Kilian Jornet, the defending Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run champion and widely considered the world's best ultrarunner, has dropped out of Saturday's race from Squaw Valley to Auburn following the death of a close friend in a climbing accident in the Alps.
Jornet had been traversing Mount Blanc with three-time world mountaineering champion Stephane Brosse over the weekend when a ridge collapse claimed Brosse's life.
The two apparently were close to completing "La Grande Traversee," a speed ascent and descent, when the ridge gave way, according to a statement issued by the pair's sponsor, Team Salomon.
"It was on the last part, just before going downhill, that the ridge they were on collapsed, taking Stephane within its spilling," the statement read. "Kilian remained helpless whilst waiting for the rescue team."
The Western States board of trustees said Jornet's presence at one of ultrarunning's signature events will be sorely missed. Jornet, a Spaniard, last year became the first foreigner to win the race, and in 2010 he finished third.
"Kilian has inspired us through his love of the trails and our mountains," the statement said. "We have embraced Kilian, possessor of a boundless spirit, as a member of the Western States family."
Jornet's withdrawal is the second big-name loss for the Western States this year. Fellow Spaniard Miguel Heras dropped out last week, citing injuries.