After nine years, the weather has decided to show who was boss. Seven years of superb weather have now given way to two years of rain. This year was cold, bone soaking, but the 40 high school boys and 160 high school boys and girls, the top runners from Washington and Oregon made it a memorable day….
Let’s get something out of the way. This meet, the Nike Border Clash is the most important and significant meet that Nike sponsors in our sport. This is not to say that events like the Nike Team Nationals, here in two weeks, or the Nike Indoor, or the Nike Outdoor are not larger and more dramatic. The truth is, without this meet, Nike would have forgotten its roots-the Nike Border Clash is a yearly affirmation of the brand’s commitment to the sport.
The event was the brainchild of John Truax, a footwear designer at Nike, who is from Washington, and Josh Rowe, now in Athletic promotions, from Oregon. Both remembered the classic days of the late Steve Prefontaine and John Ngeno, as Oregon and Washington battled over cross country in the 60s and 70s.
Like the Buddhist koan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”, Truax and Rowe wanted to answer the, at the time, to the question, Who has the best runners, Washington or Oregon?
Creating enthusiasm at Nike, with the help of guys like Goeff Hollister and Nelson Ferris, this event struck a cord at the Berm. In 1999, Ian Dobson of Oregon won the boy’s side, and Parris Edwards won the inaugural girl ‘s race that year. Now, in its’ ninth year, the Nike Border Clash is approaching the decade mark.
What makes this race unique? The start, called a Braveheart style, where the teams start on separate starting lines. After that, they run, hell bent, at each other for the first hundred meters, then the merge happens.
The race starts with the roar of a cannon, and then, fireworks! The roar of the cannon is gets the race off to a loud start. And, then the best of the best from the Northwest takes off to determine the bragging rights for the states of Washington and Oregon.
The details that Nike goes to make this meet a success and to make the young runners feel special is what makes the event unforgettable. Fifty foot letters, an O for Oregon and a W for Washington are painted just where the runners meet at the hundred meter mark.
The top ten boys and girls receive a statue of the Nike, the Winged Goddess of Victory, for their performances. The winning state’s Nike Town receives a twenty-four inch copy of the Nike winged goddess, listing the names of the winning team members.
The first race was the girls’ race. Nicole Cochran, who had run the last three Nike Border Clash events, wanted to win this one, and she did. Taking the lead from very early on, Nicole Cochran, of Washington, took the lead and stayed there. At 1.25 miles, Taylor Wallace of Oregon followed Nicole Cochran, with Kayla Evans, Devin McMahon, Sarah Lord, Sandra Martinez, Bronwyn Crossman, Bridget Berg and Annie Moore, all of Washington, in tow. Adrienne McGuirk and Alexandra Jones, both of Oregon, followed
the Washington crowd.
And the rain came….and continued to come down…during the women’s race, it was intermittent, but the mid forty temperatures reminded the couple thousand fans that this was a Oregon late fall day.
Nicole Cochran was untouchable, but you could not tell Taylor Wallace that, as Cochran
and Wallace fought over the last three hundred meters. Wallace was close, but could not pass Cochran, who was on a mission. After three tries, the fourth was the sweetest, as Nicole Cochran ran a fine 16:23.70 for first, a 5:59.8 pace for the 4,400 meters of rain soaked trails and road around the Nike campus.
How dominant was Washington? Well, places 1, and 3-9 cemented the bragging rights for Washington as they scored 68 to Oregon’s 144!
In speaking to the girls afterwards, it was clear that this meet is the highlight of their seasons, and they put their efforts in winning the title for their home states. After nine years, the Nike Border Clash has become the post season meet for Washington and Oregon.
Then, the rain really came…the course had puddles on it by the time the boys’ race began, with a loud roar from the cannon, the teams of Washington and Oregon were out on the course. Nike soccer designer, Tony Bignell, holding his son, shouted, ” Come on, lads” as the 80 cross country runners hit the sidewalk, and went up the steps to the first loop.
Cross country is one part of the world’s oldest sport. There are drawings from Sumer, showing footraces that went around the walls, approximately 3,000 meters in length, that date back three thousand years ago. Cross country races date back to the middle of the nineteenth century, in England, where athletes would play rabbits and hounds. A rabbit would drop pieces of paper, for miles in the country, where the hounds tried to follow. More traditional races were established in the 1870’s and championships were set up in the UK. Our traditions of cross country date back to the club system of Great Britain.
Cross country is the meeting place of all distance runners. Where milers and marathoners meet. 400,000 high schoolers and college runners run cross country in North America. This weekend, besides the Border Clash, there are the NCAA 2, 3 and NAIA cross country champs, plus the NCAA Division 1 on Monday. Next weekend, the final three regionals of the Nike NTN are scheduled, along with the Foot Locker Cross Country regionals.
But today, Miles Unterreiner of Washington and Jonathan Lafler of Washington lead. At 1.25 miles, Unterreiner, Lafler lead two runners from Oregon, Bryce Burgess and Eliot Jantzer, with a crew from Washington including Kevin Rosaaen, Kelly Lynch, Rob Webster, Ryan Prentice, Justin Rose and Julian-Blake Cown in tow. I was standing behind the very proud mother of Kevin Rosaaen, a junior from Washington, who was in the top ten at the time.
One of the fun things about this race is how the fans charge from one part of the course to another, following the harriers. The rain was coming down very hard as the harriers charged through mud puddles, through rain, through a true cross country course.
As Miles Unterreiner and Jonathan Lafler came upon the last four hundred meters, the battle was furious, but Miles was on top, and stayed there, running a fine 14:13.34, to Jonathan Lafler’s 14:17.6. Eleven seconds back, Elliot Jantzer of Oregon took third, in 14:26.16, with Bryce Burgess of Oregon taking fourth in 14:26.28. Kevin Rosaaen of Washington moved up to fifth, running a fine 14:26.93. Kelly Lynch of Washington was sixth in 14:30.73. In seventh place, Rob Webster of Washington ran 14:32.26. In eighth was Ryan Prentice of Washington, running 14:33.06. The charge did not stop here. Justin Rose of Washington was ninth in 14:34.80, and in tenth was Julian-Blake Cowan of Washington ran 14:35.14. Washington won the boys’ race, 73 to 137, for Oregon.
Now, Washington is ahead seven races to two.
The rain kept coming down..and the awards were moved up to 11:45 am. In the rain, the crowd, under the cover of umbrellas watched as the top ten boys and girls were given their prices. Adam Goucher, Kara Goucher and Matt Tegankamp, top runners all, gave the awards out.
As I walked away, in the rain, from the ninth Border Clash, it was fitting that the rain was unrelenting. The event, was, like an e.e. cummings poem, pure and honest. 4,400 meters over mud, bark covered trails, sidewalks, pitting 160 rain soaked prepsters from Washington and Oregon. No reason to run but to determine bragging rights for the best cross country state in the Northwest.
It was something that the late Steve Prefontaine would have understood. It is something that Goeff Hollister understood. It is something that John Truax and Josh Rowe understand. It is the reason why Brian OConnor and Mike Donnelly take pleasure with their jobs, helping put up the course barriers on the Braveheart start. It is important to be part of something that keeps kids dreaming.
Somewhere, in Washington or Oregon, or perhaps both, a young runner is getting ready to go out for a few miles, dreaming of winning the Nike Border Clash. So, it goes…one foot after another, running into the darkness of a fall night in the Pacific Northwest…
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