Winners Dominate at USA Cross Country Championships

Winners Dominate at USA Cross Country Championships

In dominant fashion, the six winners at the USA Cross Country Championships won their respective races by comfortable margins in Mission Bay Park, San Diego.

The event, contested for the second time here in four years, selected the junior and senior teams for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships next month in Punta Umbria, Spain, where athletes will compete in similarly warm and sunny conditions.

In the senior women's 8-kilometer race, reigning Olympic 10,000m bronze medallist Shalane Flanagan not only won as expected, but ran away from the field. After the second of four 2-kilometer loops, Flanagan already had a 25-second lead over her top rival and last year's runner-up, Molly Huddle. Just four seconds behind Huddle, Olympian Magdalena Lewy Boulet and Flanagan's training partner Lisa Koll battled for third. Never looking behind her, Flanagan nearly doubled her lead over the next loop, and romped to the finish line in 25:47, 21 seconds slower than she covered the same course when she won here in 2008. Flanagan, 29, the second place finisher at last November's ING New York City Marathon, secured her third national cross country title in four years.

"No, it wasn't," Flanagan replied when asked by a reporter if today's victory was easy. She continued: "I hurt today. The fitness is there. I didn't feel super sharp today, but the strength was there."

Behind Flanagan, Koll caught Huddle with a lap to go, but the USA 5000m record holder surged away from last year's NCAA 5000m and 10,000m champion to collect second place honors in 26:31.

"I caught up to her with about 2-K to go," explained Koll who finished ten seconds behind Huddle and qualified for her first-ever national team. "She made a move at the same point and I didn't have enough snap in my legs."

Magdalena Lewy Boulet (27:02), Blake Russell (27:06), and Alisa McKaig (27:07) rounded out the team spots. Kara Goucher, still on the comeback trail from giving birth to son Colton last September, finished seventh in 27:37. She is training for the NYC Half-Marathon on March 20, and the Boston Marathon on April 18.

While Flanagan's victory was expected, Brent Vaughn's in the senior men's 12-K was not. The 26 year-old former University of Colorado Buffalo didn't even plan to run this event. He had been in Houston a week ago to contest the USA Half-Marathon Championships. He was aggressive in that race, leading through the first half, but he was unable to finish, dropping out at about the 8-mile mark. He said that as he walked back to his hotel in Houston he thought of quitting the sport, but changed his mind.

"Because of the fitness I knew I was in, my confidence in my coach and my confidence in my ability, I decided, you know, I've got to race," said Vaughn. "I didn't want to waste this fitness. I've been working too hard."

It was in the fourth lap of the 6-lap, 12-K contest that Vaughn, 26, broke free of the lead pack, and established an 11-second lead. He picked up another four seconds on the next lap as his closest pursuers, the Oregon Track Club's Andrew Bumbalough and Matt Tegenkamp, realized that they were battling for second.

"He kind of came out of nowhere," Bumbalough said of Vaughn. "When he went, he want hard."

Vaughn was never seriously challenged during the second half of the race. He sailed over the emerald grass course to win by six seconds in 35:46. His victory represented both his first-ever national title and international team berth.

"I can't really put it into words," he said of what it will mean to put on the Team USA uniform in Spain next month. "I'm going to have a hard time sleeping tonight."

Bumbalough, who hung on for second in 35:52, was also very pleased with his performance for coach Jerry Schumacher.

"It was finally a winter of fitness instead of injury," said the former Georgetown University Hoya.

Ed Moran passed Tegenkamp to take third, 35:54 to 36:01. Ben True got fifth (36:03) and Brian Olinger sixth (36:05) to fill out the six-man team. Several pre-race favorites fared poorly, including Olympians Jorge Torres (10th) and Abdi Abdirahman (29th), and two-time World Cross team member Scott Bauhs (DNF).

Cornwall, N.Y., high school senior Aisling Cuffe crushed the junior women's field by nearly half a minute, clipping through the 6 km course in 21:13. She left her most serious rivals, Molly Grabill and Katie Flood, after the first of three laps to make her first national team. The 17 year-old, twice the USA junior champion at 5000m, was clearly thrilled to be headed to her first global championships.

"It was a little tougher than I thought it would be the last K," said Cuffe who could not suppress her joy. She added: "I'm so excited. Like, last year I was hoping to go to Canada (for the IAAF World Junior Championships), and I missed it (because she did not have a qualifying time)."

Grabill finished second in 21:39, and Flood third in 21:43. Two 14 year-olds, Emma Abrahamson (10th) and Alana Hadley (19th) made the top-20.

Stanford University's Erik Olson also dominated in winning the junior men's race. The bronze medallist in the junior division at the NACAC Cross Country Championships last year accelerated midway through the penultimate lap, breaking away from the field, covering the 8 km course in 24:48, and winning by nine seconds. Maxwell Straneva of Syracuse University finished next in 24:57, and Craig Lutz of Lewisville Marcus High School in Texas was third (25:06).

"Really, for me, the last 3-K is when I tried to drop the hammer," said Olson who runs for Stanford University. "I just felt like my strength this past winter... allowed me to push with 3-K to go."

Olson was unconcerned by the early front-running of UCLA freshman Dustin Fay, who was caught in the second lap and would eventually finish 35th.

"Eight-K is a pretty long distance," Olson said. "It's pretty hard to lead from start to finish. If it happened to be, like, Dathan Ritzenhein, I'd be a little more worried."

The overall masters (40+) titles went to two athletes in the 45-49 category, Colleen De Reuck and Peter Magill. De Reuck's win over the 8 km course in 28:47 was expected, and she beat her nearest rival, triathlete Joanna Zeiger, by more than a minute and a half. Magill, 49, upset Gray Mavhera, 41, and Christian Cushing-Murray, 43, running 26:17. Magill turns 50 in four months and could become the first-ever 50 year-old to break 15 minutes for 5-kilometers.

"That's my only individual goal this year," said Magill who works in the research department of a California law firm. He credited his success to training wisely, and not trying to do the workouts he did 25 years ago.

"I don't train like an idiot," Magill quipped. "Most masters runners train too hard. You have to adjust every day."

By David Monti (c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved; Used with permission

(In the photo: Brent Vaughn pulls away from the field - Photo by Jane Monti)