By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2023 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
MECHANICSVILLE, VA. (21-Jan) — At the first-ever edition of the USATF Cross Country Championships to be held in Virginia, Ednah Kurgat and Emmanuel Bor used powerful mid-race moves to secure the open 10-K titles at Pole Green Park, about 12 miles north and east of Richmond, the state capital.
Running on turf so firm that the event felt more like a road race, Kurgat clocked 32:06.5 and Bor was timed in 28:43.3. Both athletes won by comfortable margins (18 seconds for Kurgat and four seconds for Bor), pocketed $4000 in prize money, and qualified for the 2023 World Athletics Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, Australia, on February 18.
EDNAH KURGAT STRIKES AT 8-K:
Of the 54 women who started the open 10-K, a group of 10 quickly took control of the race. At the 2-K mark, Kurgat (All-Army) was leading the competition with Emily Durgin (adidas/Golden Coast TC) and Weini Kelati (Under Armour/Dark Sky Distance).
Packed-in closely behind them were Susanna Sullivan (Unattached), Makena Morley (Asics), Emily Lipari (adidas/Golden Coast TC), Laura Thweatt (Saucony), Carrie Verdon (T.E.A.M. Boulder), Katie Izzo (adidas/Golden Coast TC), and Katrina Spratford (Unattached).
By the halfway point, Sullivan, Thweatt, Verdon and Spratford had fallen off the back leaving a pack of six at the front, the exact number of athletes who would be selected for the USA team for the world championships.
With the nearest chasers (Sullivan and Thweatt) 15 seconds behind, the first six focused on racing each other, knowing that the team spots would be theirs if they didn’t blow up. Kurgat, who was feeling comfortable, got ready to make her move.
“Often in races when they make that (important) move I don’t respond, so it’s something I’ve worked on in practice,” Kurgat told reporters. “So, I was prepared to make a move towards the end. It was something I really prepared coming into it.”
When Kurgat crossed the 8-K point (25:58.1) and began her fifth and final lap, she stepped on the gas. She clicked off a 3:06 kilometer leaving the other five women to battle for second. She was never challenged in the final kilometer, and her time of 32:06.5 was a championships record since the 10-kilometer distance was adopted for women in 2016.
“It’s unbelievable,” said a smiling Kurgat when asked about how much representing the United States at a world championships meant to her. “I’m so grateful.” Kurgat, who was born in Kenya and raced in the NCAA system for the University of New Mexico, added: “I’m living the dream now.”
Morley won the sprint for second in 32:23.9, while Durgin got third in 32:26.4, followed by Lipari in fourth in 32:31.7. The pre-race favorite, Kelati, finished fifth but wasn’t disappointed.
She revealed that she had an injury to her left foot which made it impossible for her to run earlier this week, and she was grateful to have performed as well as she did.
“I was hurting bad this week,” Kelati told Race Results Weekly. “On Tuesday I literally could not touch the ground with my foot. I don’t know if I would call it an injury, but it just popped up in one day. This week I’ve been sitting in my room and not running at all.” She added: “It almost made me give up and not do the race.”
Like Kelati, Durgin was also grateful. She and her coach, Terrence Mahon, only decided three weeks ago that she would do this event. She had a disastrous marathon debut in New York last November, and was unable to finish. Nonetheless, that huge base of training she built up last fall helped her today.
“I came to win,” said a beaming Durgin after sharing a hug with her Golden Coast Track Club teammate Lipari. “That was definitely my goal. You can’t just come and try to make a team, because that makes it a little risky. You’ve got to go to win.”
Katie Izzo, who also trains with Durgin and Lipari, finished sixth in 32:39.6. All of the top-6 women will be running the World Athletics Cross Country Championships for the first time.
EMMANUEL BOR SURPRISES MEN’S FIELD:
The Open Men’s 10-K developed slowly at first, with over 30 athletes within two seconds of the leader through the 2-K mark. But things changed quickly after that. Emmanuel Bor decided to push the pace in the third kilometer, running 2:50.5 followed by a similar 2:50.7 in the fourth kilometer.
That brought the lead group down to eight: Emmanuel Bor, Sam Chelanga (All-Army), Biya Simbassa (Under Armour), Hillary Bor (Hoka One One), Leonard Korir (All-Army), Reid Buchanan (Unattached), Andrew Colley (On ZAP Endurance), and Dillon Maggard (Brooks Beasts TC).
But Bor wasn’t done pressing the pace. He dropped down to 2:49.6 for the fifth kilometer (14:23), and opened up a three-second lead on the field. While the men in the main pack didn’t give up, they soon realized that Bor wasn’t coming back and they needed to focus on securing a top-6 finish position instead of trying to win.
Bor, who looked back several times, was full of confidence. He said he had never taken charge of a race like that before.
“I’m trying to create new tactics,” Bor told reporters draped in an American flag. “Other times I’ve been sitting down, sitting back, and watching. It’s another level. We really wanted to make the team and do well.” He added: “It’s time to change how things are done.”
