Posts Tagged ‘Empire State Building Run Up’

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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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.

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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.

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.

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

Incredibly, the winners of the 1998 Empire State Building are still competing in and winning events over 20 years later. Their victories in 1998 thrust them into the spotlight on the biggest stage in tower running.

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 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-1993 or 1994-1997 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU in 1998.

An incredible comeback

As she promised, 1997 winner Belinda Soszyn did not return to New York to defend her title. The three-time winner and course record holder had checked out on top, and so the women’s race was wide open.

Fiona Bayly was back after missing the 1997 edition. Having finished second in 1995 and fourth in 1996, and with a personal best time of 13:10, she was fancied to take the win. But Bayly was suffering with tendonitis and bursitis in her right foot. What effect this would have on her performance would have to be seen.

Unlike in previous years, there were no renowned elite athletes in the field of 29 women. No previous ESBRU winners turned up and there was no Australian champion in attendance, either. There were some highly competitive local club runners in the mix, but none that had the sort of massively impressive times or titles that had been seen among the women in years past.

But there was an experienced tower runner on the start line and she was expected to be Bayly’s strongest competition. 29-year-old Cindy Moll, an accountant from Indianapolis, had already enjoyed success at stair climbs in her home city, including wins at the Bop to the Top at OneAmerica Tower in 1995, 96 and 97. She was coming into the event off the back of a confidence-boosting win at a tough 7-mile race in Indiana, just 12 days earlier.

Moll had actually taken part in her first Bop to the Top tower race in 1985, while still a high-school student, but she wouldn’t return to the stairs for quite some time after that. ‘It took me eight years to do a second one. I started too fast and learned you have to pace yourself’.

At the start line of the Empire State Building Run-Up, Moll looked relaxed. Bayly, just a few steps to her left, was crouched in position like a 1,500m runner at the start of a race, ready to hit the stairwell first. Just before the starter’s claxon went off, Moll slightly lost her balance and as she adjusted her feet the horn sounded and she was immediately passed by those around her. She entered the stairwell in around fifth or sixth position. Not a disaster, but not the start she wanted. Bayly was first onto the stairs.

The race was a slow one – the slowest since 1987 in fact. But it was the closest race seen at the ESBRU up until this point, too.

Bayly set off hard, and was well and truly out of sight of everyone by the halfway mark. When Moll got to the 60th floor, she was told that Bayly was around 40 seconds ahead of her. But despite thinking the race for first place was probably over, she pushed on.

Up ahead, the hard early pace and the pain from her injured foot began to take its toll on Bayly, and she started to slow.

Incredibly, in 20 floors, Moll managed to claw back the 40-second deficit and by the 80th floor she had caught up to Bayly. Passing on the narrow stairs of the Empire State Building is always hard, especially against a climber that is determined to stop you getting through.

But Moll made her move on the 84th floor and finally took the lead.  At the finish line, just one second set the two apart, and it was Cindy Moll who crossed first in 14:17 for a brilliant comeback win on her ESBRU debut. Maria Fernadez from Mexico was third in 15:16.

‘My legs started to feel rubbery’, said the winner. ‘I kind of got that burst of energy in the last floor’.

Bayly was understandably gutted. ‘I’m so furious, I’m just really disappointed’, she told reporters. ‘My foot couldn’t hurt anymore’

Nine days later, Moll defended her title at the 37-floor Bop to the Top race, winning in 5:05. She was quickly establishing herself as the best stair climber in the USA. Her legendary tower running career, which is still ongoing, was now well under way.

 

Advance Australia Fair

Heading into the race on Thursday 19th February, Terry Purcell knew exactly what was expected of him. Five of the ten previous men’s races at the ESBRU had been won by Australians. In the other five events, an Australian had finished in second or third in each of them.

Purcell himself had been second in 1996, finishing just seven seconds behind the winner Kurt Konig. It had been five years since an Australian won, so now was the time for Purcell to step up and join the ranks of Aussie ESBRU champions.

Described by one journalist as having ‘quadriceps that look like sides of beef’, Purcell was coming in off the back of a win at the Sydney Tower Run in late 1997. His confidence was high.

According to some reports, the pre-race favourite was actually Bernd Hammer from Austria. No big surprise given he had finished fourth in 1996 and third in 1997.

As the athletes limbered up in the lobby, Hammer took a knee, clasped his hands together and prayed.

God surely doesn’t favour one tower runner over the other, but if he does, he may have had a soft spot for Jesus Zerpa, a tough runner who would be challenging for a podium place.

At the start line, 27-year-old Purcell adopted his familiar low stance with knees bent and body parallel to the ground. A master starter, Purcell flew off the line at the first hint of noise from the claxon. But as he went for his second step, his right foot slipped on the sleek lobby floor and he stumbled badly (see image below). He just managed to save himself from completely falling, but it had cost him ever so slightly and he was passed by at least one runner heading into the stairwell.

Hammer slipped at the start, too; his right foot also giving way massively as he tried to push off. His stumble cost him far more than Purcell, and around nine or ten men were ahead of him as they hit the stairs.

1998 ESBRU START

Terry Purcell (centre) works to recover after his stumble

Purcell quickly took the lead. Despite his poor start, it wasn’t long before Hammer made up the gap and settled in behind him. The pair climbed close together for the large part of the 86 floors.

At around the 75th floor, Purcell managed to pull away. He created a small lead for himself and held it tightly right to the finish, crossing the line in 10:49. Hammer finished in 10:57, and Jesus Zerpa was third in 11:23.

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Terry Purcell wins the 1998 Empire State Building Run-Up

As Purcell crossed the line, Michael Baume, the Consul-General of Australia to New York, stepped forward and draped the Australian flag around his shoulders, just as he’d done for Belinda Soszyn the year before. Baume had put Purcell up in his official residence for the days leading up to the race.

‘I couldn’t let the Australian tradition down’, said the victorious Geelong man. ‘I realised today when I was at the 55th floor, I looked at it and I thought, hey I’d be finishing in Melbourne now, and I’ve got another 31 floors to go. And the second Austrian guy, he was sitting right behind me then, I was thinking, ya know, just drop down a bit so I can have a bit of a relax. But I couldn’t. Not until about the last 10 floors could I get away from him.’

