The 2022 World Mountain Running Association World Cup season hit the halfway point, with its sixth race, and the Golden Trails World Series progressed too, with its fourth series event, at the 2022 Sierre-Zinal.
Run on storied trails in the Swiss high country each year since 1974, the ferocious 31-kilometer (19.2 miles) course consistently draws the world’s best mountain runners. The stacked field runs through the Swiss Canton (read: wine country region) of Valais, between the mountain villages of Sierre and Zinal. The compelling course kicks off on a steep climb, then finishes on a careening downhill. The course gains 2,200 meters (7,200 feet) and loses 1,100 meters (3,600 feet).
Roll call at Sierre-Zinal often reads like an all-star lineup: Jairo Correa, Anna Pichrtova, Sally Goldsmith, and Ricardo Mejía have highlighted tickets that regularly brim with world champion mountain runners, Olympians, and world record holders.
Today’s 2022 entry was no different: Maude Mathys (Switzerland) returned to vie for her fourth straight Sierre-Zinal win, while Kilian Jornet (Spain, lives in Norway) was looking for his 10th title in Valais.
But when the gun sounded at 11 a.m. local time on on August 13, 2022, two young Kenyans running their first Sierre-Zinals — Esther Chesang and Mark Kangogo — ever rose to meet the challenge. Here’s how the race shook out.
2022 Sierre-Zinal Women’s Race
Mathys may have won the last three women’s Sierre-Zinal entries in a row, but that didn’t impress the mountain running newcomer who took the field.
Kenya’s Esther Chesang left every woman except Mathys in the dust, posting a 2:52:01 to win. She broke out fast but soon Mathys hounded her. The pair traded fastest splits throughout the middle of the race, but Mathys could not establish a lead. Despite flying through the descent thanks to her technical prowess, Mathys finished just 30 seconds behind the 27-year-old Chesang. At times, Mathys got close enough to see the Kenyan had she broken her concentration on the choppy trail.
Kenyan Philiares Kisang, the only woman to beat her countrywoman Joyce Njeru in any other World Cup race this year, took third in 2:58:00. She ran very closely with Mathys early, checking in just three seconds behind the Swiss runner at the first checkpoint of Ponchette at 58:17.
Njeru, meanwhile, posted a disappointing DNF. The rest of the field finished minutes behind the front three.
[In 2015, Mathys received a warning without suspension from the Disciplinary Chamber for Doping Cases of Swiss Olympic for two positive tests for clomifene (previously clomiphene) after it was determined that she was mistakenly taking the drug without first obtaining a World Anti-Doping Agency Therapeutic Use Exemption.]
2022 Sierre-Zinal Women’s Results
- Esther Chesang (Kenya) — 2:52:01
- Maude Mathys (Switzerland) — 2:52:32
- Philiares Kisang (Kenya) — 2:58:00
- Teresiah Omosa (Kenya) — 3:01:13
- Sarah McCormack (Ireland) — 3:04:12
- Bailey Kowalczyk (USA) — 3:04:48
- Lucy Murigi (Kenya) — 3:06:38
- Núria Gil (Spain) — 3:07:59
- Sarah Alonso (Spain) — 3:08:12
- Tabor Hemming (USA) — 3:08:58
2022 Sierre-Zinal Men’s Race
Kenyan-born Mark Kangogo broke the tape first on the men’s side, finishing in 2:27:31. The 33-year-old came into the race fresh off a breaking a course record at the last World Cup tour stop in Thyon-Dixence, also in Switzerland, just last weekend, and he just missed turning the same trick at Sierre-Zinal: Jornet’s 2019 mark is just under two minutes faster.
Spain’s Andreu Blanes finished a distant second at 2:29:19 but went down heroically: no one came close to matching his pace on the back end of the course as he doggedly gained places. Also remarkably, Sierre-Zinal was only his second World Cup race this season; at Thyon-Dixence, he took fourth.
And for the first time this year, Kangogo’s countryman Patrick Kipngeno finished somewhere other than first place in a World Cup race. He’d won all five previous events this season, some resoundingly. Kipngeno slated a respectable third place but faded late. Kangogo broke free from him after the uphills eased, then Blanes blistered past him on the downhills.
Eritrean Petro Mamu nipped Jornet in the finish chute and the pair finished fourth and fifth, just a couple hundredths of a second apart.
2022 Sierre-Zinal Men’s Results
- Mark Kangogo (Kenya) — 2:27:31
- Andreu Blanes (Spain) — 2:29:19
- Patrick Kipngeno (Kenya) — 2:29:35
- Petro Mamu (Eritrea) — 2:30:18
- Kilian Jornet (Spain, lives in Norway) — 2:30:19
- Philemon Kiriago (Kenya) — 2:30:47
- Robert Pkemboi (Kenya) — 2:31:32
- Daniel Osanz (Spain) — 2:34:03
- Rémi Bonnet (Switzerland) — 2:34:37
- Robbie Simpson (U.K.) — 2:34:41