BEND, Oregon -- The 2017 Masters Grand Prix gets underway with the 2017 USATF Cross Country Championships on Saturday, February 4th. Masters prize money of $7,000 sweetens the rewards for the victors in age-grading and age division championships. The masters women run at 10 a.m. with the men following at 10:45 a.m.
Defending overall champions, Grace Padilla and Jacques Salberg, return to defend their crowns. Padilla will face a real challenge from Melody Fairchild, who finished second to Colleen DeReuck in the 2015 edition in Boulder, Colorado. Salberg will face his frequent foe, Gregory Mitchell. Mitchell has the edge in their road races, but Salberg has two victories in a row over Mitchell at these championships. John Gardiner, who took overall titles last year at the 1 Mile and 15K, could also challenge.
Top contenders for the age-grading crowns include Jo Anne Rowland, the defending champion, who will defend a challenge from Marisa Sutera Strange, who took age-grading crowns in the Masters 10K and 1 Mile National Championships last year. With defending age-grade champion Rick Becker not entered, the most likely to take advantage is perhaps Carl Combs, who took second to Becker last year. Others in the hunt include four-time Harrier of the Year, Pete Magill, and Joe Sheeran. Magill was the top age-grader at the USATF Club Cross Country Championships this past December and Sheeran was the age grade runner-up at the 2015 USATF Club Cross Country Championships.
There are likely to be several tight team races. The Men’s 40+ and 50+ team championships will be a battle between the Cal Coast Track Club and the powerful Bowerman Track Club of Oregon. Bowerman ran away with the 40+ race last year when Cal Coast’s Gardiner was nicked up and will be the favorites to make it two titles in a row. Cal Coast, with Magill leading the way, will be favored to make it two in a row over Bowerman in the 50+ division. The Genesee Valley Harriers have a good chance of denying the Cal Coast team a second title in a row in the Men’s 60+ division. The Women’s 40+ team championship should see rabbit racing, formerly the Santa Barbara Running and Racing team, defend their title against Oregon’s Team Red Lizard. The Athena Track Club, the defending Champions, and Jane’s Elite Racing will renew their rivalry in the Women’s 50+ division. At the USATF Club Cross Country Championships in December, Jane’s Elite finished well ahead of Athena in the team standings.
Contributed by Paul Carlin