Euro XC courses vs. the world!⏱

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KinneyFoot LockerEastbay…CHAMPS SPORTS!

A rose by any other name… would still be the Balboa Park Invitational 5k! The sponsor of this meet may have changed through the years, but we all know what it is – the high school national championships. Now under the banner of Champs Sports, the race has been held since 1979 and in recent years, always in San Diego.

Given that Champs Sports is technically owned by Foot Locker, I think it’d be in the meet’s best branding interest to lean into its history a bit, but what do I know? The elephant in the room isn’t the ever-changing name of this race, it’s that there are multiple high school national champions in every season of the year. Hopefully, these athletes take a similar approach that I did when I was their age and don’t tell anyone at school about that little caveat when crowing about their national title...

Up until 2004 things were easy – the top 32 individuals in the country went to the same race and duked it out. I am sure if organizers had a time machine they would go back and try to nip Nike Cross Nationals in the bud and add a team element, but here we are. In 2008, the swoosh added all-expense paid trips for individuals who qualified at regional meets to the budget, and now there were decisions to make.

With only so much time in the post-state meet season, most athletes had to choose what they wanted to do. For certain individuals who were also part of top teams, that choice was made for them. But for a solid decade, Foot Locker was clearly the place where the best individual in the country was crowned.

How Nike National Champions finished at Foot Locker 2004 - 2012

  • 2004 - Ramsey Kavan (3rd) and Sean McNamara (12th)

  • 2005 - Kenny Klotz (4th) and Betsy Bies (10th)

  • 2006 - Steve Murdock (3rd) and Ashley Higginson (22nd)

  • 2007 - Chris Derrick (2nd)

  • 2008 - Chelsey Sveinsson (4th)

  • 2009 - Craig Lutz (4th) and Catherine Flood (8th)

  • 2010 - Lukas Verzbicas (Double Champion) and Rachel Johnson

  • 2011 - Futsum Zeinasellaissie (2nd)

  • 2012 - Sam Wharton (6th)

In 2017, despite finishing 13th at NXN, Dylan Jacobs turned around and won Foot Locker. But because Aidan Troutner won the head-to-head battle in Portland, it only felt fair to give him the Fastest Kid in the Country nod. That makes 2017 the first time that most would say the Nike National meet crowned the top runner in the country. Also, that was the first of Katelyn Tuohy’s three NXN titles and with course records at Bowdoin Park, Bear Mountain, and Van Cortlandt that season, she was undisputedly on another level than anyone else.

A similar series of events happened in 2018 when Cole Hocker finished second to Liam Anderson at NXN, but turned around to win a Liam-less Foot Locker. With Tuohy doing her thing again, that was the second year in a row NXN would have been favored.

And finally again in 2019, Nico Young – who would have been a unanimous pick during the regular season after his 3-mile national record at Woodbridge – beat Josh Methner at NXN in a new course record. Young didn’t drive down the 5 to Foot Locker, and Methner went on to win it. And of course, Tuohy won again.

Both national championships were canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, and no NXN was held in 2021. So what happened this time around? Does my ironclad methodology of figuring out the True National Champ hold up to greater scrutiny?

Well, neither NXN Champions, Irene Riggs nor Aaron Sahlman, came back to run Foot Locker, so that makes it tricky. However, the Foot Locker boys champion, Kole Mathison, did run NXN where he finished fourth. And this is where I’ll admit there are some holes in my framework, and I’ll instead complain about the fact that there are so many national championships!

Kole ran way better in San Diego than he did in Portland! Based on speed ratings, his 204 at Balboa Park would have tied Sahlman’s. His 14:56 winning time is the fastest since Drew Hunter’s 14:55 in 2015, and quicker than the 2x champion and now multiple-time American record holder Grant Fisher ever ran there.

So who is to say how the race would have gone had Sahlman been in San Diego? Remember, Sahlman was the third man on his own team all season. And that’s the beauty of racing – line up the same field ten times and you’ll have ten different finishing permutations.

