Posts Tagged ‘Marco De Gasperi’

2009 men's start

In 2009, a controversial incident during the start of the ladies race led to one of the greatest comebacks in ESBRU history. In the men’s division, after the anti-climax of 2008, there was a much-anticipated re-run of the showdown between three-time winner Thomas Dold and mountain running star Marco De Gasperi.

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 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-19971998199920002001200220032004200520062007 or 2008 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU in 2009.

The rivalry continues

Just under three weeks after he won his third ESBRU title, Thomas Dold headed for Milan, Italy, for another showdown with Marco De Gasperi on Sunday 24th February 2008. The venue this time was the 710-step Pirelli Tower, which was hosting its second event.

De Gasperi had won the inaugural event at the tower in 2007 in 3:44. After the disappointment of his fall in the lobby of the Empire State Building Run-Up at the start of February, which had denied him a proper shot at Dold, he was eager to mount a challenge against the German on more familiar territory.

But disaster struck again. Two days before the race De Gasperi picked up an injury that ruled him out.

Even though the pre-race favourite was out, Dold certainly wasn’t guaranteed top spot. With mountain running stars such as Fabio Ruga and Alberto Gramegna on the start list, the young German would still have to work extremely hard for his win. And he did.

Dold reached the top in 3:30, setting a new course record and finishing a massive 14 seconds faster than De Gasperi had the year before.

Dold Pirelli 2008 winner

Thomas Dold crosses the line to set a new course record at the Pirelli Tower, Milan, Italy

Back in Germany

The next big race on the calendar for Dold was the SkyRun Berlin at the 770-step Hotel Park Inn at Alexanderplatz on Whit Monday, 12 May 2008.

He was going for his third win in a row at the tower. In 2007 he had beaten training partner Matthias Jahn by just 0.57 seconds, and with Jahn in attendance once more, Dold would need to be at his very best to secure the triple.

It took a record-breaking performance for him to win. He crossed the line in 3:14.2, with Jahn’s finishing time just 1.8 seconds slower.

BERP1_ParkInn-Berlin-ExteriorView

The Park Inn Hotel in Berlin

Subida Vertical Gran Hotel Bali

Next up was a trip to Benidorm, Spain to race up the 936-step Gran Hotel Bali on Saturday 17 May. Paul Crake had set the course record of 4:35 there back in 2003, at the first edition of the event, a few months after he set the ESBRU record.

Dold took the win in 4:40, trailed by Ignacio Cardona who finished in 4:58.

Dold Benidorm 2008

Greetings from Benidorm: Thomas Dold celebrates his fourth win from four starts in 2008

Less than a week later, on Friday 22nd May, Dold was home in Germany where he was aiming to secure back-to-back wins at the 850-step Stuttgart TV Tower.

He held off the challenge of Matthias Jahn to make it five wins from five starts in 2008.

Dold Stuttgart Tv Tower 2008

Thomas Dold celebrates his win at the Stuttgart TV Tower

Taipei 101 Run-Up 2008

The first three editions of the Taipei 101 Run-Up had been held in November, but in 2008 the race switched to the summer.

At the 2007 edition, Marco De Gasperi had created a shock when he won the prestigious race in his debut year of tower running. On that day he had beaten Dold by 17 seconds.

On Sunday 17 June 2008, the pair were back in Taiwan to do battle again. After the upset the year before, and then the question marks that lingered after the 2008 ESBRU, Dold was determined to make a statement that he was the best tower runner in the world.

He absolutely blitzed the 2,046-step course, becoming one of the only men to have run it in under 11 minutes. His winning time of 10:53 was a massive 46 seconds faster than De Gasperi’s second-place 11:39.

Taipei 101 Run Up Dold

Dold exits Taipei 101

Taipei 101 Run Up Dold4

Taipei 101 Run Up Dold3

Roar power: Dold cries out after winning Taipei 101 Run-Up 2008

Dold wins Taipei 101 Run Up 2008

Still undefeated after six events, 2008 was shaping up to be Dold’s most successful season to date.