‘I’m used to about seven or eight minutes for a race’, Purcell added. ‘Those last three minutes really hurt’.

Already a stair climbing legend in his own country, this win put Purcell firmly on top on the global scene. A permanent move to the USA just a couple of years later saw him quickly establish himself as the best climber in the States. His record would go on to include five wins from five starts at Chicago’s AON Center (and a long-standing course record that was only broken in February 2017) and nine wins from nine starts at the John Hancock Center. He retired from the sport in 2011, but made a stunning return in March 2017, and at the time of writing is once again the top-ranked US tower runner.

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Cindy Moll and Terry Purcell – 1998 ESBRU winners

 

1998 Empire State Building Run-Up results

As the community mourned the loss of an icon, the first European champion of the ESBRU was crowned.

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 1981-19831984-19871988-1990 or 1991-1993 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU between 1994 and 1997.

1994 – The last race on the short course

Just as it had been in 1991 and 1992, the 1994 Empire State Building Run-Up was run on a shortened course of 80 floors.

On the morning of Thursday 17th February, 33 women headed into the lobby to race. The start list was full of fresh names. A few ESBRU veterans were there, including 1991 champion Corliss Spencer, 1993 fourth-place finisher Prapti Jensen and Peggy Schaab. But there were also a lot of first timers, and with 1993 champion Sue Case absent, the race was wide open.

Representing Australia this time around was Belinda Soszyn, who had won the 1993 Sydney Tower race to earn her place in New York. The USA was very well represented by Oonagh Bruni, a fast marathoner from California with multiple sub 2.50 times to her name; Michelle Blessing, a top-level triathlete and mountain runner; and pro-cyclist Elizabeth Emery.

It was school teacher Soszyn, described by one journalist as ‘a sturdy stick of a person with legs like two iron bars’, who took the win. Her finishing time of 11:36 was 20 seconds ahead of Oonagh Bruni (11:56), with Michelle Blessing a further 20 seconds back in 12:16.

1994 fred lebow best

Fred Lebow holds the tape as Belinda Soszyn crosses to win

‘A bit of a sweat, and I don’t usually sweat’ said the new champion, when asked about the race.

The photo above is a poignant one. Sadly, the 1994 Empire State Building Run-Up would be the last that Fred Lebow would attend. He finally succumbed to the brain cancer he had been diagnosed with in early 1990 and passed away later that year on the 9th October.

Lebow is truly one of the founding fathers of competitive tower running. He persevered with the ESBRU, riding out the derision it faced in the early years, and helped it grow in stature. Year-on-year from 1978-1994 he managed to attract a range of serious athletes from a variety of countries and disciplines to take part. He genuinely believed in tower running as a legitimate sporting activity and not just as a sideshow to more traditional forms of running. His legacy is the longest-running, and most iconic, stair climb event in the world.

Fred Lebow

Fred Lebow 1932-1994

 

Stair climbing newcomer wins the men’s division

Three-time winner Geoff Case didn’t take part in 1994, and neither did many of the top finishers of the past few years. So, just as the women’s race was, the men’s event was wide open.

European athletes Kurt Konig (GER) and Matthias Schreiner (AUT) would be in the mix, as would the new Aussie champion on the block, Phil Griffiths. For the USA, two-time national duathlon champion Darrin Eisman from Colorado would be leading the charge.

Eisman had earned his place by winning a race in 1993 up 37-floors of 1999 Broadway in downtown Denver.

‘I was working in Denver at the time, and heard about this [race] the day before’, said Eisman. ‘I ran to the building at lunch and ran to the top, then decided I’d race the next day. Ended up winning an all expenses paid trip to the Empire State Building stair climb.’

Darrin Eisman

The champion’s steps at 1999 Broadway, Denver, Colorado

In winning the Denver race, Eisman joined a list of winners that included former ESBRU champions Scott Elliott and J’ne Day-Lucore. That was surely a good omen.

Eisman would make it two wins from two stair races when he reached the 80th floor of the Empire State Building in 9:37. Kurt Konig was close behind him in 9:52, with Phil Griffiths third in 10:04. For the first time in the event’s 17-year history, there would be only one American in the top five, as Austrian Matthias Schreiner and Canada’s Harreson Martell followed.

1994 WINNERS BEST

Eisman and Soszyn celebrate winning the 1994 ESBRU

1994 eisman and belinda

Eisman was characterised by one journalist (the same one who creatively described Soszyn) as, ‘a lithe figure decidedly unmolested by the sweet rolls and hoagy dogs of life’.

‘It was awful. The dust, the dust, my lungs are so full of dust’, said the new champion when questioned at the finish. ‘Nobody wanted to yield. They held onto both the handrails and wouldn’t let me by.’

‘I can tell you that 37 [floors] is certainly a lot less than 80…I cant believe this. The Empire State Building!! Pretty tall.’

Full 1994 ESBRU results

 

1995 – A new King emerges

Stair racing can trace its origins back to Europe in 1903, when the first recorded stair race took place in Paris, France. This was followed just two years later by the first known tower run, which took place at the newly constructed Eiffel Tower.

Given the history of the sport in Europe, it was only a matter of time before a champion from that part of the world emerged. In 1995 that’s what happened, when the race returned to its traditional 86-floor/1,576-step distance.

In fact it was the first year that not a single American runner made it into the top five in the men’s race.

Unfortunately, beyond a very straightforward listing of the results in just a few publications, there were hardly any reports on the 1995 ESBRU. So there’s not much to say about this event. Although there is a video of the event below.

Germany’s Kurt Konig (which translates as ‘king’ in English) improved on his second-place finish in 1994 to win in a time of 10:39. He held off a strong challenge from Australian David Osmond (10:48) and fellow German Dieter Randtl (11:06).

In the women’s race, there was expected to be a close battle between two outstanding American athletes. Second place in 1994, Michelle Blessing returned to the ESBRU, having once again won the qualifying race at 1999 Broadway in Denver. With reigning champion Belinda Soszyn missing, Blessing was tipped for the win.

But keen observers would have known that the highly accomplished New York athlete Fiona Bayly, although racing for the first time, would surely be in contention for the title.

Blessing’s stair racing experience served her well and she managed to hold on for the win, reaching the 86th floor in 13:03. Bayly was just a flight or so behind in 13:10. Aussie Chrissy Griffiths (a possible relation of Phil Griffiths from the 1994 event) was third in 13:26.

