Fantastic race winners in Thailand!
The Thailand blockbuster weekend had a couple of unexpected twists as several of the protagonists failed to reach the finish line! Both in UT Chiang Rai and UT Nan 100, Thailand's own top runners delivered outstanding performances on the other hand. Jantaraboon Kiangchaipaiphana in UTCR 122 and Sanya Khancai in UTN 100 were a class of their own. In the battle for the Asia Trail Master Championship, nothing changed at the top as Steven Soonseng Ong and even Tahira Najmunisaa Muhammad Zaid did not finish in Chiang Rai!
Steven Ong was running comfortably in second place, albeit at a reasonable distance behind Jay Jantaraboon. But painful ankles and a couple of wrong turns in the second half seemingly demotivated the Malaysian ace and he called it quits after about 95 km. Ong therefore remains third in the ATM championship, behind Arief Wismoyono and Isaac Yuen Wan Ho.
Tahira Najmunisaa started as the big favourite in the women's race, but she quickly discovered two things: first, that her body was still in fever and apparently unrecovered from Mesastila Peaks Challenge, and second, that Australia's Joanna Kruk was in superb shape for this race! Half a year ago on the more technical UTKC trail, Kruk finished second and clearly behind Tahira on the 100K. But in Chiang Rai, Kruk found a course that suits her characteristics as a fast runner more and she put Tahira under pressure from the start. Feeling too weak due to the persistent illness, the 2016 ATM Champion and current championship leader decided at the first water station there was no point in racing. Kruk nevertheless continued her stride and even stayed close to Ong, which is remarkable. Joanna Kruk is now a second Australian woman to watch for in future ATM races! The other one, Kim Matthews, sees her potential chances of winning the ATM Championship grow a bit more with Tahira’s DNF, just like Indonesia’s Ruth Theresia. All three remain very close together in the ranking.
The men’s podium in Chiang Rai was completed by Thailand’s Pornmongkol Phuthong and Britain’s Robert Butcher. They had a nice competition with Yim Heng Fatt, Lausay Niong and Wasin Monghkolmalee. The women’s podium was quite controversial, unfortunately, as seemingly inadequate trail marking in the last 10K section to the finish caused many runners to lose the way at nighttime. Adelinah Lintanga and Lily Suryani were about to finish second and third, but the Malaysian never even got to the finish at all after hours of running in circles. Suryani managed to get back on the right trail but only on Sunday morning and with the assistance of a Thai runner who knew the course. Montha Sunthornwit inherited second place, with Woraphan Kijsawasai third in the official race result. The fact that the same happened to even Joanna Kruk (she needed 6 hours to complete the last 10K for the same reasons) has urged us to consider giving out ATM points to the affected runners according to their ranking at the last CP, due to the impact on their rankings.
Over in Nan, Sanya Khancai scored his second career ATM victory when co-favourite Pharait Varesin dropped out of the race at CP3. Khancai was never threatened and won comfortably in 14:35. First woman was also second overall in the race, Phichanan Mahachot in 17:32, who stayed just ahead of Atip - the second man. Jan Nilsen again saw his foot spoil his party. After deciding to downgrade to 50K instead of 100K, Nilsen felt it was enough halfway through the race - even though he was in the lead at that point. Nilsen gave it his all last year in the ATM Championship, and clearly seems to have overstretched himself a bit. We wish the Norwegian a speedy but especially full recovery, so we can see him back at his best in 2018!