Chasing records in Singapore

After a summer breaking his own world records for running 800m (2:31) and 1,000m (3:20) backwards, Dold returned to the stairs on Sunday 16 November to attempt to break the course record at Swissotel The Stamford in Singapore.

The record there had been set way back in 1989 by Balvinder Singh, who had run up the hotel’s 1,336 steps in 6:55.

Thomas Dold Singapore Vert Marathon 2008

Thomas Dold at the start line of the Swissotel The Stamford Vertical Marathon 2008

Dold managed to do what no one else had been able to in 18 previous editions. He shaved three seconds off Singh’s time, crossing the line on the rooftop finish in 6:52. The win earned him a trip to New York and a spot at the 2009 Empire State Building Run-Up.

The 2008 season had been an absolute triumph. Seven races, seven wins and three course records. Dold was in supreme form.

He would head into the Empire State Building Run-Up 2009 full of confidence. And he would need to be at his best, because the lobby in February would be packed full of talent.

Suzy Walsham: racing as a two-time champion

Also at the Swissotel Vertical Marathon was two-time ESBRU champion Suzy Walsham. Like Dold, she too had been enjoying a successful season up until that point

After securing her second Empire State Building Run-Up title in February, Walsham returned to her adopted home of Singapore and spent the rest of the year competing in road races in Asia.

In June, the Australian athlete took part in the Anlene Orchard Road Mile in central Singapore.

Walsham, who had won the inaugural race in 2007, retained her title with a speedy 4:39 finish.

walsham Orchard Mile winner 2008

Suzy Walsham (third from the left) celebrates winning the 2008 Anlene Orchard Mile

Walsham upped the distance to 10km the following month, as she lined up for the Shape Run in Singapore on Sunday 20 July. She clocked 35:18 to take first place.

On Sunday 10 August, she was in Bali, Indonesia, for another 10km road race. She put in another mammoth performance to set a new PB of 34:11 and take second place.

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Walsham with the rest of the top 5 women at the Bali 10km

In October the action returned to Singapore for the Great Eastern Women 10km event.

Walsham would be up against pre-race favourite Anintha Kiptum of Kenya, who held a 32:12 PB.

Although it was actually a slower race than anticipated, both women pushed themselves to the limit and paid for their exertions at the finish line.

Kiptum finished in 34:55, but collapsed shortly after and was later hospitalised.

Walsham followed 20 seconds later in 35:15, and was also in bad shape.

Walsham stagger

An exhausted Suzy Walsham begins to stagger at the finish line of the Women 10km

Walsham stagger 2

Supported by her partner David and a race official, Walsham is led away to the medical tent

Finishing the season on a high

Walsham was going for her third straight win at the Swissotel Vertical Marathon in November, the event at which she’d made her tower running debut in 2006.

Swissotel Vertical Marathon 2008

She duly came away with another win, reaching the rooftop finish in 8:19. Like Dold, she would now be heading back to New York to defend her title in February, 2009.

Her final race of 2008 was the Singapore Half Marathon on Sunday 7 December. Walsham put in a brilliant run to win in 1:17:42.

walsham singapore half marathon 2008

Suzy Walsham crosses the line to win the 2008 Singapore Half Marathon

The 2008 season had been an excellent display of athletic diversity by Walsham. She typically stayed away from longer distance races, because with her history of stress fractures and calf strains she feared the training volume required would take too heavy a toll. But she had pushed herself into running up to half-marathon distance and been rewarded for her hard work.

Still a relative newcomer to tower running, Walsham had barely focused on the stairs at all throughout the 2008 season. She was obviously in excellent shape, but would she be able to transfer that flat-level speed to the stairwell when she headed back to Manhattan to defend her title?

Empire State Building Run-Up 2009

So, the reigning champions were in New York for the 32nd edition of the ESBRU, but who else was in the building on Tuesday 3 February?

Four-time winner, Cindy Harris (née Moll) was back. She had finished second to Walsham in 2007 and 2008, and would be expected to provide one of the biggest challenges to the Australian.