1995 WINNERS CELEBRATE

King Kurt and King Kong lift Michelle Blessing aloft

 

 

1995 Empire State Building Run Up results

 

1996 – Champions do battle

After missing out on competing at the previous edition of the Empire State Building Run-Up, Belinda Soszyn knuckled down and made sure to secure her place at the 1996 ESBRU by winning the 1995 Sydney Tower Run.

In New York she would be going head-to-head with reigning champ Michelle Blessing. The impressive Fiona Bayly was back for another crack, and Japanese triathlete Haruna Hosoya (who would go on to represent Japan at the 2000 Olympics) was also in the mix. Germany’s Bernadette Hudy, owner of a 2.41 marathon PB, would be leading the charge for the European competitors.

Soszyn ran the race like a woman possessed. Nobody came close to her and she set a new course record of 12:19, taking five seconds off the time that her compatriot Suzanne Malaxos had set in 1989.

Blessing was some way back in 13:04. A few months later she would carry the Olympic torch through Colorado Springs on a leg of its relay journey in the build-up to the Atlanta Olympics.

Haruna Hosoya was third in 13:16, with Fiona Bayly finishing fourth in 13:20, and narrowly missing out on back-to-back podium finishes.

1996 WOMEN WINNER

Belinda Soszyn sets a new course record at the 1996 ESBRU

 

Konig goes for the double

Kurt Konig was back again, this time to defend his title. Among the 106 men challenging him at the Empire State Building were the 1995 third and fourth-place finishers, Dieter Randtl and Matthias Schreiner. A young and fast Austrian named Bernd Hammer was also there hoping to be the next European winner.

Once more, Australia sent forth one of its strongest sons. This time it was the phenom Terry Purcell. He had earned his place by destroying the course record at Sydney Tower by a massive 24 seconds. The previous record had been set by three-time ESBRU champion Geoff Case in 1992. Purcell would be one to watch.

At the start line Konig looked relaxed, standing upright with his hand on his watch, waiting for the starter’s orders. Off to his right stood Purcell with head low, looking focused. On the call of ‘on your marks’, Purcell bent down into a low stance, with his torso almost parallel to the ground. He would likely have been warned by others, maybe Case or Soszyn, about the vital strategic importance of getting into the stairwell first or second, and he was set. When the starting horn sounded, Purcell blasted off the line and duly made it first through the door.

What exactly played out in the stairwell we don’t know. But the video below shows that by the 66th floor changeover, Konig was in front. He would hold onto that lead for the remaining 20 floors and cross the finish line in 10:44, slightly slower than his winning time the year before.

Purcell was just seven seconds back in 10:51, while Austrian tower running star Matthias Schreiner made it onto the ESBRU podium at the third attempt, although he suffered from his exertions. For the second year in a row, no American athlete made it into the top five.

1996 MATTIAS SCHREINER THIRD PLACE

Matthias Schreiner crumples at the finish line

Also running was Sports Illustrated journalist Michael Finkel. You can read his article on his experiences at the event here.

 

1996 Empire State Building Run-Up results

 

1997 – Konig and Soszyn go for three

The reigning ESBRU champions both came back to the event in 1997. Kurt Konig was aiming to join Al Waquie and Geoff Case in a small group of male winners with at least three titles. Belinda Soszyn was going for her third title in four years, hoping to take her place alongside Nina Kuscsik and Janine Aiello as three-time champions.

Konig would once again face off against David Osmond from Australia, who he had beaten by just nine seconds in 1995. Bernd Hammer was also racing, eager to make it onto the podium after his fourth place finish the year before. Matthias Schreiner was back, joined by another speedy Austrian called Rudolf Reitberger.

ESBRU veterans Brian McCauliff and Joe Kenny were also in attendance, no doubt keen to stop the growing pattern of American absence from the top five.

Kurt Konig clocked his fastest ever time to take his third win in a row. His 10:22 finish was the second-fastest time clocked in the building and was just four seconds off the course record set by Geoff Case in 1993.

1997 KONG BEST QUALITY

Kurt Konig, ESBRU champion 1995-1997

A two-horse race

With few of the familiar top-level women in attendance, the 1997 ESBRU women’s race was a straightforward battle between reigning champion Belinda Soszyn and 1996 third-place finisher Haruna Hosoya.

Although Hosoya clocked an 18-second PB to finish in 12:58 and become one of the few women to go sub-13 minutes, it was still some way off Soszyn’s winning time of 12:32.

‘The emotional feeling is, my God, that’s really great. Three is wonderful. Three is enough to stop at’, said Soszyn after her win. And she did stop. Soszyn would go out on top and never return to the ESBRU again.

 

1997 Empire State Building Run-Up results

Read the next installment in the series ‘A history of the Empire State Building Run-Up: 1998‘.

As construction on the Empire State Building meant the race course was shortened to 80 floors, an Australian stair climbing champion and his speedy sister-in-law battled to maintain a growing tradition of Aussie dominance at the event.

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the ESBRU covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-19831984-1987 or 1988-1990 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU between 1991 and 1993.

1991 – The course is shortened

The Empire State Building was opened in 1931, and so after 60 years of use it was due some renovations. One element of the planned works was to adapt the 86th floor observation deck to make it accessible to disabled visitors. That meant the traditional ESBRU finish out on the deck was out of the question, and so in 1991 the race would be run over a shortened course of 80 floors/1,430 steps.

129 runners (97 men and 32 women) turned up to the race, and with neither of the 1990 champions returning, the event was wide open. Reigning men’s champ, Scott Elliott, was out due to bone spurs, while Suzanne Malaxos hadn’t won (or possibly didn’t take part in) the Rialto Tower Run-Up which awarded the winners an all expenses paid trip to New York to race the ESBRU. Instead, a new pair of Aussie superstars were in New York.

Australian champions head for New York

On Sunday 7th October 1990, the fourth edition of the Rialto Tower Run-Up in Melbourne, Australia took place. As they had been since 1987, the winners of this event were awarded an all expenses paid trip to New York to race up the Empire State Building.

