Greatest Mountain Runners of All Time: The Women
Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been taking a look back at some of the greatest mountain runners of all time. We’re going to recap them with one article on the women and one on the men and then we’re going to ask you to vote for your all-time greatest mountain runners, male and female. Which runners will be crowned WMRAGOAT? VOTE HERE!
Obviously these sorts of lists are never perfect and they can be subjective. We’ve based our selection of the top six on results achieved but also on contribution to the sport. To help you make your mind up about who to vote for, we’ve included the opinions of well-respected runners at the bottom of the article.
Here are our six women:
Austrian Andrea dominated women’s mountain running for many years, often winning by large margins and finishing highin the men’s field. Her results speak for themselves but see runners’ quotes about her below. She is a 6-time World Champion (2006, 2008. 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016) and won the World Cup in 2010, 2014, 2016 and 2018.
Melissa, from New Zealand, started her running career in track and cross country, where she was a national champion over 5000m and 10000m and 7 time national cross country champion, but her unexpected third place in the 1997 World Mountain Running Championships confirmed to her that it was mountain running she wanted to focus on. But after another third place and a fourth in that competition she knew she had to adapt her preparation. It worked! She became World Mountain Running Champion in 2001 and 2003. Read our interview with Melissa.
Unparalleled in terms of longevity, France’s Isabelle Guillot put together an amazing run of results over a long period, demonstrated by winning bronze in the European Mountain Running Championships in 1988 and again in 2006. During that time she won 4 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze medals in the World Championships, as well as European gold. She has had considerable success as a masters athlete since.
Poland’s Izabela Zatorska achieved an amazing run of podium and top 10 finishes between 1996 and 2005, including 2 European Championship golds in 1999 and 2000, and 3 World Cup wins, in 2001, 2004 and 2005. In the World Championships she achieved a silver and three bronzes. She also won iconic mountain races like Drei Zinnen, Challenge Stellina and Smarna Gora. She also won many road races all over the world, from 5k to marathon.
With a background as a (Scottish) hill runner and fell runner (she won the British Fell Running Championships 5 times), Angela was always going to be a tough competitor in mountain running. She achieved 3 World Cup victories, won the 2000 World Championships and came 2nd in the same competition in 2003 after an epic duel in the snow in Alaska with Melissa Moon, leading Scotland's women's team to the gold medal. She won Pikes Peak Marathon and Sierre Zinal, breaking many course records at iconic international races during her career. Read our interview with Angela.
Anna Pichrtova (nee Baloghova) was born in the Slovak Republic and initially balanced marathon running with mountain running. Her mountain running debut was in the World Trophy in 1992, where she won the silver in the junior race and then finished 13th in the senior race (for Slovakia) - in the same competition! An early feat which set the scene for her hugely successful career. She proceeded to do well in the World Trophy in 1993 and 1994, but it was the period of 2001 - 2009, competing for the Czech Republic, where she really dominated. She won gold, 2 silvers and a bronze in the World Championships, 2 golds, 2 silvers and a bronze in the Europeans, 2 golds in the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships and she won 2 World Cups. Her Sierre Zinal Course Record stood for 11 years, finally falling in 2019.
Here's what other athletes said about our top six women:
Andrew Douglas on Angela Mudge: “At the risk of facing the wrath of Angela (I know she won't like what I'm about to say...), she is one of the true greats of the sport and her achievements stretching far back to the mid-90's absolutely reflect that. I would urge anyone reading this to look into her journey from the Fells to World Champion in 2000 (and subsequent nomination at the 2001 Laureus World Sports Awards) as I can't possibly do it justice in this short summary. Angela is the current head of hill and mountain running in Scottish Athletics and gives a huge amount back to the sport; it's an absolute privilege to have someone of her experience (and modesty!) at the helm.”
Fujio Miyachi on Andrea Mayr: “As everyone knows, her speed and climbing ability are amazing.”
Sarah Tunstall on Angela Mudge: “Angela Mudge has probably been my greatest inspiration and personally I have always looked to her times as a guide of how well I have raced on the Mountains. When I was still a junior I saw her storm the Inter-county XC (even though the commentators didn’t know her name) and qualify for the 1999 World XC. This always stuck with me and gave me confidence when I used to race the (much) quicker track girls over XC. In 2009 when I finished 2nd on the same course, seeing her win all those years previously had given me some kind of weird belief that Mountain runners could mix it with the Steph Twells of the world!”
Anne Buckley on Andrea Mayr (and Jonathan Wyatt): “Wyatt and Mayr for me. At their best they were pretty much invincible and so far ahead of the rest. If they were on the start line you knew they'd win. Mayr used to finish well up among the decent men!”
Angela Mudge on Andrea Mayr (and Jonathan Wyatt): “Without doubt it’s got to be Jonathan Wyatt and Andrea Mayr. They’ve both performed outstandingly at the World Championship and have numerous course records set on the classic uphill only races, no one could touch them in their prime.”
Jacob Adkin on Angela Mudge: “Always true to the spirit of hill/mountain running, Angela is an unassuming legend from whom anyone can learn a lot from.”
Other runners who could have made the list:
Austria’s Gudren Pfluger achieved 4 world championship wins and 1 silver between 1992 and 1997
Rosita Rosa Gelpi
Showing early promise by winning the junior world championships in 1992, Rosita Rosa Gelpi went on to win the European championships in 1998, then the world championships in 1999 and 2004.
Younger runners who've made a big impact on the sport:
Lucy Wambui Murigi
Winner of the 2017 and 2018 World Mountain Running Championships, Lucy Wambui Murigi has flown the flag for female African runners in mountain running. Here’s what Francesco Puppi had to say about her talent: “She's so versatile and capable of performing well in short and longer races. She has the huge merit to have made mountain running more popular in Kenya and Africa in general. Although she hasn't been as dominant as Andrea Mayr I believe her contribution to the sport has had greater reach and I admire her a lot.”
GB’s Sarah Tunstall has been incredibly consistent over the years, finishing 3rd in the European championships in 2008, 3rd in the World Championships in 2009, then 3rd again in the Worlds in 2017. She won the World Cup in 2015, was 2nd in the Europeans and 3rd in the Worlds in 2017. This is what Jacob Adkin said about her: “a truly inspiring person and athlete for her strength of mind, Sarah is selfless in imparting her knowledge and helping others get the best out of themselves.” Read our interview with Sarah.
Voting will open in the next few days, so get thinking about who your female greatest mountain runner of all time is!