Report10 Jun 2023

Murphy and Chemutai win mountain classic titles on final day in Innsbruck


Grayson Murphy on her way to mountain classic victory in Innsbruck (© Marco Gulberti)

USA’s Grayson Murphy and Uganda’s Leonard Chemutai landed the spoils on the final day of the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Innsbruck-Stubai on Saturday (10), taking victories in the mountain classic events. 

Both races boiled down to thrilling head-to-head duels over the final loop, a fitting climax to the championships that captured the hearts and minds of so many off-road running fans around the world. 

For Murphy, this was a chance to roll back the clock to 2019, when the Utah native won her first world mountain running title in her debut at the event. Now 27, she turned in an even more dominant performance to come home 57 seconds clear of Sweden’s Tove Alexandersson, a 17-time World Championships gold medallist in orienteering, over the 13km course.

Murphy, just three days on from winning bronze in the lung-bursting vertical uphill, showed no signs of fatigue from the outset, rocketing to the front as they set off into the mountain trails above Innsbruck. She had a seven-second advantage as they hit Gramartboden after 3.7km, but some highly effective downhill running from Alexandersson saw her assume command and pass halfway with a 12-second lead. But the effort had taken a toll. 

“I wasn’t used to the uphill and I had so much lactate, my legs were completely destroyed and I wanted to stop,” said Alexandersson. “The last loop, I hit the wall. I felt ill, I wanted to throw up, I wanted to lie down and die, but I had to continue.”

That she did, but Murphy was by far the better uphill runner, and on the second loop, as they climbed again into the woods, she surged clear, pulling out a 50-second advantage at the 10.5km checkpoint. Murphy powered back down into the city full of running, and hit the line in 1:04:29, with Alexandersson second in 1:05:26 and Kenya’s Joyce Muthoni third in 1:06:40. 

“My plan was to go out in the front pack and really push it," said Murphy. “There were a lot of strong women in the race. I’ve done a good amount of road running and track running so I knew once I got to the flat parts, I’d have a chance.”

Murphy said the lingering fatigue from the vertical uphill “wasn’t that bad” and that it had been “a really long journey” to reclaiming her world title. “We missed a couple of World Champs with Covid and it’s nice to have everyone back on the mountain again,” she said. 

What was she thinking on that last ascent?

“Just keep pushing,” she said. “I was telling myself to just try my best, and if that’s not enough for first, then I can’t beat myself up, but if I empty it all out, then that’s all I can ask for.”

Alexandersson was pleased with her silver in what was her debut in this realm. “It was hard, but I’m so happy I made it to the finish line,” she said. “I hope to run more races; the long trail races I like the most.”

Muthoni said it was a “really amazing” achievement to win bronze, while also helping Kenya to team gold. “I prepared well and I believed I could do it,” she said. “To get third is good and hopefully next year, I can go higher.”

The men’s race saw Uganda’s Isaac Mande Kibet shoot to the front at the start, followed by Philemon Ombogo Kiriago of Kenya. As they climbed to Gramartboden, Kiriago assumed control, chased by Germany’s Filimon Abraham, who took over the lead as they raced downhill to complete the first lap. But Kiriago and the Ugandan duo, Leonard Chemutai and Dismas Yeko, were just behind. 

Kiriago kept the pressure on as they climbed back up the hill, hitting Gramartstrasse after 9.3km with a four-second lead over Chemutai, who had Abraham right with him. Chemutai swept to the front on the downhill run back to Innsbruck, exiting the trail with a seven-second lead and back on to tarmac. Through the narrow, twisty course in the city centre, he continued to keep the pace high, hitting the line in 56:14, eight seconds clear of Kiriago, who in turn was five seconds clear of Abraham. Patrick Kipngeno of Kenya, who routed the field in the vertical uphill earlier in the week, was fourth in 57:27, with Kenya claiming gold in the team event ahead of Italy and Spain.

Leonard Chemutai wins the senior men's mountain classic in Innsbruck

Leonard Chemutai wins the senior men's mountain classic in Innsbruck (© Marco Gulberti)

“I was confident that I had to win this medal,” said Chemutai, who won the U20 mountain classic race at last year’s championships in Thailand. “The last time, the Kenyan took the (senior) medal and today I said, ‘no, Uganda has a chance to get this.’ My tactic was just to win. I was going very well during the last loop, I felt pain in my leg but I said, ‘I have to move.’ God gave me the strength and I pushed it until the finish.”

Chemutai believes Uganda will be a rising force in mountain running in the years ahead. “The mountains are also in Uganda but not big like these ones,” he laughed. 

Kiriago was content with his second straight silver in this event. “The race was fantastic, true to my training in Kenya,” he said. “I’m so happy to bring a silver to Kenya. I’m hoping in 2025 to bring all the gold to Kenya.”

Abraham was also pleased to get on the podium. “I’m very happy to get third place,” he said. “I was pushing until 9km but the second downhill, I was struggling on my legs and, after that, I tried to push for second, but the guy was very fast.”

The men’s U20 race was dominated by Uganda, with James Kirwa and Hosea Chemutai leading the field home, Kirwa clocking 27:37 for the 6.5km loop with Chemutai six seconds back and Switzerland’s Matthieu Buhrer taking bronze in 27:52. 

The women’s U20 race saw Britain’s Rebecca Flaherty claim gold in 33:20, with Spain’s Ines Herault second in 33:27 and Italy’s Lucia Arnoldo third in 33:42.

Cathal Dennehy for World Athletics

Leading results

Women’s mountain classic
1 Grayson Murphy (USA) 1:04:29
2 Tove Alexandersson (SWE) 1:05:26
3 Joyce Muthoni (KEN) 1:06:40
4 Valentine Jepkoech Rutto (KEN) 1:06:56
5 Domenika Mayer (GER) 1:07:09
6 Monica Madalina Florea (ROU) 1:07:25
7 Philaries Jeruto Kisang (KEN) 1:08:31
8 Tereza Hrochova (CZE) 1:08:37
9 Cecile Jarousseau (FRA) 1:08:40
10 Alice Goodall (GBR) 1:10:00

1 Kenya (14)
2 Great Britain and Northern Ireland (43)
3 France (46)

1 Rebecca Flaherty (GBR) 33:20
2 Ines Herault (ESP) 33:27
3 Lucia Arnoldo (ITA) 33:42

Men’s mountain classic
1 Leonard Chemutai (UGA) 56:14
2 Philemon Ombogo Kiriago (KEN) 56:22
3 Filimon Abraham (GER) 56:27
4 Eliud Cherop (UGA) 57:26
5 Patrick Kipngeno (KEN) 57:27
6 Alejandro Garcia (ESP) 59:25
7 Cesare Maestri (ITA) 59:28
8 Josphat Kiprotich (KEN) 59:34
9 Xavier Chevrier (ITA) 59:43
10 Andreu Blanes (ESP) 59:54

1 Kenya (15)
2 Italy (30)
3 Spain (43)

1 James Kirwa (UGA) 27:37
2 Hosea Chemutai (UGA) 27:43
3 Matthieu Buhrer (SUI) 27:52