Posts Tagged ‘Kurt Konig’

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‘.

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