At the 29th World Mountain Running Championships on Sunday, September 8, in Krynica - Zdrój, Poland, 18-year-old Mandy Ortiz, Eagle, CO, was the individual champion in the junior women’s division leading the way to a silver-medal finish for Team USA.
Ortiz’s team mates, Tabor Scholl, 16, Kremmling, CO, who is a junior at West Grand High School, and Emma Abrahamson, 16, Carlsbad, CA, who is a senior La Costa Canyon High School, finished in 16th and 21st place respectively to give Team USA a combined score (the first two team members score), of 17, just two points ahead of third place team Russia. In first, the team from Great Britain finished with 9 points.
This is the first gold medal for a U.S. junior athlete, and the second team junior medal. In 2007, the junior women earned a silver team medal. The USA junior women also won silver and bronze individual medals in 2009 (Megan Morgan), and 2008 (Alex Dunne), respectively.
At this year’s event, junior women competed over a 4.6-kilometer uphill/downhill variety course on a ski area within the Jaworzyna Mountains. Ortiz, who is a freshman at University of Colorado Boulder, covered the distance in a time of 22:56 to best the field of 40 finishers. Lea Einfalt, Slovenia, finished second in 23:07, while Turkey’s Tubay Erdal rounded out the top three in 23:21.
Within minutes after her first-place finish, Ortiz was interviewed by local press and asked, among other things, if it was her best running experience to date. Smiling Ortiz had a short one-word response, “Yes.”
Later Ortiz was interviewed by Team USA staff and asked how she felt about her finish. “I still think it’s my greatest accomplishment ever. It’s a really cool experience,” said Ortiz. “It went way above my expectations. I was hoping for a top-20 finish. I really didn’t know where I’d be. It went way above what I thought I was capable of.”
What motivated Ortiz most on the course was not just the cheering crowd, which she admitted definitely helped, “Just knowing I was ready for this. I just remembered things my Mom told me – giving it my best on the uphill. I’m definitely stronger on the uphill. I went into the first uphill in about 10th place. The downhill is not as good for me since I don’t have the leg speed.” Ortiz moved into first on the grass hill (in the open part of the ski area). “I was worried that I was going to pass the girls and then I’d get passed back. But no one did. It made me feel good. It made me feel strong.
“The finish almost didn’t feel real. It was such an amazing feeling, it was hard to believe it just happened,” said Ortiz.“It makes me feel confident that I can run at a high level. It just makes me excited for years to come.”
Asked whether her plans in 2014 included a return to the World Mountain Running Championships to defend her title, Ortiz said, “Definitely. I would love to come back next year.”
In order to compete as a junior athlete, the individual must be at least 16 in the year of competition and not yet 20. Ortiz has one more year of eligibility as a junior since she turns 19 in March 2014. The course for the 2014 World Championships to be held in Italy next September will be an uphill course, Ortiz’s specialty. The U.S. junior team which will compete at the World Championships will be selected in July 2014.
Follow the team on Twitter @USMRT and learn more about the U.S. mountain running program at this link.
Each athlete is a member of USATF, the national governing body for the sport, which provides partial funding and team uniforms to the team. Additional funds are raised through the American Trail Running Association (ATRA), a Colorado not-for-profit corporation whose mission is to represent and promote trail and mountain running. Donations to the team are 100% tax deductible and can be made payable to ATRA (earmarked for the USMRT), PO Box 9454, Colorado Springs, CO 80932.