Bor’s lead grew to 12 seconds by the 8-K point (23:03.4), but fell slightly to nine seconds by the 9-K. Still, he had enough cushion in the last kilometer to celebrate before he hit the tape. He broke the tape in 28:43.3, a championships record for the 10-K distance.
“I’m not surprised,” said Bor about his victory. The Second Lieutenant, who is the chief of environmental health at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, continued: “I’m so happy to represent the United States at the global level.”
Only Colley, who took second in 28:47.1, was able to emerge from the chase pack and cross the line alone. Right behind him, Anthony Rotich (Nike/U.S. Army), Korir, Chelanga, Maggard and Buchanan all finished in the span of 8/10ths of a second. All but Buchanan made the team; he missed a team spot by just 3/10ths of a second.
Colley, who grew up in Williamsburg just 53 miles south of here, was very pleased to get second and make his second U.S. team for World Cross in the senior division. He last ran the event in 2015 in Qingzhen, China, where he finished 90th.
“Once we got to 400 to go I knew it was going to be a tall order,” Colley said of catching Bor. He added: “I felt strong. I used to have a killer kick, and I feel like it’s always been there. I’ve gotten injured a few times these past few years. I feel like I’ve finally found my kick again.”
IRENE RIGGS AND YOUNG TAKE UNDER-20 RACES
Irene Riggs of Morgantown, W.V., and Leo Young of Newbury Park, Calif., won the under-20 titles in convincing fashion. Riggs, the 2022 Nike Cross Nationals winner, felt comfortable in the first two laps of the three-lap race, and decided to shoot ahead at the 4-K mark.
Ellie Shea (Emerging Elites) of Belmont, Mass., gave chase and was able to stay within two seconds of Riggs at 5-K (16:40.7). But Riggs, 18, smoked the last kilometer in 3:03.6, too fast for the 17-year-old Shea who is just a high school junior.
“I came here to qualify, to be honest,” Riggs told Race Results Weekly. “Coming in I really wanted to come in with a strategy of, like, survive and advance. Because, obviously, the stakes are a little bit different than they were at Nike (Cross Nationals). So, I wanted to see how I felt the first two loops. I felt really relaxed the first two loops so I was like, OK, I can try harder on the last lap.”
Riggs won in 19:44.3, to Shea’s 19:47.5. Third went to the defending champion, Zariel Macchia, 16, of Shirley, N.Y. (20:04.7), fourth to Abbey Nechanicky, 17, of Wayzata, Minn. (20:06.6), fifth to Karrie Baloga, 17, of Cornwall, N.Y. (20:06.8), and sixth to Eva Klingbeil, 18, of the University of North Carolina (20:10.4). Klingbeil was the only collegiate athlete to make the team.
Shea, who is coached by Fred Treseler, was delighted with her second-place finish.
“It was really fun,” she said, wearing mirrored sunglasses. “I had a blast racing with all of these girls. I’ve raced with all of them before. So, it was like racing in a race with all of your friends.”
In the under-20 men’s 8-K, Young, 17, ran a smart race. He was only in 19th place after the first kilometer, 15th after the second, seventh after the third, and eight after the fourth where he found himself part of a nine-man lead pack. He said that he was trying to stay patient and not make any mistakes.
“Going into it was all about race awareness and trying to be present during the race, you know?” Young told reporters. “That’s something that’s really hard to do when you’re maxing out on your effort. I felt like, yeah, it was all about being strategic.”
With one kilometer to go, Young and five other athletes –Marco Langon (Villanova University), Max Sannes (U.S. Air Force Academy), Micah Wilson (University of Wisconsin), Evan Jenkins (University of Washington), and Luke Venhuizen (University of Michigan)– had a 10-second lead so the team-makers were set. Now it was time to race for the win. Young, the only high schooler in the bunch, smoked the last kilometer in 2:45.0 and won by nearly seven seconds.
“I wanted to optimize my efficiency up until I really had to go for it,” said Young, who clocked 23:46.8.
Wilson got second (23:53.4), Langon third (23:53.8), Jenkins fourth (23:54.1), Sannes fifth (23:54.2), and Venhuizen sixth (23:58.9). Kole Mathison, who won the Champs Sports Cross Country Championships title last December, finished a distant seventh.
APRIL LUND AND BEN BRUCE WIN MASTERS TITLES
April Lund (GYS Track Club), and Ben Bruce (Hoka NAZ Elite), were convincing winners in the women’s and men’s masters races, respectively. Lund, 40, covered the 6-K course in 22:02.7. Bruce, 40, ran the 8-K course in 24:59.8.
Both athletes qualified for the World Masters Cross Country Championships which will be held the day after the World Athletics Cross Country Championships in Bathurst.
“I put in a big move after one loop and then I over-committed,” said Bruce whose wife, Steph, finished 13th in the open women’s race. “So, I had no choice but to keep pushing.”
PHOTO: Emmanuel Bor celebrates his open 10-K victory at the 2023 USATF Cross Country Championships (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)