Elisa Desco sets a new female course record and Zaid Ait Malek becomes the new God of Mount Olympus at the 2019 Olympus Marathon.
The Gods of Mount Olympus did not have mercy on the athletes of Olympus Marathon, the seventh race of the Migu Run Skyrunner® World Series. The iconic Greek race saw 700 skyrunners of over 36 nationalities battle it out in hot, harsh, steep and unstable conditions over the 44 km course with over 3,000m of vertical gain.
There’s a new God in Town
In the men’s race, no other athlete would have deserved or appreciated the win today more than the champion himself, Zaid Ait Malek. The skyrunning legend, well-known for his incredible rags to riches story, triumphed over a stacked field of athletes, including the mighty Pere Aurell, to take home his second Migu Run Skyrunner® World Series winner’s bib in four years.
“This was a very special race for me,” Ait Malek says. “I have no words to describe how I feel right now. It is an iconic race with so many nice people cheering. When I overtook Kiril, I was sure I was going to win. I even thought about the course record, but finally, it was just about winning. I feel proud of my work and my training and blessed to have the support of my sponsor, Jimbee. This has been a great day.”
Ait Malek, one of the most charismatic men in skyrunning, explained that his tough past and struggle with having to escape his home country of Morocco and fight for a European residence permit, makes him no stranger to putting up a fight – on and off the course. The level of his mental and physical strength was evident today. To win at such an iconic event as the Olympus Marathon is a huge achievement for the adored athlete who has been participating in the Migu Run Skyrunner® World Series for years, and one that will go down in the history of the race.
Kiril Nikolov was the big surprise of the day. The Bulgarian runner finished in second place just one and a half minutes behind Ait Malek after leading the race for a long stretch in the middle.
“This is my fourth time at this race. Unlike in previous years, Dimitrios Theodorakakos didn’t start as fast so this easier pace in the beginning was good for me later in the race. I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t win but Zaid was just too fast on the descent. I knew he would come for me at some point so I was expecting the fight.”
Never one to miss out on a podium finish, Pere Aurell, managed to climb his way into the top five by the time he had reached km 14. After overtaking two more athletes on the descent, the Spanish star crossed the finish line in third place, just three minutes behind the winner.
2018 champion, Dimitrios Theodorakakos, pulled out of the race at an early stage due to an injury. The local hero waited at the finish line to present the first medal of the race and pass the torch on to his successor – an emotional moment for the Greek athlete and local fans.
The Battle of Two Big Stars
With two of the biggest names in skyrunning, Ragna Debats and Elisa Desco, on the starting list, everyone knew the women’s race would be fast and fierce before it had even begun.
Much to the delight of the Greek spectators who watched her set the course record back in 2017, Ragna Debats, returned to Olympus Marathon to beat her previous time from two years ago. Although the world-class skyrunner from the Netherlands lost out on the first place, the crowd still went wild to see Debats cross the finish line two and a half minutes faster than in 2017 with a time of 5h15’54”.
“I feel I did a good climb today. I felt strong and comfortable and the first part of the descent went well. My plan was never to battle with anyone but myself but once Elisa caught me I had to fight with her. I guess this is what racing is all about though. I feel satisfied that I did a faster race than in 2017. I could have pushed harder in the downhill but overall I know I should be pleased with my second place.” said Debats.
Desco, on the other hand, proved that she really is capable of anything today. The Italian star, and new course record holder, crossed the finish line looking calm and collected, despite what she had gone through to secure her win.
“This is the first time I have ever run uphill for three and a half hours so I couldn’t believe it when I managed to catch Ragna. For me, she is the woman to beat in the World Series so I am proud of what I achieved today and my performance,” said Desco, who seems determined to make it impossible for any other woman to catch her at the top of the overall ranking.
Anne-Lise Rousset closed the women’s podium, finishing five minutes after Debats. Following Rousset was the first Greek woman of the race, Dimitra Bikra, in fourth, who delivered another stellar performance for her local fans.
In two weeks, the series continues with the third SuperSky race of the season, the BUFF Epic trail. Once again, it’s an incredibly stacked field and this halfway race could potentially shape the rest of the series for many athletes. Tune in on July 14.