The Obstacle Racing World Championships this weekend (October 25 & 26) in Cincinnati, Ohio, is shaping up to be a true Super Bowl for the sport, featuring a who’s-who of elite obstacle racers. The course will be 8.8 miles with more than 30 obstacles and roughly 3,500 feet of elevation gain. The men’s field includes the last two Spartan World Champions, the last two World’s Toughest Mudders and a slew of other elite men from around the world. Who will win the title of “champion” and its $10,000 prize is anyone’s guess. Here’s a look at some of the favorites in the race.
Hobie Call – After winning the Spartan World Championship in 2013, Call has had a rather low-key 2014. He skipped defending his Spartan title at the Vermont Beast in September, as well as skipping other Spartan races this summer. Most of his news has been off the course, with his tumultuous short-lived relationship with Extreme Nation and, recently, news of him signing with Atlas Race. But at the Warrior Dash World Championship last weekend, Call showed no signs of rust, coming in second to Max King. The OCR World Championship’s longer, more challenging course should play to his strengths.
Jon Albon – Albon introduced himself to American obstacle racing fans with his impressive win at the Reebok Spartan World Championship last month. Some might point out that he didn’t face Hobie Call at the race. But, given the margin by which he and second-place Ryan Atkins bested the field, it would have taken a great performance by Call to beat him. Now Albon and Call are finally racing on the same course. Regardless of who comes out on top, the real winners will be fans of this budding sport.
Ryan Atkins – A year ago, nobody in obstacle racing knew who Ryan Atkins was. As recently as last month, some wondered if he was really a legitimate threat to OCR elites. There’s no wondering anymore. From his Top 10 showing on the 5K course at the Warrior Dash World Championship, to his second-place finish at the Vermont Beast, to winning the World’s Toughest Mudder last November, the past 12 months have marked the emergence of Ryan Atkins in OCR. He’s proven to be a force at every length of race. And with a win Saturday he’ll make a strong case for being the best overall male in the sport.
Junyong Pak – The OCR World Championship’s 8.8-mile course might be much shorter than the 90+ miles Pak puts in at World’s Toughest Mudder. But he still might find this course to his liking. At 140 pounds, the two-time World’s Toughest Mudder admits that the emphasis on strength obstacles at Spartan Races often puts him at a disadvantage. And while there will be a number of strength-based obstacles on this course, OCRWC officials say the course probably favors speed and athleticism, which could give Pak a great shot at the podium.
Conor Hancock – This weekend, Conor Hancock could be playing the role of obstacle racer you didn’t know about before the race, and won’t forget after the race. Largely unknown to Americans, Hancock is a runner from England who has exploded onto the OCR scene there within the last year. He’s had impressive podium finishes at Spartan Beasts, and he won this year’s inaugural Tough Guy Marathon. He has the toughness to match his running skills, having trained and competed in Thai boxing, boxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. And there’s a good chance he’ll fight his way onto the podium Saturday.
Brakken Kraker – Over the past three years, Kraker has consistently been one of the top racers in the world, with more than 20 obstacle race wins and more than 40 Top 3 finishes. He’s tough. In 2012, he finished third in the Vermont Beast and then turned around the next day to take third in the UltraBeast. And he has a running pedigree that might be perfectly suited to this course; in college he was All-Conference for indoor and outdoor track and field, and he was All-American for indoor track. Given his speed, he could certainly podium on Saturday.
My Prediction – With such an elite, talented group, the OCRWC men’s race could be a battle for the ages. Ryan Atkins is strong, and he’s also a fast, fast dude. But if the course favors speed over strength, that could tilt the race toward guys who might be even faster, like Call and Albon. Call is already a legend in this young sport. But with Albon’s sensational performance at last month’s Vermont Beast and his impressive European race resume, the Englishman looks like a special talent in his prime. My Pick: Jon Albon.
(This article was originally written for MudandObstacle.com)