Harris had been maintaining her stair climbing dominance throughout 2008, continuing her win streaks at the Hustle up the Hancock (where she set a new course record) and Sears Tower stair climbs in Chicago.

Just under two weeks before the ESBRU, she retained her title at the Bop to the Top event in her hometown of Indianapolis.

A couple of other former ESBRU champions were also in attendance.

The 1995 champion, Michelle Blessing, was in the building.

Michelle Blessing 2009 ESBRU

1995 winner Michelle Blessing at the 2009 ESBRU

So too was three-time winner Nina Kuscsik (1979-1981). Although neither would be in contention for a podium spot, it was good to see the former champions back for another run.

2009 Nina Kuscsik

Three-time winner Nina Kuscsik at the 2009 ESBRU

But three new faces would very likely be in contention for the podium.

In May 2008, Australian Jessamy Hosking had won the Australian Mountain Running Championship. She had placed second in those championships in 2006.

Jessamy Hosking

Jessamy Hosking

Three months later, she won the Sydney Tower Run-Up to earn herself a trip to New York to race at the ESBRU. She had been third there in 2007.

But five weeks before the ESBRU, Hosking had broken a bone in her toe and was unable to walk. She maintained her fitness with work on the bike and in the pool, and headed to New York in pain, but hoping for the best.

Italy’s Daniela Vassalli was another debutant Walsham and Harris would have to look out for.

An accomplished marathoner and mountain runner, Vasalli had recently turned her attention to tower running.

She had been the fastest woman at the Pirelli Tower in Milan back in February 2008, setting a new course record of 4:31.

Daniela Vassalli 2008 ESBRU

Daniela Vassalli

The final dark horse in the lobby was American runner Emily Kindlon. She had won the Run the Rock stair climb at the Rockefeller Center in 2007 and 2008. She would likely be in among the top finishers.

Emily Kindlon 2008

Emily Kindlon (with fellow winner Chris Solarz) at the 2008 Run the Rock

Another Italian, Cristina Bonacina, was also on the start line, as was ESBRU veteran Fiona Bayly.

Funnily, there was an Andrea Myers in the line up. Not sure if she got a shout out by the announcer in the lobby, but if she did it probably put a split-second jolt of shock through some, until they realised it wasn’t three-time champion and course record holder Andrea Mayr hiding at the back.

After her massive winning margin in 2008, Walsham was the obvious favourite. But the new faces added a touch of uncertainty to the proceedings. Overall it looked to have the ingredients for being a tight, competitive race.

As the starter’s claxon went, Walsham’s right foot gave way on the marble floor. Despite stumbling, she managed to stay on her feet, but Harris (and we believe Abby Woods on the far wall) got a jump on her and got out in front.

2009 womens start

Bridget Carlson (#106), Lynda Hubbard (108), Fiona Bayly (black gloves), Suzy Walsham (yellow vest), Daniela Vassalli (head visible above Walsham’s), Emily Kindlon (red vest along the far wall) and Cindy Harris out in front.

Walsham got upright again and drew alongside Daniela Vassalli. Neither was prepared to give an inch and their arms were catching each other as they vied for space.

Harris reached the door first, followed by Woods.

Next came the critical point of the race. With Walsham and Vassalli shoulder to shoulder, and only room for one to go through the door next, something had to give.

Walsham made a move to pass first, but Vassalli was having none of it.

She set her hand on Walsham’s shoulder and as the Australian went to make her pass, Vassalli shoved her hard out to the side. At the speed they were going, Walsham didn’t stand a chance. She lost her balance and smashed face first into the stone door frame, while Vassalli carried on and passed through the door in third place.

2009 ESBRU Walsham pushed

Suzy Walsham hits the deck after being pushed into the door frame by Daniela Vassalli

The following mass of runners ran into and over the prostrate Walsham. Eventually she was hauled to her feet by some of her competitors and bundled onto the stairs.

