Robbie Simpson exceeded his own expectations when finishing a close second behind legendary Spanish athlete Kilian Jornet at the Sierre-Zinal World Cup series mountain race in Switzerland.
Jornet, who set a record time of 2hr 25min 35secs in 2019, won for the ninth time, clocking 2:31:44 for the 31k course, which includes 2,200m of ascent and 800m of descent.
Simpson, who had finished runner-up on three previous occasions, was lying in 10th position, more than two mins behind the Spaniard after 12k. But the Deeside man powered through the field over the closing stages to finish just 42secs adrift in 2:32:26.
Italy’s Ceasare Maestre took third position in 2:33:51, while Eritrea’s Petro Mamu, who defeated Simpson to take top spot in 2016, dropped back to finish 29th after sharing the lead with Jornet for a long way.
Simpson said: “I had zero expectations beforehand as my focus has been on the Orsières-Champex-Chamonix (OCC) 55K ultra trail race later in the month. I really wasn’t sure how I’d get on at Sierre-Zinal.
“I just wanted to run it without worrying about how it would work out. I was still keen to test myself, but I wasn’t going to be concerned if I’d finished say 15th.
“But it ended up being one of my best runs here. I think it’s the fastest time I’ve got from eight appearances in the race, so I’m happy with that.
“I was able to pace it sensibly, but it was quite difficult watching a lot of guys going away from me early on. Some of them started ridiculously fast to try to get a position once we got on to the narrow trails.
“But I took it relatively easy to begin with and then began to move through the field.
“The most positive aspect was that I ran the descent much better than before. But there was plenty of incentive as there was a string of guys lined up ahead of me and I just picked them all off.
“I’ve lost the race on that section before, so it was good to feel so strong this time.
“I never saw Kilian until the finish, but I’m happy to have got so close to him after being so far behind. He was maybe able to relax before the finish as he knew he had a big lead, although he did look quite tired. I’m not sure if he’s in as good shape as he has been before.”
Simpson now has three weeks to finalise his preparations for the 55k OCC race, which will offer a different challenge.
The race, which includes 3,500m of elevation gain, takes its name from the three principal communities it passes through. It starts from Orsières in Switzerland, passes through Champex and finishes in Chamonix.
Coach says Aberdeen Olympian Zoey Clark has done ‘exceptionally well’
Zoey Clark can hold her head high after making two impressive and noteworthy appearances for the Great Britain 4x400m relay squad at the Tokyo Olympics.
That’s the considered opinion of her long-time coach Eddie Mckenna, who was immensely proud of the way the Aberdeen athlete conducted herself in Japan.
Clark ran in the heats of the mixed relay, helping her side reach the final by setting a national record time.
She also played a key role in the heats of the women’s event in which the team comfortably qualified for the final.
McKenna was disappointed, however, that Clark was denied the opportunity to run in one or other final in which the British side finished outside of the medal positions.
He said: “It’s a shame she didn’t get the chance to run in the finals, although I wasn’t surprised by the decisions.
“Given she went through a difficult Olympic selection process, I feel that getting anything in Tokyo was a bonus. And what a bonus it was.
“She showed herself to be a very competent and consistent team player. She is now an Olympian and has run in two races, helping to set a national record.
“There is no doubt she has done exceptionally well and I am very proud of what she has achieved. She has conducted herself very well and has shown extraordinary professionalism at the highest level.”
Clark is due to arrive back in Scotland today when she’ll sit down to discuss her plans for the rest of the season.
McKenna added: “She feels it’s not quite time to end the season just yet. She’s aiming to run in a few more races and put a couple of times on the board.”
Inverness Harriers’ Kirsty Law sets new discus PB
Discus thrower Kirsty Law (Inverness Harriers) tuned up for next weekend’s Scottish track and field championships by turning in a personal best performance at Leiria, Portugal.
The Loughborough-based Great Britain international, who has taken part in well over 20 competitions this year, threw 59.95m – that’s an improvement of 2m on her best at the start of the season.
Meanwhile, Dufftown athlete Jill Stephen extended her lead in the women’s division of the Scottish hill runners championship series with an impressive victory in the Glenshee 9 race.
The Hunters Bog Trotters club member completed the 20-mile course, which included 5,500ft of climbing over nine Munros, in 3hr 45min 13secs.
Catriona Graves was runner-up in 3:53:27, with her Carnethy clubmate Sophie Horrocks third in 4:00:48.
Stephen, who has won the title twice before, leads the championship table with maximum points, having also won last month’s Dollar hill race.
Each competitor’s three best scores from five counting races will determine the outcome. If Stephen wins the next race, the Eildon Three hills on September 18, the title will be hers again.
Andrew Fallas (Carnethy) won the men’s race in 3:15:35, with James Espie (Deeside Runners) fourth in 3:19:16.
Elsewhere, Aberdeen AAC brothers Kai and Rhys Crawford both struck 800m bronze when competing in the English age group championships at Manchester Sport City.
Kai earned his podium position in the under-17s race, in which he recorded 1min 53.80secs behind Jake Minshull (Coventry Godiva), who won in 1:52.70.
Rhys emulated that result by clocking 2:01.58 in the under-15s contest won by Jack Kinrade (Shrewsbury) in 2:00.03.
Hamish Mckay, set a personal best 8:54.24 in the under-17s 3000m, which is the fourth fastest of all-time by an Aberdeen AAC runner in this age group.