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A pair of Kenyan runners pull off upsets at Sierre-Zinal

This is the first time in the race's 23-year history that runners from Africa have won

mark kangogo Photo by: AlexFPV Photography

On a warm Saturday morning in the Swiss Alps, defending champions Maude Mathys and Kilian Jornet were unable to extend their winning streaks at Sierre-Zinal, as two Kenyan runners, Esther Chesang and Mark Kangogo, claimed victory in their first Golden Trail World Series race.

2022 Sierre-Zinal champions: Kenya’s Mark Kangogo (left) and Esther Chesang (right). Photo: Sierre-Zinal/Facebook

Mathys and Jornet still had strong performances, finishing second and fifth, respectively.

In the men’s race, Kangogo went with the pace early on. As the lead group reached the peak of Chandolin, he pulled away from his compatriot, Patrick Kipngeno, and Jornet on the descent. Kangogo was ahead of the course record pace with 10 kilometres to go, but he slowed up in the final kilometres and dropped behind the record.

Falling to the ground as he crossed the finish line, Kangogo recorded 2:27:31 for the third-fastest time in the race’s history: only Jornet and Petro Mamu, first and second in 2019, have run faster. Andreu Blanes of Spain finished second after starting the race in 21st, 10th at the halfway mark at Chandolin, and 2nd at the finish.

Kangogo is a member of the new On-sponsored Milimani Runners group based in Iten, Kenya, which was formed to shake things up on the trails. Sierre-Zinal was Kangogo’s second trail race after an extensive career on the roads. He has a personal best of 62:45 over the half marathon distance and the course record at the Luxembourg Marathon, with a time of 2:12:12 (from 2018).

The 31-year-old Kenyan trail runner plans to continue his winning ways at the Ultra-Trail Monte Rosa at the end of August.

Sam Hendry of Canmore, Alta. was the top Canadian, finishing 22nd overall in 2:40.52.

The Canadian 50 km record holder, Chris Balestrini, finished 48th overall (2:50:45). Balestrini spent the summer living in the French Alps after making the transition to trails from the roads this year. Matthieu Blanchard, who placed third at 2021 UTMB, was 82nd, in 2:57:50.

In the women’s race, Chesang went out hard and established a two-minute lead. The defending champion, Mathys, gained ground on her on the technical parts of the course. With five kilometres to go, the two battled on over the technical terrain. Chesang held off Mathys to earn her first victory in her trail running debut, finishing only 30 seconds ahead of the three-time champion.

Over 6,100 trail runners made the 31km trek through the Valais mountains. Photo: Sierre-Zinal/Facebook

Due to the lack of rain in the region, the dry and dusty trails offered little traction and made for fast and technical descents, with runners reaching the finish covered in dust (and blood). Over 6,100 trail runners made the 31km trek (with 2,100m of ascent) through the mountains of Valais, Switzerland.

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