Walsham, her face already beginning to swell badly from the impact, and her clattered knee causing her serious pain, had a very quick decision to make. Pull out or carry on?

Of course the indomitable two-time champ soldiered on. She was now back in around 30th position, injured and in shock. Could she rein Harris and the other front runners back in before they got to the 86th floor?

Slowly but surely Walsham began to pass the women who had rushed pass her in the lobby.

2009 Cindy Harris

Cindy Harris out in front at the 2009 Empire State Building Run-Up

It took Walsham 50 floors before she caught up with Vassalli, who was chasing Harris and Hosking for top spot.

Revenge is sweet.

She passed the Italian and that was it. She wouldn’t let it slip now.

She powered on and caught up with Harris at around the 65th floor. An incredible show of determination, strength and will had led her to her third straight title.

Walsham crossed the line in 13:27, while Vassalli, who had surged pass Harris and Hosking in the final quarter of the race, finished 13 seconds back in 13:40.

Cindy Harris took third in 13:49 and Jessamy Hosking, with her broken foot, was fourth in 14:00. Emily Kindlon finished fifth in 14:22.

2009 Walsham finish2

2009 Walsham finish

Suzy Walsham wins the 2009 Empire State Building Run-Up

‘I thought, “What should I do? Do I stop or keep going?”‘, Walsham said after the race, holding an ice pack against her damaged knee.

‘I decided, I didn’t come all this way to pull out, so just did the best I could – power up. It was very hard. My knee was in a lot of pain and I was worried about my nose, that it was broken, but the adrenalin kicked in.’

2009 walsham trophy

Bruised but not beaten: a swollen-lipped Suzy Walsham holds up her winner’s trophy

Walsham’s fellow Australian, Jessamy Hosking, had also suffered throughout her climb.

‘I started off and I was in huge pain the whole way just hoping no one would step on my foot. I got to the top and I got 4th place. I was so happy, but so sore at the same time.’

Hosking would later refer to her fourth place finish with a broken foot as her most memorable athletic achievement.

Daniela Vassalli returned to a hero’s welcome in Italy. The athletics media was full of praise for the excellent debut run that got her on the podium. She would go on to win numerous stair races around the world over the following two or three years, including the inaugural NSPCC Gherkin Challenge in London in 2010.

In the immediate aftermath of the race, Walsham’s fall was still being considered an ‘accident’ and there was no mention of an intentional shove from Vassalli.

Daniela Vassalli 2008 ESBRU 2

Daniela Vassalli – second place at the 2009 ESBRU

But tellingly, Vassalli was never invited back to race at the ESBRU again. Perhaps somebody reviewed the footage or had been in the lobby and seen exactly what happened. *ed. note: pretty sure the race director became aware of the incident and I read that he said explicitly that Vassalli would never be invited to race the ESBRU again, but am currently unable to find the source for that.

The following year, padding was erected around the door frame to try and limit the danger of similar incidents.

Dold goes for a fourth straight win

There was some serious talent in the men’s division at the 2009 ESBRU.

Matthias Jahn, Dold’s training partner, was back. He’d finished second in 2007 and third in 2008. Could he go one better this year?

Matthias Jahn 2008 towerrunner

Matthias Jahn training in Franfurt in May, 2008

Also returning was American trail runner Rickey Gates. He had also been on the podium in 2007 and 2008, alternating positions with Jahn, while Dold took top honours.

It had been a mixed 12 months for Gates since his second place finish at the 2008 Run-Up.

A couple of weeks after the ESBRU he’d won the Run the Register stair race in Denver, Colorado.

Later in 2008 he had won trail and mountain races at home and abroad, and had placed an excellent 12th at the World Mountain Running Championships in September. But he had failed to defend the USA Trail Running Championships (10km) title he’d won in 2007, finishing in 17th place at the 2008 edition.

Rickey Gates 2008

Rickey Gates wins the 2008 Grintovec mountain race in Slovenia

Gates’ fellow Americans, Tim Donahue, Dan Casper, Eric Blake and David Tromp, were also in the lobby. They would all be hoping to make it into the top ten.

