Written by Howard Nippert.
The U.S. National 24 Hour Team continued its streak of success at the 2017 IAU World 24 Hour Championship in Belfast, Northern Ireland on July 1-2. The women struck gold for the third consecutive championship setting a new world best mark for cumulative distance of 460.37 miles for the three-scorers, breaking their previous mark set in Torino, Italy in 2015. The men claimed the bronze medal after failing to reach the podium in 2015.
Leading the women was Katalin Nagy (Sarasota, FL) in third place (154.71 miles), followed by National Team rookie, Gina Slaby (Seabeck, WA )(154.279 miles) in 4th and U.S. 100 Km Team member, Pam Smith (Salem, OR) (151.38 miles) in the 5th position overall and 2nd in the 40+ age division. Katalin led for nearly 22 hours before being passed by the eventual winner Patrycja Bereznowska, of Poland, who set a new World Record of 160.52 miles in the process. The torrid early pace by Katalin took its toll and in the final minutes of the last hour, Aleksandra Niwinska (156.01 miles) of Poland slipped into second.
After struggling in the 2015 event, Olivier Leblond (Arlington, VA) returned with focus and experience on his side as he finished in the 7th position, winning the 45+ age group in the World Masters Championship, held in conjunction with the World Championship. Olivier set a new PR of 159.401 miles in leading the men’s Team to the podium. Newcomer, Steve Slaby (Seabeck, Washington), husband of Gina, left his mark on the international field with a strong 12th place finish, recording 157.040 miles, also a new PR. The 2013 World Champion, Jon Olsen was third scorer in the 20th position (153.00 miles).
A great display of teamwork took place to the benefit of both Teams. After 2015 silver medalist Traci Falbo went down around 12 hours to dehydration, she spent several hours in the medical facility, receiving fluids and shaking off sickness. After several hours of recovery, Traci was able to return to the competition and run at various times with Kati, Gina, and Pam, providing information and pacing help. IAU rules permit pacing or accompaniment of male athletes with male athletes and female athletes with female athletes, so the aid provided by Traci helped the three scoring women maintain their focus and pace in order to protect their lead. At the same time, 2015 U.S. men’s top finisher Rich Riopel (Marlboro, NJ) had fallen off pace early but he never gave up and when the men began to tire, he alternated running with the top American men in order to help them maintain their pace. While the women established themselves in the lead position throughout the event, Riopel’s effort helped catapult the Team from 5th into 3rd in the final half hour of competition.
The next IAU World 24 Hour Championship will be held in Irdning, Austria in July of 2019. Find more photos of Team USA from the race here.