Former ESBRU champions Craig Logan (1988) and Robin Rishworth (1989) had seized their opportunity when it came. So had two-time champion Suzanne Malaxos (1989-1990). The winners of this fourth edition of the Rialto Tower Run-Up would have a lot to live up to.

Among those vying to be the next Aussie stair climbing sensations were two runners from the Geelong Cross Country Club. Geoff Case was an A-standard runner for the club, as was his sister-in-law Sue Case. Both were winners of the club’s ‘King Of the Mountains’ title, which was run at Ceres, the highest point in the city of Geelong.

Geoff had found out about the Rialto Run in 1988, after hearing that the coach of Aussie marathoner Steve Moneghetti (four-time Olympian, and World Championship bronze medallist in 1997) was taking part in this new and unusual event. He was instantly curious.

When registration for the 1989 edition came around he signed up. Setting off in a time-trial format, Case had to pass more than 40 other runners on his way to a sixth-place finish. ‘When I went home, I looked at the times and realised the five people in front of me were in the elite group and didn’t have to pass anyone,’ said Case.

‘I mean the guy who finished fifth had just beaten Rob de Castella [1983 marathon world champion] in a fun run two weeks earlier. I realised then I was competing against the elite and it excited me a lot.’

Just a month later Geoff began training in earnest, specifically with the 1990 Rialto Tower race in mind. He was soon doing 13 sessions a week, including cycling to Lorne [approx. 40 miles from his home in Highton] and back, running up and down Queens Park hill 10 times and running to the top of the You Yangs [a mountainous area north of Geelong] and around its base. Joining him for a lot of this training was his sister-in-law Sue.

When the pair got to Melbourne that Sunday in October 1990, they were unstoppable, and they both took first place in their divisions in the race up 53 floors (Geoff’s winning time was 7:23).

1991 CASE WINS RIALTO RUN

Hard work pays: Geoff Case winning the 1990 Rialto Tower Run-Up

Following the event, the Rialto Tower management opened the building to the Cases, and so every Thursday from October 1990 to February 1991 they added specific stair running sessions to their already packed training schedule in preparation for the Empire State Building Run-Up.

1991 WINNER CASE TRAINS WITH 2ND PLACE LADY

Sue and Geoff Case training on the stairs of the Rialto Tower, in preparation for ESBRU 1991

When the Cases made it to New York, they had every reason to be confident. Training had gone well, and although there were a lot of strong athletes and experienced stair climbers racing, there was no clear favourite in either the men’s or women’s race.

The ever-present Joe Kenny, who had second and third-place ESBRU finishes to his name, was back again to try and finally win the title. Previous top-five finishers Brian McCauliff and Daniel Glickenhaus were in contention, too. Also on the start line, but not expected to be near the top finishers, was Scott Haley, the son of Bill Haley of Rock Around the Clock fame. Bill Haley had died almost exactly 10 years before, and Scott said, ‘He was blind in one eye and could never participate in sports. Music became a way for him to have an impact. He would have been proud of me for doing this.’

It was Geoff Case who took the win in a time of 10:13 (keep in mind it was on a shorter course of 80 floors). Unfortunately, post-race reporting of the 1991 ESBRU was really limited and we were unable to find a single image of the start or finish (but read on to see video footage of the event).

In second place was Brian McCauliff in 10:25, with Joe Kenny taking third in 10:41.

Asked why does he do it, Case said, ‘It’s just the recognition to myself and the friends back home,’ he said. ‘It was to do just what I’ve been doing in training. It’s fantastic.’

‘We take out timber windows and put in aluminum,’ he said. ‘So, I’m up and down ladders all the time,’

He described the first few floors of the race as a ‘mad scramble with arms legs going everywhere. You had to say ‘excuse me, excuse me,’ you had to shove a little bit.’

A runaway winner in the women’s race

Lining up with Sue Case on the start line was mountain running champion J’ne (pron. Janie) Day-Lucore, who was a two-time Pikes Peak Ascent champion (1989-1990) and course record holder.

The 1985 third-place finisher, Gillian Horovitz, was there, too. British-born Horovitz (nee Adams) was a serious marathoner throughout the 1980s. In 1980 she won the Paris Marathon, and came third at the Boston Marathon and Tokyo Marathon. She also came third at the London Marathon in 1981. She would eventually go on to take fourth at the Commonwealth Games marathon in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, showing brilliant longevity in a hugely accomplished career. Years later she would successfully battle ovarian cancer, too.

Another strong competitor looking to deny Sue Case the title was 1990 second-place finisher Corliss Spencer, and she was coming in really strong. In November 1990 she had won the United States Biathlon Federation national championship (biathlon aka duathlon – run/cycle/run – rather than skiing/shooting) in Central Park. She had also won the Central Park triathlon earlier in 1990.

Spencer would go on to take the win, finishing in 11:32, a clear 44 seconds ahead of Sue Case (12:16). Gillian Horovitz secured her second podium finish at ESBRU with a time of 12:53.

‘My bike racing skills helped, since a bike race builds the same muscles you need to climb stairs,’ said the new champion, Spencer.

 

1991 Empire State Building Run-Up results

 

1992 – Case aims for back-to-back wins

Geoff Case returned in 1992 to defend his title. He had earned his spot by winning a race up the 1,504-step Sydney Tower in October 1991.

When he took the start line at ESBRU on Thursday 13th February, alongside 96 other men, he had five straight stair race wins to his name, and was in blistering form.

The usual suspects of the last few years were alongside him – Joe Kenny, Daniel Glickenhaus and Brian McCauliff.

Case was a clear winner in 9:33 (the race was up the shorter course of 80 floors). He was followed, as he had been the year before, by McCauliff in 9:59, while Steve Richards from Boulder, Colorado took third in 10:36.

1992 GEOFF CASE FINISHING

Geoff Case crosses the line for his second ESBRU win

‘It was a bit hairy there for a second’ said Case, describing how he tripped on the first step after entering the stairwell and narrowly avoided being trampled. At about the 40th floor, Case said he knew he was going to win.

‘After 10 floors you’re in that pain. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing 50 or 80 floors’, said the two-time champ. ‘There are a hundred guys stronger than me…Maybe I’m hungrier than everyone else…A good head is the key. If the mind goes, the body stops.’

