Rafael Sanchez runs for Team USA Saturday in Susa, Italy. Courtesy photo
Rafael Sanchez, 16, of Los Alamos finished in 15th place and Team USA boys finished in fifth place Saturday at the World Mountain Running Association’s Under 18 International Mountain Running Cup in Susa, Italy. The Team USA girls took the bronze medal.
The off-road race is on a technical 4.1 km course with 200 meters of ascent and descent. Sanchez, James Gregory and William Ledden took 5th place as a team with 40 points. This was just behind the 3rd and 4th place teams who tied with 36 points each. Gregory went out hard and led most of the race followed closely by a pack of 6 to 8 runners. Ultimately he slipped back to finish a strong 4th place with two French runners sprinting for a 1-2 photo finish. Sanchez and Ledden ran consistent races coming home in 15th and 21st place respectively. With first, second and third places locked up, France won the team gold medal.
The Italian girls took gold in the team competition by sweeping the podium for 6 points, while the USA and Turkey tied with 30 points. Turkey took silver as their third runner finished 15th versus 17th for USA’s third runner.
The classic mountain running course featured dirt forest single-track trails, cobblestone alleys, stone steps, pavement, grass and a narrow tunnel through a castle wall. Most of the trails were off-camber with tight turns and there was even a steep drop down off a stone retaining wall which the athletes tackled twice.
Regardless of medals won or places earned, all the US runners had solid performances considering it was their first international race.
Sanchez said he felt comfortable starting out in the middle of the pack and passed a lot of guys on the uphills.
“Unfortunately, I did get passed on the downhills. Regardless, I had a ton of fun; especially racing through a tunnel into the castle courtyard finish. One thing I learned from this experience is that I can go harder on the uphills next time,” he said.
Sanchez’s parents Juan and Yvette Sanchez said Sunday morning that they are incredibly proud of him for doing so well.