Race Director's Blog: Local Meet Director Ben Rosario shares his thoughts on the storylines heading into this weekend's meet and the huge crowd expected to come out and watch.
We just had our final host organizing committee last night and I'll spare you the hour and a half talk about packet pick-up protocol, course marking and how many hot dogs to buy for the concession stand (750 if you were wondering). Rather, I'll tell you about the 15 minute conversation I had afterward with Chris and Brent from the St. Louis Sports Commission. We talked about all the storylines for this weekend and how this really is shaping up to be exactly what we envisioned two years ago when we won this bid; the best USA Cross Country Championships in the history of the event!
So here goes (in no particular order):
1) THE HUGE CROWD - We already have more than 1,100 runners expected to compete in either FLEET FEET 4K (community race) or the Big River Running Company High School 4K. That will give us a big fan base right there and you combine that with all the fans from all over Saint Louis and across the midwest that are planning on coming out to watch Deena, Shalane, Ritz, Teg and more and you can better believe we are going to approach the same crowds that Pete Julian and his crew had out for the Championships in Boulder in 2007.
2) DEENA v. SHALANE - Back in that '07 Championship the women's race was billed as Deena, the queen of U.S. distance running at the time, against young guns Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher. On that day Deena was clearly not ready to give up her crown and she put on a show, winning by more than a minute over Flanagan. The smart money would be on Flanagan turning the tables on the 39-year-old Kastor this time around but word on the street is that Deena is in excellent shape as she has already announced she'll be running the LA Marathon in March. No matter what happens, having two Olympic Bronze medalists going up against defending champion Sara Hall and Olympians Kim Conley and Magdalena Lewy Boulet makes the women's race a super-exciting story for the weekend.
3) RITZ v. TEG - These guys have been racing each other all the way back to 1999 when Ritzenhein won the first of his back-to-back Foot Locker National titles and Tegenkamp was fifth. A little over a year later Teg pulled off the upset over Ritz in the Junior Race at the 2001 USA Cross Country Championships before things got flipped again when Ritz took bronze at the World Championships and Teg was fifth. Since then, they've met countless times and both are among the greatest American distance runners of all time. Ritz has run 12:56 and 27:22. Teg has run 12:58 and 27:28. On Saturday Ritz will be going for his fourth USA Cross Country title but he'll have to beat Teg on close-to-home-turf. Tegenkamp hails from Lee's Summit, MO, near Kansas City, and will no doubt have enormous fan support as he is universally idolized by Missouri's high school runners.
4) HANNAH AND TAYLOR v. THE NATION - It's rare that things come together like this but the Saint Louis area just happens to have two of the best high school runners in the country in the same year that the USA Cross Country Championships are in their own backyard. Hannah Long, a sophomore from Eureka High School, was 10th at the Foot Locker National Championships last fall. Taylor Werner, a freshman from Ste. Genevieve, was 13th. The two engaged in an incredible battle on this same course back in September with Werner coming out on top, 16:59 to 17:07 over 5k. The Junior Women's field is stacked and includes several top college freshman including ACC Freshman of the Year Samantha George from NC State, 4:41 miler Maddie Meyers from Washington and high school steeplechase national record-holder Brianna Nerud from Syracuse. For Long or Werner to end up in the top 6 and punch a ticket to the World Championships will not be easy but it is possible and they will certainly have a couple thousand fans screaming their heads off to help make it happen.
5) DERRICK MAKES HIS DEBUT - There is no doubt that Stanford grad Chris Derrick had one of the best collegiate careers of any American distance runner, ever. The 13-time All American finished in the top 10 at the NCAA Cross Country Meet four straight years. He left with PRs of 13:19 for 5k and 27:31 for 10k. His consistency was nearly unparalleled though he never quite won a National Title, finishing second three times and third once in his final four attempts as a senior. Perhaps a win on Saturday would make up for some of those close calls. Derrick is unoubtedly itching to toe the line as this will be his debut race as a professional and his first since last summer's Olympic Track Trials. He has been training under the tutelage of Jerry Schumacher and alongside German Fernandez, Evan Jager, Chris Solinsky, Matt Tegenkamp and more since the fall. I would expect him to be very fit and his fan base should also be quite loud, being from just five hours north of Saint Louis in Naperville, Illinois.
6) THE DEPTH OF THE MEN'S FIELD - It takes a number of things to happen if you want to try and lay claim to being the best USA Cross Country Championships ever. I feel confident our crowd will rival any there's ever been. I think the media coverage locally and nationally will be good and I think we have a fun course. Ultimately though, you need a world-class field of athletes and I would put this men's open field up against any in the last 20 years for sure. In addition to Ritz, Teg and Derrick we have recent college stars Elliott Heath, Hassan Mead, Jake Riley and Luke Puskedra. We have 2:11 marathoner Ryan Vail, 27:48 10k guy Scott Bauhs and jack-of-all-trades Max King, all of whom have made World Cross Country Teams before. We have defending champion Bobby Mack, who is coming off a big win in Edinburgh and is capable of pulling off a big upset on Saturday in my opinion. Another runner with such a chance is two-time U.S. Road 5k champion Ben True whose kick is absolutely lethal. Then there's U.S. Army teammates Joseph Chirlee and Robert Cheseret. Chirlee is a 27:43 10k man and Cheseret was an 8-time Pac-10 Champion. Ian Burrell and Augustus Maiyo are in the field after a fall where they represented the U.S. at the World Half Marathon Championships as is former U.S. Club Cross Country Champion David Jankowski. Others with a real chance to be in the top ten on Saturday are Reed Connor, Michael Crouch, Craig Curley, Elliot Krause, Richard Medina, Tyler Pennel, Jeff Schirmer, Josh Simpson and Scott Smith.
So that's all I have for now but there are plenty more. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for updates all week long. And tell your friends!
See you Saturday,