Day-Lucore takes victory in the women’s race

J’ne Day-Lucore took the win in the women’s division in 12:00. That was a massive 87-second improvement on the the time that had earned her sixth place the year before. Already a two-time winner and record holder of the Pikes Peak Ascent, she would go on to win that race again later in 1992 and one last time in 1993.

Her nearest rival among the other 22 women racing was the youngest runner, 20-year old Australian Diane Nash. Like Case, Nash had earned her place at ESBRU by winning the Sydney Tower race a few months before. The impressive Gillian Horovitz was third in 12:47.

There was limited coverage of the 1992 ESBRU, although there is a video below with some race footage and the winners finishing (apologies for the poor quality). Publications that had previously ran fairly large post-race spreads were now limited to a few lines. Where there was more extensive coverage, it tended to be in smaller, local newspapers and focused on charity runners and the causes they were running for. The early nineties seem to be the start of a general decline in interest in the event as a sporting spectacle. The same level of media treatment of tower running can be seen today. Whether interest rose again later in the decade, or in the noughties, is to be seen.

 

1992 Empire State Building Run-Up results

 

1993 – The Cases return to New York

There remains a small amount of confusion about what length the course was in 1993. We’ve seen results listed, on Wikipedia or other blogs for example, with asterisks and footnotes saying that from 1991-1994 the course was shortened to 80 floors. In 1991, 1992 and 1994 the race was definitely run on that shortened course of 1,430 steps. But some reliable newspaper reports from 1993 say that that year it was run up the traditional 86 floors. The video below shows it was an indoor finish, but the finish line looks to be in a different place to that in the 1991 video, suggesting it’s not on the 80th floor. The finishing times also back up the argument that it took place over the full length course.

All of this leads us to believe that it was almost certainly run up the full 86 floors/1,576 steps, but ended inside because the outdoor observation area was inaccessible – similar to the weather-induced internal finish in 2014. If anyone has information to fully clarify this, we’d welcome it.

Sue Case looks to settle scores

After her second-place ESBRU finish in 1991, Sue Case went away and regrouped. She didn’t make it to New York in 1992, but she was back in Australia training hard. As the end of 1992 approached, her hard work began paying off.

She raced the Sydney Tower Run in September, and was up against Tani Buckle, who had won the marathon silver medal at the 1990 Commonwealth Games competing for Australia. Elite triathlete Belinda Soszyn was there, too.

Case cleared them all out, finishing ahead of second-place Buckle by over 30 seconds and setting a new course record in the process. This win earned her a trip to New York to take part in ESBRU 1993.

A few weeks later, in October ’92, she was back at the familiar Rialto Tower in Melbourne. She set a new course record there as well, taking a massive 35 seconds off the previous best time.

Lining up in the lobby of the Empire State Building on Tuesday 16th February, alongside 25 other elite women, she was full of confidence. 1992 champion J’ne Day-Lucore was there, as was 1991 champion Corliss Spencer. Canadian cycling team member Debbie (Prapti) Jensen was sure to be among those challenging for top spot as well.

But for Case, it didn’t matter. She was unstoppable; destroying her rivals and winning by over a minute. She finished in 12:42, ahead of former collegiate runner Kathy Swanson in 13:44 and Corliss Spencer in 13:57.

1993 sue case wins

Sue Case wins the Empire State Building Run-Up 1993

Case said she had a slight problem breathing in the stairwell. ‘The stairwell is hardly used and so the dust gathers there’, she said. ‘But still, winning is such a lovely sensation.’

Joining her at the finish line was her husband, and Geoff’s brother, Brian. He had raced in the men’s division, finishing in 12:41. ‘We do a lot of hill climbing, but mainly it’s running up the stairwell at the Rialto’, said Brian, when asked how they train.

‘The stairwell there [at Rialto] has concrete steps because its a newer building, where as here the steps are made from wood, so it’s a little easier on the knees’, added Sue.

Geoff Case goes for three-in-a-row

As he had the year before, Geoff Case earned a flight to New York and entry to ESBRU by winning the Sydney Tower Run in September 1992, and setting a new course record. He had also come third in the Rialto Run-Up a few weeks later.

The line-up in the men’s race at ESBRU 1993 was truly international, peppered with non-American athletes. It included Irishmen, Brits, additional Australians, a Spaniard, Norwegians, an Austrian and Canada’s Harreson Martell and David Wiseman.

Geoff had spent the whole year building up to the event, dedicating himself to securing three ESBRU titles. It would have taken a massive performance from his rivals to deny him a third win, and the task was beyond them all.

He secured victory in a new course record of 10:18. Behind him was fellow Australian Glen Davison in 10:43 (Davison went on to win the NYRR 10km Bagel Run a few days later in 30:41). Third place went to Norwegian alpine skiier, Tore Olsen.

After the race, a celebratory Case said, ‘This is the toughest building I’ve raced in, but this was the easiest race for me. I was prepared, I knew I’d get what I wanted. By the 34th floor I knew I was in command. If someone challenged me then I could just pick up the pace.’

1993 GEOFF FINAL FINISH

Three-sy does it: Geoff Case wins his third ESBRU title

The Cases would not return to the Empire State Building again. A new breed of stair runners, including Terry Purcell and Belinda Soszyn, soon began dominating in Sydney and Melbourne, to become the new Australian representatives at ESBRU during the rest of the 1990s.

1993 winners better

Stair Cases: the winners show off the spoils of victory

The video below is footage from the race, plus an interview with the two winners. You can see both Sue and Geoff making it first into the stairwell in the respective mass starts. At the 21-second mark you see Geoff grabbing a water at the 66th-floor.

 

 

1993 Empire State Building Run-Up results

 

Read on to find out what happened at the ESBRU 1994-1997.

In 1988 an Australian stair running champion arrived at the Empire State Building Run-Up, and in doing so he would kick start a long tradition of Aussie dominance at the event.

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the ESBRU covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-1983, or 1984-1987, instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU between 1988 and 1990.

1988 – The Aussies arrive

On Sunday 2nd August 1987 the first Rialto Tower Run-Up took place in Melbourne, Australia. As the event had been inspired by the ESBRU, the organisers offered the fastest man and woman an all-round trip to New York, plus entry to the 1988 Empire State Building Run-Up.

