Star power never lacking

Even without the defending champion, Western States brings out a crowd of world class contenders
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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It?s not that Kilian Jornet won?t be missed on Saturday at the Western States Endurance Run. The defending champion is widely considered the top ultrarunner in the world, but he stayed in Europe after the death of his friend Stephane Brosse during an attempted ski traverse on Mont Blanc last weekend. Western States still has enough top tier talent in the field to draw the attention of the endurance sports world. The 100-mile run from Squaw Valley to Auburn looks to be wide open with at least half a dozen men capable of surging to the front. Mike Wolfe has to be considered one of the favorites after his impressive debut in 2011. He chased down Jornet and finished just four minutes behind the young Spaniard, in 15 hours, 38 minutes. A lawyer from Montana, Wolfe left his practice to focus on running this year and appears to be in fine form. The 34-year-old Wolfe won the highly competitive The North Face Endurance Challenge last December and has just one race under his belt in 2012. Nick Clark and Jez Bragg have become regulars in the top five at Western States. Both are from England and both are looking to break through with victories. Clark was third last year, running a remarkable time of 15:50. Bragg was fourth in 2011 after placing third in 2010. Ian Sharman is another British runner looking for a big result. Now living in Bend, Ore., Sharman opened a lot of eyes with his blazing 12:44 time at the Rocky Raccoon 100 in February of 2011. He placed 10th in his Western States debut last year. Ryan Sandes is relatively new to ultras, but he could be a major factor. Sandes won the famed Leadville Trail 100 last year. Most recently, the South African took first at The North Face 100-Australia. ?I am super excited to be part of such an iconic race and can?t wait to start running,? Sandes said on his website. ?The course should suit me but 100 miles is a long way so I won?t be getting too far ahead of myself. My main focus will be to make the most of the experience and have a fun day out on the trails.? Michael Wardian is a veteran of 41 ultras, but the 38-year-old has not raced at Western States the past two years. He could be near the front of the pack after running there at the Comrades Marathon in South Africa June 3. Youngster Dylan Bowman brings an impressive list of results to the starting line. He was second to Sandes at Leadville last year and the 26-year-old from Aspen, Colo. won the Leona Divide 50-miler in April. Japan?s Tsuyoshi Kaburaki likes Western States a lot. He placed second in his debut here in 2009, setting the course record in the masters age group in the process. He shattered his own record last year, placing fifth in 16:07. Dave Mackey tends to sneak up on the sport?s younger, flashier runners, but he is often a factor at big races. He won the Miwok 100K last month and was eighth last year at Western States. A couple of Midwesterners will be making their Western States debuts, but they bring impressive resumes to the starting line. David Riddle hasn?t finished lower than fifth in any of his 21 ultras. Zach Bitter has won all three races he?s competed in this year, including the Ice Age Trail 50 last month. For complete coverage of the Western States Endurance Run, visit Saturday and follow on Twitter @AJToddM.