Dan Casper was a decorated track and road cyclist (as well as a fireman) who had finished in ninth place on his ESBRU debut in 2008.

Eric Blake, who was making his debut, was a mountain runner and marathoner. He had taken part in the 2004 US Olympic trials for the marathon and had also been part of the US team that took part in the World Mountain Running Championships in 2004-2006 and 2008.

In July, 2008, he had won the US Mountain Running Championship. He would be one to watch out for.

Eric Blake 2008 US champion

Eric Blake crosses the line to win the 2008 US Mountain Running Championship

Although Marco De Gasperi had been soundly beaten by Thomas Dold at the Taipei 101 Run-Up back in June 2008, the rest of his season had gone pretty well. He finished third at the European Mountain Running Championships in July and then eighth at the World Championships in September.

After the disappointment of the 2008 Run-Up, when he fell in the lobby and had to battle his way back from around 50th place to make it into the top 10, De Gasperi was hoping for much better luck this time around. All eyes were on him.

His Italian mountain running team mate, Emanuele Manzi, was on the start line as well.

Germany’s Christian Riedl, just starting out on his tower running journey, was making his ESBRU debut.

Javier Santiago from Mexico was back for the second time, looking to improve on the 16th place he’d earned in 2008.

Poland’s Tomasz Klisz was back for the sixth-straight time.

Other names that will be well familiar to many American stair climbers were also in attendance: Henry Wigglesworth, Paul Curley, Jeff Dinkin, Bruce Yang, Syd Arak, James Harris and Stephen Marsalese, to name a few.

From Australia, Scott McTaggart was back. In August 2008, he had won his third straight Sydney Tower Run-Up title, earning himself a trip to the ESBRU.

He’d also won his fourth straight Australian Mountain Running crown a few months before, so was in fantastic shape.

He had made a brilliant debut in New York the year before, finishing fourth. Could he get on the podium this time around?

1980 and 1982 ESBRU winner, Jim Ochse, was also in the building that morning, although not in the elite wave. He had taken part in the preliminary wave that ran at 9am (90 minutes before the elite women set off), with his 16:18 finish earning him 11th place there.

A lesson in the perfect ESBRU start

On the start line, Marco De Gasperi had sensibly positioned himself right out to the side, to avoid getting tripped by the charging runners behind him. But it meant he pretty much gave up getting through the door first.

To his left was cyclist Dan Casper, who had US mountain runner Eric Blake (bib #2 in the final video at the bottom of the story) just off his left shoulder.

Next along were Matthias Jahn and Thomas Dold. Scott McTaggart (red vest in the final video at the bottom) was on Dold’s left-hand side.

Rickey Gates, Tim Donahue, Duncan Lonsdale (who finished in 17:08 and should have been nowhere near the front) and Paul Curley made up the rest of the front row.

In a comical moment in the final video below (@0:11-0:16), the announcer calls out, ‘From Austria…Rudolf Reitberger’.

Matthias Jahn and Thomas Dold have a WTF? moment as they whip their heads around looking to find the two-time champion. Of course, he wasn’t there. Rudi still got a nice round of applause though.

2009 men's start

Marco De Gasperi (#37), Dan Casper, Matthias Jahn (3), Thomas Dold, Rickey Gates, Tim Donahue (in gloves and visor), Paul Curley

As always, master starter Thomas Dold reached the door first. It’s really interesting to watch the start in slow motion (0.25 playback speed on the final YouTube video at the bottom). Dold looks totally unprepared. He’s standing upright, no forward lean like his rivals and he looks relaxed. All the others are tensely staring straight ahead waiting to hear the claxon.

Dold, instead, is watching the starter (far right of the screen). At 0:22 seconds into the final video you see the starter’s arm going up with the claxon in hand. Watch Dold’s eyes track the hand up to the highest point. He then lets his weight fall forward and is already almost through pushing off his back foot as the claxon sounds.

Compare his footwork with Rickey Gates, two along from him (to the right as you look at it). Dold is almost on his third step before Gates has fully finished his first.