Challenging for the top prize that Sunday were two-time Olympic marathoner (1976/1980) Chris Wardlaw, steeplechase champion Craig Logan, who also had a sub-30-minute 10km time, and mountain runner Robin Rishworth.

In the end it was Logan who was fastest up the 54-floor Rialto Tower in 7:28. He was getting married in January 1988 and was going to use his free trip to New York as a honeymoon. He’d make time for the ESBRU.

On Wednesday 17th February 1988 Logan was on the start line alongside 78 other men, ready to battle it out for the 11th ESBRU title – plus an Apple computer from the race sponsors. Alongside him were Joe Kenny, who was third the year before, Daniel Glickenhaus who had been fourth, and two-time champion Jim Ochse (1980 and 1982). Five-time champion Al Waquie did not return to defend his title. He told organisers he couldn’t get the time off work, but surely his troublesome knee also played a factor in him checking out on top.

Logan blasted off the start line and into the stairwell ahead of all the others. He would not relinquish the lead the whole way up, reaching the top of the 1,576 steps in 11:29.

1988 ESBRU

He held off a challenge from Joe Kenny, who you can see in the photo below was just yards behind, finishing in 11:32.

1988 craig logan finish 2

As they had done for the previous few years, The Indianapolis News ran a detailed post-race report on Joe Kenny’s experience at the ESBRU.

‘I had him in my sights all the way’, Kenny told reporter Mike Davis, ‘I just ran out of floors.’

Kenny was around the 18th person into the stairwell. ‘There was a huge pileup of bodies at the start, but I paced myself pretty well, and by the 20th floor crossover I was sixth. It was just like a regular race – I was in control, passing people and even keeping track of my splits.

‘Last year I just died at the 50th floor and was in agony the whole last way. This time was different, though.’ At the 65th floor, he [Kenny] moved past the top woman and found out he was only six seconds behind Logan. ‘I thought, ”I’ll get this guy”, but he was just too strong.’

1988 craig logan finish photo

The agony of victory – 1988 ESBRU champ Craig Logan suffers at the finish line

For his part, Logan said, ‘I’m probably just good at running up stairs. I was ahead all the way. I got in the stairwell first and stayed in front’. But he admitted ‘it gets a bit boring going around, and around, and around.’ The Rialto Tower race had been Logan’s only previous stair climb and he said ‘that one felt harder’.

A former champion returns in the women’s division

Janine Aiello, course record holder and champion in 1985 and 1986, returned to tie Nina Kuscsik’s record of three titles in the women’s division.

She was preparing for the 1988 US Olympic marathon trials in May, but took time out of her training schedule to fly in from San Francisco and win in 13:42.

1988 winners together

She pointed out that running stairs isn’t a formal part of her marathon training, and that she enters the ESBRU ‘for the fun of it.’ ‘It doesn’t interfere with my training plans. The only thing is that I like to emphasise aerobic racing. Because you run up steps in the Empire, it’s like an anaerobic event and can be too tiring for many runners’.

‘I knew I had to take it easy in the beginning and let people go out and kill each other for the first 10 or 20 floors…I love this race because it’s a true challenge in every sense of the word…It feels easier every year. You just battle gravity the whole way…The idea of running up a building – it’s really kind of crazy.’

 

 

Full 1988 ESBRU results – some results may differ from report due to differences in rounding up/down

1989 – The Rise of the Aussies

The women’s division of the Melbourne Rialto Tower Run 1988 was won by Suzanne Malaxos. That earned her a spot at ESBRU 1989 and set up a clash of champions; as joining her on the start line in New York on Thursday 9th February was defending ESBRU title holder Janine Aiello. Alongside them were 16 other women.

Malaxos, 27, absolutely destroyed the women’s course record by 49 seconds, winning in a time of 12:24. Aiello took second place.

‘I was fourth in the door and passed one girl virtually straight away, and passed the first two at about the 20th floor and led from then on’, Malaxos said.

‘She [Aiello] had the upper hand and few of the others had previous experience. Once you get on the stairs it is every man for himself, but I guess today was my day. I broke the record by [almost] one minute and that capped it off really nicely. You get into a bit of a rhythym and when you are winning you forget about how much it hurts.’

In the men’s event it was another Australian, 23-year old mountain runner Robin Rishworth, who was victorious among a field of 76 other men. He had earned his spot at the ESBRU by smashing the course record at the Rialto Run-Up in Melbourne a few months before. His winning time at the ESBRU was 11:08.

1989 WINNERS

Advance Australia Fair – Rishworth and Malaxos hug it out with King Kong

With no American winner in either the men’s or women’s race, media coverage the following day was fairly reduced. There were no finish line photos to be found, and just a couple of detailed reports on the event.

Full 1989 ESBRU results – some results may differ from report due to differences in rounding up/down.

1990 – The course record finally falls

On Tuesday 13th February 1990, 110 competitors (91 men and 19 women) took part in the 13th edition of the Empire State Building Run-Up.

1990 mass start

Defending champion Suzanne Malaxos (above centre, wearing #101) was back over from Australia, having won the Rialto Run-up again in 1989.

Malaxos wins Rialto 1989 to enter 1990 esbru

Suzanne Malaxos on her way to winning the 1989 Rialto Tower Run-Up, to earn a spot at ESBRU 1990

Among the tough women she would be facing off against was triathlete, and soon-to-be USA national duathlon champion, Corliss Spencer.

In the end it turned out to be a bit of a one-way contest as Malaxos went sub-13 minutes for the second time in a row, and just three seconds shy of the course record she set the previous year. Her winning time was 12:27. Corliss Spencer was second in 13:10 and J. Hallwood-Miller finished third in 14:51.

The men’s event was a far more competitive affair.

Robin Rishworth returned to have a shot at two wins in a row. But he would be facing some serious competition.

Alongside him on the start line was an outstanding and versatile athlete called Scott Elliott. A runner with a 4:08 mile time and a multi-time winner of the Pikes Peak Half Marathon, Elliott was clocking between 80-100 miles a week in the rarefied air of Boulder, Colorado in the build up to the ESBRU. He even had stair climbing experience, having received an invite to the event after winning a stair race in Denver.

Elliott completely blew the opposition away and broke Pete Squires course record, which has stood since 1981. By finishing in 10:47, he became only the second man to have ever finished the race in under 11 minutes (Squires had managed it by less than half a second). He started some way back from the early leaders but paced himself well, picking off racers and eventually taking the lead at the 76th floor.

