Friday, March 29, 2013

US Men Capture Silver at World Cross

Bydgoszca, Poland - Mass start of the junior men's race
On Sunday, national teams lined up in Poland for the toughest race on the planet. Cross country is often called the soul of distance running, and for good reason. Distance specialists from across the spectrum come together for one common race, a field loaded with talent from mid-distance to the marathon, they compete over purposefully rugged terrain, and lay it all on the table for individual and national glory. This year's race hosted in Bydgoszcz, Poland, had a terrific array of course challenges including snow, mud, and sub-freezing temperatures. The American Men ran tough as nails, securing the highest team showing in a generation by placing two runners in the top ten (Ben True in 6th, Chris Derrick in 10th), and nabbing the second podium spot from perennial favorite Kenya. Ethiopia claimed gold.

Ben True
True, sixth at the US Championships, worked his way up from 25th to 6th over the six laps of the course, relying on his winter background as a Mainer, excelling in cross country ski racing where he raced collegiately at Dartmouth. Derrick is the newly crowned US champion, notable for being the most accomplished collegiate runner never to win an NCAA title (while at Stanford) yet apparently strong enough for both a senior title and a top ten finish at Worlds. Gives an idea of how deep the talent is on the NCAA level right now. Rounding out the team scoring were Ryan Vail (formely of OK St) in 17th and Bobby Mack (formerly of NC St) in 19th.

The team silver is the best finish by a US men's team at World Cross in nearly thirty years. That 1984 team was lead by legends Pat Porter, Ed Eyestone, and Craig Virgin, who paced the team to silver in front of a home crowd at the Meadowlands of NJ. The toughest race in sport has lost a bit of luster in recent years as prize money and lucrative payouts have listed heavily in favor of road racing and the marathon (see: unknown athletes running 2:05s, and the drop-off of elite 10,000m races on the track). With Boston, London, and Rotterdam marathons only weeks away, several of the world's top endurance athletes passed on Poland. This was most conspicuous with the makeup and finish of team Kenya, though even the triumphant Americans ran without their front line of top athletes (Rupp, Ritzenhein, Jager, Lomong, Tegenkamp).

Neely Spence
The US women finished a very respectable fourth, behind Kenya, Ethiopia, and Bahrain which is the de facto Kenyan B team. The Americans were lead by up-and-comer Neely Spence in 13th. Neely is of course the daughter of Steve Spence, Olympic marathoner and bronze medalist at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. Stalwart US champion Deena Kastor ran fifth for the women for 34th place overall. In a stoic display of old-school grit, Kastor is fresh off a solid performance at the Los Angeles Marathon in February and just celebrated her 40th birthday. A poignant reminder to the new crop of American distance stars that the objective of competing is to race, not to watch from the sidelines.

Related Posts:
 - Olympic Marathon Recap
 - Boston!

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