by Roger Hanney
Over the weekend a massive running festival took place in the mountainous Chamonix region of central France. Running across dangerously steep mountain ledges, ascents, and fear-inducingly sharp drops and against many of the world’s best extreme endurance athletes, 21-year-old Queenslander Ben Duffus placed 3rd overall.
Running 80km with over 6,000 metres of climbing, the young star took just over 10 hours to grab global attention, as well as the title of Junior Skyrunning World Champion.
To give some meaning to those numbers – that’s like running 2 marathons up and down a 2,000-storey building.
Racing around the legendary and spectacular Mont Blanc, over 5,000 runners competed in the Skyrunning World Championships. Although an almost unknown sport in Australia, Skyrunning is wildly popular in Europe. The niche sport involves athletes pitting themselves against ridiculously steep climbs and descents, frequently in low oxygen high-altitude environments, over distances from one kilometre to over one hundred miles.
With alpine regions easily exceeding heights of 2,000 metres all across Spain, Switzerland, France, and Italy, thousands of lovers of extreme sport are flocking to the European race circuit looking for new ways to challenge themselves. Typically dominated by local athletes, Duffus shocked commentators with his speed, youth, and the fact that he was running for Australia, a nation almost entirely unknown in the sport until now.
Experienced French athletes hailed Duffus’ performance as just incredible. At one point running 10th with barely 20 kilometres to go, Duffus had to outpace the race leaders to make up ground and move into 4th place with just over a kilometre to go.
The Aussie youngster then challenged for the podium on the final dangerous descent. Flying down a mountain which people usually access by cable car, he edged out his closest rival by several minutes to hit the finish line in a remarkable 10:53:55.
Asked shortly afterward by French television about when he felt third place was within reach, he said that over the final stages all he thought was that “I’m just going to have to give this last descent everything I’ve got – and it worked.”
Already making a name for himself in Australian trail running and ultra marathon, this breakthrough performance means that the young physics tutor from the University of Queensland is about to see his international racing calendar get a lot busier. He is already scheduled to compete again for Australia and his sponsored team, Hoka OneOne, at mountain running championships in Italy and Colorado over the next 2 months.
Ben keeps his running diaries and race reports online at www.benduffus.com