Robin Rishworth ran a brilliant race, setting a new PB of 11:02, but it wasn’t enough to stop Elliott. The ever-present Joe Kenny was on the podium again with an 11:24 finishing time. Brian McCauliff (11:26) and Andy Hampsas (11:49) completed the top five.

‘It’s a tough race, and it requires more oxygen,’ Elliott said. ‘It’s a madhouse at the start,’ he added, having got caught in the middle of the pack as runners entered the stairwell.

‘I’m pretty confident about breaking (the record again),’ Elliott said. ‘The slow start might have cost me a few seconds. I think I can chop another 10 or 20 seconds off.’

Elliott and Malaxos said they’d be back in 1991 to defend their titles.

1990 aussies

Rishworth (2nd) and Malaxos (1st) celebrating at the finish line with the Australian flag

 

Full 1990 ESBRU resultssome results may differ from report due to differences in rounding up/down

Read the next installment in the series ‘A history of the Empire State Building Run-Up: 1991-1993

One man cemented his legacy at the Empire State Building Run-Up between 1984 and 1987, and the women’s course record was chopped down more than once.

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the ESBRU covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or read the second installment covering 1981-1983.

Otherwise keep following the story and read on to find out what happened at ESBRU between 1984 and 1987.

1984 – The women’s course record falls

The seventh edition of ESBRU took place on Thursday 1st March 1984. There were 28 men and nine women racing, and the oldest competitor in attendance was 72-year old Chico Scimone. As they had done since 1981, the women set off 86 seconds ahead of the men, one second for every floor of the race course.

In the women’s race, reigning champion Burke Koncelik returned to defend her title. The second and third place finishers from last year’s event, Isabelle Carmichael and Inez McLean, also returned.

It was Carmichael who came out victorious in a new record time of 13:32, beating the previous best time of 13:34.

1984 cARMICHAEL WINS

Isabelle Carmichael sets a new women’s course record at ESBRU 1984

In second place was Inez McLean (13:46), while 1983 champion Burke Koncelik came third (13:53).

‘What a gas’, Carmichael said after the race, which she called ‘wacky’. ‘Normally I try to avoid running up steps whenever I can.’

1984 Carmichael

Carmichael shows off her winner’s trophy

She told reporters the worst effect of the climb is a very sore throat from gulping dry and not-too-fresh air in the narrow stairwell.

1984 womens winner

Carmichael was featured in Sports Illustrated after her win

 

Waquie attempts to defend his title

Once again the men’s field was packed full of talent. Reigning champion Al Waquie was back to defend his title. Two-time winner Jim Ochse was there again. Gary Fanelli, who would go on to run the marathon at the 1988 Olympics (for American Samoa) was also in the mix, as was Bruce Sherman, who at the time was six years into his now 40-year streak of running at least three miles every day.

1984 START LINE

After heading into the stairwell in first place, followed by Ochse, Waquie went on to make light work of the opposition, taking his second win in a row in a personal best time of 11:29. In second place was Gary Fanelli (12:10) and Bruce Sherman finished third (12:41).

1984 waquie finishline

‘I want to keep going until I’m undefeated’, said the 32-year old Waquie.

1984 WINNERS

Waquie and Carmichael with their winner’s trophies

Full results of the Empire State Building Run-Up 1984

1984 complete results

 

1985 – Waquie aims for three-in-a-row

The seventh edition of ESBRU took place on Thursday 14th February 1985. 47 official runners took part, and two others snuck into the stairwell and ran to the top. Among those at the start line was 37-year old amputee Patrick Griskus, who was running 50 miles a week with an artificial left leg.

1985 mass start

Waquie (above #1) took the lead at the 30th floor and remained in front all the way to the top, which he reached in 11:42. Finishing close behind was New York firefighter Timothy McCauley (left of Waquie in #5 and FDNY t-shirt) in 11:59. Kenneth Stone was third in 12:06.

1985 WAQUIE FINISH

Al Waquie makes it three ESBRU titles in a row

‘It just takes practice, that’s all’, said Waquie. ‘A lot of hard work back home paid off here’.  According to the three-time champion, the key to the race is obtaining good running room by getting past other racers at the beginning. ‘I’ll be in good shape if I take the lead’, he said. The next major difficulty occurs around the 37th floor, where he begins to feel the uphill strain in his legs, but when he starts hearing people below, he gets his second wind.

Following presentation of the winner’s award, Waquie chanted an Indian song for race officials.

Women’s course record is broken

For the second year in a row, the women’s course record was broken. This time it was 25-year old Janine Aiello from San Francisco – a 10km specialist with times in the low 34 minutes – who did it in a time of 13:14. Aiello called the race ‘the most fantastic I’ve ever run’.

1985 JANINE AIELLO FINISH BEST

Record-breaker Janine Aiello crosses the line in 13.14

It was intense’, said Aiello. ‘I went into oxygen debt about halfway through, but I was feeling it only in my lungs, not my legs. It was a physical race because I used my arms a lot on the handrails. I sprinted right at first so I’d have room to run. I took the steps one at a time at first, then two steps at a time, then back to one when I got tired’.

Diedra O’Farrely placed second in 13:31, and Gillian Horovitz was third.

 

1986 – Waquie goes for a record fourth win

The eighth ESBRU took place on Thursday 20th February 1986, with a field of 48 runners (37 men, 11 women).

Al Waquie was back to defend his crown and attempt to push past Nina Kuscsik (1979-81), with whom he held the joint record for most ESBRU wins.

1986 Al Waquie training

Al Waquie training in May, 1985

Waquie made it four wins from four by reaching the 86th floor in a new personal best time of 11:26.

1986 Waquie win photo

Al Waquie makes it four straight wins

He was trailed by Kenneth Stone in second, who improved on his third-place finish the previous year. In third was Gary Fanelli (second in 1984) and fourth place went to Timothy McCauley, who was the runner-up in 1985.

‘The roughest part was the start’, Waquie told assembled journalists at the top. ‘I had to struggle my way through the crowd, but I did it’.