Anyway, Mathison is heading to Colorado next year, just like…

Karrie Baloga finished 11th as a freshman and 4th as a junior, but this year she took the whole thing. The senior from Cornwall continued the long-established tradition of New York’s cross country dominance, as she was the fifth girl’s winner from the state, and the second from her high school behind Aisling Cuffe. (Surprisingly there’s never been a boy’s winner from New York.) Her 16:49 victory was the eighth fastest time in meet history.

We’ll never know how Baloga would have fared against NXN champ Irene Riggs. Hopefully they pick the same national meet come track season. And there’s a good chance that next year we’ll see them race against one another at Pac-12s and beyond.

But as I spent some time ruminating on poring through 20 years of national results and thinking about all the various high school championships and champions, there were plenty of familiar names. Some towards the top made sense – they were so talented in high school, of course they would go on to make the Olympics and set records. Others I wondered, ‘whatever happened to them?’ But the scenario I saw most frequently was a high schooler on the precipice of being All-American – they were good, but not earth-shattering – but they’re now amongst the biggest stars in the world.

Don’t let the fact that these young athletes are showered in gear and treated like rockstars by competing brands vying for their long-term affinity distract you from the fact that they are kids. These results are just the beginning!

European XC Championships 🇮🇹

If an American cross country race was designed to run through a building for part of the course, then it would be laughed at – BUT WHEN EUROPE DOES IT!!!

And if you’re still in an uproar because of my ambivalence over the NCAA XC tiebreaker not factoring in a team’s sixth or seventh runner, wait ‘til you hear that at the Europe Champs, they ONLY SCORE THE FIRST THREE RUNNERS..

Regardless, there’s clearly plenty for us to learn from Euro-style XC.

The 2022 European Cross Country Championships were held in Turin, Italy, at Mandria Park, on a course comprised of a muddy and hilly 1500m loop that runs for 50 meters through the museum at The Castle of La Mandria. It was sloppy, it was raw, and it made for great television.

U20 - Following her 13th-place finish last year, Maria Forero won the women’s race to lead Spain to the title. On the men’s side there was drama as Ireland’s Nicolas Griggs – the 17-year-old sub-four miler – all but appeared to have things locked down, but he stumbled in the final few meters and was overtaken by GB’s Will Barnicoat who brought with him the team victory.

U23 - If you’re sitting somewhere in America eating peanut butter and saying the pledge of allegiance wondering why there is such a small age gap between divisions, then think of this as the European NCAA championships. For Europeans whose ancestors didn’t pass through Ellis Island, there just aren’t the same number of competitive opportunities during the awkward stage between secondary school and university. With a less structured and supported collegiate system, the national and area championship are the two best opportunities to incentivize sticking with it and develop talent.

That is until someone like Charles Hicks comes along and has the best of both worlds! Stanford’s first-ever NCAA XC Champion followed up last month’s performance in Stillwater with the successful defense of his U23 title. While his teammate and others were chasing new 5000m personal bests in Boston, ol’ Hicks was still playing in the mud.

The Cardinal has quickly made a name for himself in what is the most important barometer – likes. The CITIUS MAG post highlighting his victory has now surpassed Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record and is now the second most popular post in our account’s history. (Can you guess what number one is? Stay tuned next week to find out!)

Looking at the woman’s side, maybe referring to the U23 category as anything relating to development is a bit unfair. That’s because Nadia Battocletti holds a 14:46 5000m personal best and is just two seconds off the Italian national record, which she accomplished by finishing 7th at the Olympics at 21-years-old. American fans are completely obsessed with young talent – unless that young talent isn’t ours. Great Britain looks well-positioned for the future, as they won both team races.

Senior Women - It just feels like we don’t appreciate Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal. With the addition of another senior title, the Norwegian is now the most decorated woman in European cross country history with nine medals – and she is only 32! The range on her resume – steeplechase, roads, and obviously cross country – is a thing of beauty. It’s a characteristic of underrated runners that I value and categorize alongside longevity.

At the beginning of the race, it seemed like Konstanze Klosterhalfen, who we know is in very good shape, might just not be equipped for such a course. The Union Athletics Club athlete finished fifth last year in less zany conditions and the slippery segments and hills didn’t look comfortable. As the pace picked up, Koko found her groove until she and Grøvdal separated from the pack. With less than a quarter mile to go, it was anyone’s race, but the final downhill it was just a matter of whose legs could turn over faster without stumbling. Klosterhalfen’s consolation prize was a first trip to the top of the podium with her German teammates.

