USATF Club Cross Country Championships
Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA
Saturday, December 13th
A chilly day and sometimes blustery winds greeted runners in Saturday’s USATF Club XC nationals, held at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. In other words, it was perfect cross country weather. Added to that, the rolling course was in superb condition, setting the scene for four races – men’s and women’s masters, men’s and women’s open – that lived up to every expectation.
The female masters were off first, a race that saw 45 year-old Christine Kimbrough from Austin, TX surge to the forefront from the outset and remain unthreatened throughout the 6K distance. Kimbrough had been in a recent spotlight by virtue of her world beer mile record. On the Lehigh course, her time of 21:30 gave her a 14 second margin over Atlanta TC’s Sonia Friend-Uhl and 24 over third placed Janet McDevitt from Club Northwest. The ever-important over-40 team race went to the Atlanta TC, their five scorers packing into the top 10, logging a mere 24 points.
The men’s over-40 race was no less intense, although Bowerman TC’s 41 year-old Greg Mitchell was always comfortable at the head of the field. Over the 10K looping course – perfect for spectators – he used his evident strength to surge clear in the last 3K, scoring a 27 second victory over Alan Jackson of the Asics Aggies. Jackson’s silver was a tad less comfortably won; his margin at the line was a scant second over Alan Black from Atlanta TC.
The masters’ races were excellent, but it was the big guns in the open races that were in the brightest spotlight. The women went first, the field of over 300 hammering away from the starting line and with the early lead being assumed by a pack including Angela Bizzarri, Alisha Williams, Tara Erdmann, Frances Koons, Nicole Schappert and a clutch of others. It was Boulder TC’s 25 year-old Laura Thweatt who captured greatest attention, though, she being the defending champion and looking ever more comfortable as the course’s 6kms unwound. She did not deceive. Around the final 2K, she forged an inexorable 20m lead over Erdmann, which she held to the line, crossing in 19:14 to the latter’s 19:24. Bizzarri, running unattached, took third in 19:33.
A powerful Boston Athletic Association dominated the team race, packing five into the top 20 and accumulating a scant 50 points. Notably, 40 year-old Jen Rhines was the BAA’s fourth scorer, placing 19th. Second and third placed teams were Boulder Running Company and Adidas/Rogue AC.
The men’s race was a barn-burner. From the gun, the field of almost 600 was fronted by a knot of 20 or so thoroughbreds with barely an inch between them all. Notable among them was two-time Olympian Matt Tegenkamp, the ultimate ninth place finisher, competing for Bowerman TC. It was Tegenkamp’s teammates, Ryan Hill and German Fernandez who were most threatening, however, both hovering on the shoulder of leader Jacob Riley of Hanson Brooks, the latter keeping his foot to the boards every step of the way. It was Hill who had the strength in the closing kilometers, however; he inched inexorably away from Riley and Fernandez and claimed the win in a blistering 29:07 for the 10K distance. With 200m remaining, it looked as though Fernandez would make it a Bowerman 1-2. Riley blasted the final 50m, though, claiming the silver medal just two seconds down on the winner, with Fernandez crossing 0.9 seconds later.
With Hill, Fernandez and Tegenkamp in 1-3-9, Bowerman TC was looking good for the team race. With nobody else close up, however, the way was open for Zap Fitness, led by Andrew Colley in 5th, to take the title. The Boston Athletic Association team produced another superb performance, claiming silvers to go with their golds in the women’s race, while the Asics Aggies RC placed third.
Some people – athletes and spectators – find cross country hard to love. It’s tough, it’s cold and, unlike just about every other team sport, you can never tell who’s won the title until hours later. But if you talk to anybody who attended this meet, they will assuredly tell you that cross country is hard core racing at its finest. At least it was at Lehigh.
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