1986 stairwell battle

Runners battle it out at ESBRU 1986

Aiello returns to defend her title

Janine Aiello came back to New York to attempt to retain her ESBRU title and make a push on the course record she had set in 1985.

1986 womens start

The women’s start at ESBRU 1986 – Aiello is second from the right, against the wall

While she managed to take a second win, the course record eluded her. She finished in 13:18.32 (rounded up to 13:19 in all reports), five seconds off her record time.

1986 finish line janine aiello

Aiello admitted to being disappointed at falling short of a new record, but said ‘I still feel great’.

1986 winners photo together

Janine Aiello and Al Waquie – ESBRU winners 1986

Al Waquie 1986

Empire State Building Run-Up 1986 results

1986 results

1987 – Five is the magic number

By the time the 10th edition of the Empire State Building Run-Up came around on Thursday 12th February 1987, the race was no longer being described as a novelty event and it had grown in stature. Race reports were taking on a more serious tone, devoid of quips. The event itself was growing, too, and the 1987 edition had by far the largest field ever assembled in all the years it had run.

88 runners (70 men and 18 women) took part in the race, and the men’s field was so large, that for the first time it had to be split into two waves.

The first wave of men included defending champion Al Waquie, who was going for his fifth win in a row. Up against him was Joe Kenny, who interestingly was described in some reports as a ‘stair climber’. Of course, there were others in the competition who had stair race experience and could arguably be described as ‘stair climbers’, but their tower running usually played second fiddle to other disciplines, be it triathlon, cycling or road or mountain running.

Kenny already had three year’s stair climbing experience before he stepped up to compete at ESBRU. In 1986 he had won the Bop to the Top in Indianapolis (a feat he would go onto repeat from 1987-90) and set the course record. The weekend before ESBRU he had won a race up 31 floors in Austin, Texas. He knew what he was doing.

In Waquie’s four previous wins, he had gone up against some incredible athletes, but most of them were racing stairs for the first time. They lacked experience in pacing and stair climbing technique. Of course Waquie was learning on the fly as well – stair racing just once a year – but his extraordinary conditioning, forged in the mountains of New Mexico, took him beyond his rivals every time. But how would he fare against an experienced elite stair climber?

Another factor was the inclusion of a second wave. Other strong contenders were running in that wave, including Ken Stone, who had finished second the year before. So even if Waquie managed to hold off the challenge of Joe Kenny, he was still running blind and would have to wait to see the times of those who followed after him.

The final thing that cast serious doubt on Waquie’s attempt to make it five wins on the trot, was a knee injury he had sustained in July 1986. It had prevented him from running properly for seven months. How much of an impact would that have on his race?

Kenny blasted off from the start line, hoping to ‘shatter’ Waquie’s confidence by running hard at the start. But he was third through the door, behind Waquie, into the stairwell, and it took 20 floors to get past the two ahead of him and into the lead.

‘There is a crossover at the 20th floor and I was really pumped up’, said Kenny. ‘Once I got around them I just blasted up the stairs. By the 40th or so I passed the top woman. I was by myself halfway up, but I really started hurting.’

Waquie’s knee injury was hindering him and Kenny took full advantage. ‘I knew it was going to be slow after the 23rd floor,’ Waquie said after the race. ‘My knee was bothering me from about the 23rd to the 43rd floor’. But the reigning champion soldiered on, chasing the leaders.

The roar of spectators at the 65th floor crossover alerted Kenny that the defending champion was close behind, but he thought he could hold him off. Waquie had different ideas. At the 72nd floor he had Kenny and another climber in his sights, and he showed them both why he was a four-time champion.

‘He just blasted by me at the 72nd floor’, Kenny said. ‘I was one whipped puppy, anyway. I was just hanging on for dear life’.

‘Al’s a record holder at the Pikes Peak Marathon and you could really see that experience pay off. I think he stayed back at the start and saved his big move for the end. He really knows those stairs’

Waquie finished the last 14 floors strongly and reached the top in 11:56, his slowest ever winning time.

1987 Waquie finish

Al Waquie – five-time ESBRU champion 1983-1987

‘My legs were getting weak and heavy’, the champion said, ‘but later on I started feeling stronger again’.

Ken Stone won the second heat in a time of 12:22, which was quick enough to give him second place overall. Joe Kenny finished behind Waquie in 12:29, placing him third overall. Daniel Glickenhaus took fourth in 12:33 and Jeff Loureiro rounded out the top five with a 12:41 finish.

Despite falling short of his goal of winning ESBRU, Joe Kenny said ‘It was a great experience, and I’m really getting psyched for Indianapolis. There is no pushing or shoving there!’

For Waquie, this would be his last appearance at ESBRU. His knee injury brought his elite-level running career to a halt. The mountain-running legend, two-time Pikes Peak Marathon winner and record holder, and seven-time winner of the La Luz Mountain Run, was now a five-time winner of the Empire State Building Run-Up. His status as a tower running superstar was set in stone. It would be another 16 years before his amazing achievements at ESBRU would be matched.

The women’s race is wide open

With no previous champions in attendance at the women’s event, the 1987 race was wide open for a newcomer to win. Marathoner Sharon Given was the pre-race favourite. The Wendle twins, Janet and Jill, triathletes from Florida would also be in contention. In July 1986, Janet had come third in the Liberty-to-Liberty triathlon that runs from New York to Philadelphia across a distance of 107 miles.

In the end it was a slow race; in fact it was the second slowest winning time ever at ESBRU (only Marcy Schwam was slower at the inaugural Run-Up). Janet Wendle took victory in 15:12.

1987 Wendle finishing line

Janet Wendle, ESBRU winner 1987

Sharon Given was next in 15:28 and third place was taken by Susan Denisolais in 15:37. Eileen O’Rourke (16:18) and Pamela Wyzykowski (16:24) completed the top five. Jill Wendle was sixth.

Janet Wendle said the experience was far different from the triathlons in which she is used to competing. ‘This is all sprint,’ she said. ‘About the 50th floor you feel like your heart will come out of your chest. A lot of it’s mental. You can’t really think about the steps. You can’t look up.’

1987 winners

1987 winners 2

1987 ESBRU Champions: Al Waquie and Janet Wendle

 

1987 Empire State Building Run-Up results

Read the next installment in the series ‘A history of the Empire State Building Run-Up: 1988-1990’.