Senior Men - It’s the circle of life. We have high hopes for them as teenagers. We cheer for them as they fulfill their potential. Then when they’re dominating we are like… it’d be pretty interesting if someone beat them! And then when they’re older it becomes fun to cheer for them again.

If you thought the mud and museum would be some sort of equalizer to the fitness of Jakob Ingebrigtsen, then you haven’t woken up at 3am to watch any of the previous six editions of European XC. This makes it four junior titles and two seniors for the now self-coached and insightful Olympic champion. If you haven’t watched his interviews before, they’re full of wisdom, but also gems like, “I think you need to be some sort of arrogant, but can’t be a douche or asshole.” And my god if that ain’t the truth!

The race itself was relatively predictable. Jakob went out super conservatively and buried himself during the first lap before making his way toward the front without ever making a move. Then in a blink of an eye the race was over as he somehow put a 50 meter gap on the field in 40 meters.

As for the team battle, we’ll see this afternoon if France’s footballers (soccer-ers?) can follow up the men’s triumph on the cross country course.

Getting Back on Track

Shoutout to the city of San Francisco’s parks and recreation department for forcing USATF’s hand into doing something I’ve always expected would lead to more complaints: running cross country races fully on a track, over distances way shorter than advertised.

At the Club Cross Country Championships this past Saturday in Golden Gate Park, the first event of the day – the 60+ masters race – went off without a hitch, and with Brit-approved cross country conditions: rainy, windy, muddy, cheeky.

But during the lull before the 40-59 men’s masters race, an enormous tree located just behind the starting line was felled by borderline gale-force winds. After a lengthy delay, city workers closed the course, and meet organizers moved all remaining races to the tree-less confines of the roughly 1200m polo field track.

I’d like to commend the hosting committee for its consideration of the safety of the athletes and spectators, and for rushing to action to ensure the final three races of the day could still take place despite a difficult set of circumstances.

[Stephen A. Smith voice] HOWEVER, [/Stephen A. Smith voice]

I’d also like to acknowledge how funny it was that what was billed as a 6k or 10k cross country race wound up being loops of a half-paved, half-packed-gravel oval for ~3.4 or ~5.9 miles.

While I’m sure many competitors were disappointed by the sudden change in terrain and distance, as a fan it provided for an unmatched spectating experience, and as an editor for a running newsletter, it allowed me to draw some much more direct conclusions from the races’ outcomes.

Relatively new BAA member Bethany Hasz took the win over a solid field that notably included Annie Rodenfels, who just ran 15:08 indoors. Now ordinarily, I would be quick to point out that success in cross country doesn’t always translate to success on the track. But in this case, cross country basically was track, and Hasz took down an athlete that’s actively knocking on the door of a sub-15-minute 5000m. You do the math!

In the men’s race, Cole Hocker toyed with the field for about 5.5 miles before launching into a recognizable, track-like kick. That uniform may also be vaguely familiar, as the Eugene-based training group coached by Ben Thomas has now taken up the banner of the Oregon Track Club. This is not the return of the Nike-backed OTC Elite – though Hocker will of course continue to represent his sponsor. The rest of the team wore a brandless kit that is for sale via New Gen T&F and will go towards supporting its athletes.

The last time Hocker raced cross country was at NCAAs, where he finished 69th, a humorous place, but also one he’d definitely like to avenge. In all likelihood, he still would have won had this race been run on its original course. But given the venue, any statement about cross country and Hocker’s place in it rang hollow.

Hansons-Brooks took both the men’s and women’s team titles, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. The team makes this race a major part of its racing calendar annually – which is something I wish way more pro-level clubs would do.

If you’re the coach or manager of a professional group, consider this year’s race an open invitation to come out for club cross next year. You never know, it might wind up being an off-distance track meet anyway.

And to all of the sub-elites on the fence about spending your own money to travel to this race in the future… just ask the hundreds of runners out there how much they’re enjoying their new “6k” or “10k” PBs!

