Jonathan Wyatt is a six-time World Mountain Running Association champion from New Zealand, last winning in 2008 and last racing at that particular race, called the World Mountain Running Championships, in 2010. He was just 37 years old then and I mistook that for an early retirement. “Well, it’s been less than 10 years since I last raced [in the World Mountain Running Championships],” Wyatt cheered with a friendly, Kiwi ‘sweet as’ bristle.
We’re just getting started on a wide-ranging hour-long chat and thankfully he steps over the slight. “I’m always looking over my shoulder on the trails,” he said as a sign of his competitiveness, “but 10 years, crikey. I used to race every weekend [for parts of each year], and that feels like a long time ago. I still raced my first two years as a masters runner, up until age 42. I’ll never retire, I’ll just fade out. I haven’t really taken note of when I stopped competing; I just love running. You get out there and the competitive juices start flowing a bit, even if the body isn’t.”
“I guess I’m into cool running treks now more; that’s one of the beautiful things about running. We went to Patagonia last year, it’s just so vast,” Wyatt recalled. “And I enjoy going out from where we live. Today I did 1,000 vertical meters and there was some snow. Bombing downhill [in snow] is just great fun. That for me is what running is about these days. I’m not on the road or the track, but higher mountains with spectacular views.” The change too has brought longer times out, and Wyatt says that most runs are two to three hours long and that they happen about three times a week.
He lives in Italy with his family, and simply calls his community “the valley.” When pressed to get closer, he points to Trento and Bolzano as the closest bigger towns. The area is just south of the Austrian border, right in the heart of the Dolomites. “Big enough,” he joked of the garden he keeps in his yard. “There are some simple values from living in a small town in the mountains of Italy; it’s one of the simple pleasures in life. Gardening is a lot of work for two to three days [per season]. We got a good crop of beet root, stuff that grows better under the ground–carrots, onions, cucumbers, cabbage, and peas this year,” and then regrettably, “but no tomatoes.”
“She’s a pretty sporty person herself,” Wyatt said of his wife, Antonella Confortola. “She was a top cross-country skier, but doing mountain running in the summers,” he explained of their early meeting. He understates her success, as she competed in four Winter Olympics, earning a bronze medal in 2006. Wyatt himself raced in two Summer Olympics. They’ve been together since 2004 and Wyatt gives a head shake at the memory, “Wow, time flies.” He apologized that his social-media frequency has slowed, but life’s busy-ness has raced up. “She’s just under two years old and following in her parent’s footsteps,” Wyatt gushed over their daughter Dorothy’s early movement. While Confortola is active in the military police, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wyatt’s been able to work his collection of jobs to spend an increasing amount of time with his daughter. He looks forward to cross-country skiing this winter, if it’s allowed in the context of the pandemic, but insisted that it’s his wife who will have to tow their daughter, what with her superior skiing skills.
Italy’s home, but Wyatt remains a Kiwi, both at heart and legally. “I’m still a proud New Zealander. There hasn’t been a necessity [to change], and it’s quite a positive thing being a New Zealander right now,” he said, referencing the country’s positive COVID-19 outlook. Wyatt speaks fluent Italian, both to his wife and at his work office. In 2017, Wyatt, then a longtime Salomon athlete, jumped to La Sportiva as a consultant. “It was a logical move for me. I’d done what I could at Salomon as an athlete and on various projects. La Sportiva’s really a family-run company with family values. They do a lot to help the valley and the community. They’re working on recycling and sustainable materials. I work on product development, and with our mountain running team. Sometimes it feels full-time, but I enjoy being able to choose my schedule,” he said of his involvement. Wyatt calls out a few shoe models, including the Jackal, that he’s really proud of.
He’s quite the workman, and that role is just a small part of what he’s chasing now as we jump around his current life and interests. “I studied as an architect, worked on and off for a few years–six months in Europe, six months in New Zealand working. I did that for six to seven years. I’ll [still] walk into spaces and analyze it with an architect’s eye; that interest is always there,” he said before explaining that the licensure process has kept him from being active in the work in Italy. “We have a few long-term projects, but when buildings are 150-plus years old, things have their own rhythm.” That design eye works in his role with La Sportiva, and personally carries into other parts of his life too, like his car. He grows animated when I ask, calling out an old Instagram post. “I love cars, it’s an efficient package, the aesthetic and function in a small package,” Wyatt said of his Lotus Elise treasure. “It was a very innovative car when it came out. It’s just 900 kilograms, like a little go-cart.”
And perhaps most publicly, of his various roles, Wyatt is president of the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) Council. “By default,” he laughed, of his rise to the position. “When I joined the Council, they were looking for real change, a real refresh. My contacts with races and athletes, that side has been relatively easy. The political side has been more challenging, building a partnership with World Athletics.” The year’s [WMRA] Cup and championship events have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Wyatt explains some of the easy thinking. “We’ve had really good communication with the host locations. Safety is the first concern. We don’t want to risk the health of the athletes, the volunteers, or the organizers, and we don’t want to risk the health of the community. We postponed events to 2021, and the big news was that we postponed the championships [which were scheduled for this fall]. We thought [initially] that by November things would be under control and we could host the championships in Lanzarote, Spain, but as the situation unfolded, it wasn’t the case.”
Wyatt himself historically travels to about half of the WMRA Cup races, and of course is well aware of the rise in competing race series. “To be honest, any company investing heavily in the sport is a positive thing. We don’t compete with what private series are doing, but we can have conversations and work on races together. There are several examples of where we’ve cooperated together, and I think we bring something different to the party–the experience of being a world champion, you don’t get that outside of an organization like [the WMRA].”
You don’t get that outside of an organization like the WMRA, and you also don’t get a narrow chat with someone as diverse and unique as Jonathan Wyatt.
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