Spartan World Championship: U.S. athletes sweep global titles | SierraSun.com

Spartan World Championship: U.S. athletes sweep global titles

An already difficult course that featured dozens of obstacles at Squaw Valley last weekend was made much tougher by the elements as thousands of athletes were battered by snow, wind, and rain at this year’s Spartan World Championship.

The sentiment from many of the top performers in Sunday’s battle for the world championship was that this was the toughest day of competing in the five years the event has been held at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows.

“This is by far the hardest year just because of the weather, the cold, we were having a battle with the swim, and there’s harder obstacles now,” said men’s world champion Robert Killian.

Colorado’s Killian conquered the 14-mile Spartan Beast course, which featured 36 obstacles, in 2 hours, 11 minutes, 54 seconds to edge Canada’s Ryan Atkins, who finished with a time of 2:12:27. The win marked Killian’s second victory on the course at Squaw at the world championships.

“The last time I won this was in 2015, so it was the first time it was held in Tahoe, and this is the last year,” he said. “For me, it meant a lot to start something and to finish something, and to be a part of history.”

A location for the 2020 Spartan World Championship has yet to be determined, according to Jonathan Fine, head of global brand communications.

Killian, a member of the California National Guard and winner of the 2016 Army Best Ranger competition, said his military background, which includes 12 years in the army, played a pivotal role in completing some of the course’s tougher obstacles like the double sandbag carry.

“I’m in the military and I’m used to carrying a rucksack,” said Killian. “It’s kind of cool to have that background and have that play a positive role and help me out in the race.”

The toughest part of the course, according to Killian, came after the high-elevation plunge into the water at Squaw’s upper mountain. Officials at the race reported a wind chill factor of 14 degrees. 

“You had to come down a massive downhill and it was really cold and your body’s cold,” said Killian. “And when you’re going down there you’re not working very hard, so you tend to get very cold.”

Due to a loss of dexterity from the cold, he said the next few couple were among the most difficult of the day.

In the end, Killian would charge through The Village at Squaw Valley in front of hundreds of cheering fans, complete the final obstacle, and cross the finish line for the win.

“I’m just glad I was able to pull it off. I kind of shocked myself, I’ve been trying to get on top of the podium for four years now,” said Killian.

“Anybody can make it happen in this sport. We’re so close to each other, between myself Ryan (Atkins), and (Jonathan) Albon, we’ve all been on the podium every year. To be named two-time world champion, it’s surreal.”

Great Britain’s Albon won the event last year and finished third on Sunday with a time of 2:13:40.

On the women’s side, Boulder Colorado athlete Nicole Mericle made it a sweep of the championship for the Americans for the first time in six years.

Mericle reached the finish line with a time of 2:28:53.

“It’s a continuation of my whole season, really focusing on this sport for the first time ever,” she said. “I put a lot of hard work into it, so it’s definitely rewarding to come away with the win … I feel like I raced well and raced to my potential.”

Like many other racers, she said overcoming the conditions was the toughest part of the event.

“The weather just really threw a curveball,” said Mericle. “But I’ve been working toward this my whole life.”

Last year’s champion, Canada’s Lindsay Webster finished second with a time of 2:43:05. Webster suffered an injured ankle when she fell off an obstacle, but still managed to reach the finish line in second.

France’s Myriam Guillot-Boisset was third with a time of 2:54:35.

Competitors from more than 50 countries were at Squaw this weekend, vying for more than $125,000 in prizes. Champions this year each received $20,000.

“Every year, the competition at the World Championship steps up another level and this was one of the most challenging fields to-date,” said Spartan Founder and CEO Joe De Sena in a news release. “All of the athletes fought hard and ultimately Killian and Mericle attacked the hardest. With a potential one million dollars on the line at the end of the championship season, racers left nothing on the course.”