Uganda Cross Country Championships 🇺🇬

Since there’s a lot of enthusiasm (by me) for analyzing and critiquing cross country courses this week, then I’d have to give Uganda’s National Championships a C- or, something barely above passing. It was essentially flat grass loops (without the excuse of a giant tree falling on the course) with a few purposeful logs thrown down on the ground, and it wasn’t situated much higher than 4000 feet in elevation.

Maybe this was too easy of a setup for Joshua Cheptegei – who is accustomed to running tempos straight uphill at 10,000+ feet – because neither he nor Jacob Kiplimo were in it. The Ugandan federation said athletes would have to compete here to qualify for Bathurst, but they’ve said similar things before and made exceptions.

Nevertheless, it was a breakthrough day for 19-year-old Martin Magengo Kiprotich, who elected to run in the senior men’s race which seems to have been the right call because he won. Surely you’d assume that’d mean he’d have had the fastest 10k on the day with his 29:35 – especially since the U20 men weren’t supposed to run one!

Except there was a miscalculation midway through the 8k race when officials accidentally sent the entire field for an extra lap. Miraculously, Kenneth Kiprop managed to find enough strength to muster up the additional 2k and finished in 29:29 to win the U20 race six seconds faster than the “senior” men.

All-in-all, it was a bit of a wacky day! Especially when you consider that Uganda is the defending World XC Champions. If they’re going to repeat, then they’ll need both teenagers on the senior squad to have near-perfect days, and they’ll probably want to field two men the rulebook says they ought to leave out.

New 400m World Record…in Crocs

Whether it’s stopping to chug a beer after each lap or racing a mile in blue jeans, runners love a good gimmick. Some of these are more impressive than others, but Niklas Klei’s new 400m world record wearing a pair of Crocs in “sports mode” actually has me taken aback.

The German decathlete who runs for Queens College and has a 400m personal best of 47.10 somehow managed to go 51.84 seconds around the oval. And even more surprising than the fact that I think he can go faster is that I’m now deeply invested in him doing so. Is this how we SAVE TRACK AND FIELD?!

Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥

  • David Rudisha was involved in a scary plane crash but thankfully escaped unharmed. He took a picture with the downed aircraft, which is something I would also do.

  • The New Jersey royal wedding was this weekend as Robby Andrews and Josette Norris tied the knot and presumably sat then kicked it on the dance floor.

  • Athanas Kioko ran 46:10 to win the Running-Carpet Capital 10 mile.

  • If you ever wondered how a country ends up on the competition manipulation watch list it’s by doing things as Albania did before the Tokyo Olympics. Now the AIU has provisionally suspended long jumper Izmir Smajlaj and federation officials for falsifying his 8.16m qualifying mark. The court case should just be a runway, a sandpit, and three attempts to do it again.

  • The Ethiopian duo of Asefa Mengstu (2:14:40) and Bere Ayalew (2:30:58) won the Honolulu Marathon, which is not known for its ideal running conditions. But you wouldn’t have to pay me the full amount of the $25,000 prize money to marinate on the beach for a few days after .

  • Surprise, surprise. We’ve got some controversy surrounding the 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials as USATF’s national office overruled the board’s recommendation of Chattanooga in favor of Orlando. A similar situation occurred in 2016 in the selection process for Los Angeles. (Article)

  • Also in Waikiki, fans were treated to the Kalakaua Merrie Mile, which provided the women with a twenty-nine-second head start over the men’s field in an effort at crowning one, time-equalized champion. That wasn’t enough, it seems, as Neil Gourley won the overall race in 3:56 to Katie Snowden’s 4:27. I spent a lot of time around here growing up – my grandparents lived in the Moana Surfrider Hotel for six months of the year, and not doing this race while they were alive is a regret of mine.

  • Kenya’s men’s World XC team is incredible! Granted he is just getting back into form, but Geoffrey Kamworor, the 2x World Champion in the event, as well as the 2x New York City Marathon Champion was the 6th man to make the squad. The 2022 Diamond League 5000m winner was 5th! And an unheralded Grace Loibach defied the odds to stun an equally impressive women’s field. (Race Video)

Thank you so much to Puma for sponsoring this week’s newsletter! I am heading to Ireland today for the remainder of the year and will have limited WiFi access. Please feel free to pass along any interesting results, news, or content to help out!