Below is Tim Van Orden’s race video, including a post-race interview with Marco De Gasperi.

 

2008 Empire State Building Run-Up results

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