It’s actually masterful, and watching it this way it’s clear why Dold almost invariably made it to the door first in every ESBRU race he won. That, coupled with the spread out arms holding others back, of course.

Is it a truly false start? There’s a lot of twitching going on on the front line – Matthias Jahn also appears to jump the gun. It wouldn’t wash at an IAAF event that’s for sure.

Dold was followed through the door by Dan Casper, Matthias Jahn, Tim Donahue and Marco De Gasperi, in that order.

Just behind them, Rickey Gates had been twisted sideways by passing runners and then his legs had gone from under him. He hit the deck, with Scott McTaggart almost being taken out as well. You can see the incident beginning at 0:24 in the video below (slow it down).

Fortunately for Gates he landed on his backside and just slides along the floor right to the doorway, where he pops back up again. McTaggart did well to not go down, and you can see the mini-pause at the door as McTaggart braces against the following runners to give Gates time to get up properly.

2008 ESBRU mens lobby

Thomas Dold reaches the door first, followed by Dan Casper (#6), Matthias Jahn (3), Tim Donahue (7) and Marco De Gasperi (37). In the centre you can see Rickey Gates (87) turned sideways and heading for the floor.

2009 ESBRU men at door

The fast and frenetic battle for the door at the 2009 Empire State Building Run-Up

By the 20th floor (where we believe the image below was shot), Gates had picked up at least one place as he hunted down Dold and the other front runners.

He’s followed by Scott McTaggart, while Tim Donahue can be seen coming into the picture.

Rickey Gates ESBRU 2009

Rickey Gates, Scott McTaggart and Tim Donahue

Up ahead, Thomas Dold was running the race of his life. Marco De Gasperi was bringing out the very best in him.

At around the 40th floor, Dold caught up with the back end of the women’s wave that had been set off five minutes before the men.

The German, who led from the start, had to weave his way through scores of runners as he chased his fourth title.

Thomas Dold ESBRU 2009

Dold weaves through a crowd during the second half of the race

It’s a shame the organisers didn’t leave 10 minutes between the women’s and men’s wave, because it’s quite possible that given a clear run Dold could have become the second person (after Paul Crake) to have finished in under 10 minutes.

He pulled away from De Gasperi and the chasing Rickey Gates in the final quarter of the race to cross the finish line in 10:07. He had taken a second off the personal best time he set in 2008.

2009 Thomas Dold finish

Thomas Dold 2009 ESBRU finish

Marco De Gasperi finished second in 10:29. Rickey Gates made it back onto the podium for the third year in a row by finishing third in 10:40.

De Gasperi and Dold ESBRU 2009

Marco De Gasperi congratulates Thomas Dold

Thomas Dold 2009 Empire State Building Run Up

‘This is such a special win for me,’ said Dold. ‘You have to train a lot to get a victory like this, and it gets harder every year—lots of guys want it.’

2009 Dold celebrates

Thomas Dold celebrates his fourth ESBRU win

Dold had to fight to hold onto the finish tape he took as a souvenir. In the video below (posted by Javier Santiago who finished in ninth place), you can see Santiago’s finish (he crashes into reporters as Dold is being interviewed) and then you see the doorman trying to yank the finishing tape out of Dold’s hands as he heads back inside.

2009 winners colour

Empire State Building Run-Up 2009 winners – Suzy Walsham and Thomas Dold

This is a really good video from NYRR and has some different angles of the start, plus more in-race footage than the one underneath it. You can see Walsham running at 1:20-1:35, and you can watch Thomas Dold working his way past some of the slower finishing ladies at 1:44-1:52.

This final video is the one that was referenced throughout this piece, i.e. where you can see Dold’s start and Rickey Gates’ fall, etc.

 

2009 Empire State Building Run-Up results

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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.’

2007 skyrun berlin Dold

Dold lays down exhausted after winning the SkyRun Berlin

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

Read the next installment in the series – the 2009 Empire State Building Run-Up.