NEW HAVEN, Connecticut -- A half dozen Olympians, led by defending women’s champion Molly Huddle, headline the fields Monday morning at the USATF 20 km Championships, hosted by the Faxon Law New Haven Road Race in New Haven, Connecticut.
The USATF 20 km Championships are the eighth stop on the 2015 USATF Running Circuit. The top 15 finishers at each race on the circuit qualify to compete in the 2015 .US National 12K, which takes place in November in Alexandria, Virginia.
In 2014, Huddle dominated the women’s race, winning by twenty seconds over training partner and fellow Olympian Amy Cragg, and finishing two minutes ahead of third place. Huddle’s quick pace left her with a 1:08:34 winning time, well short of Colleen DeReuck’s course record of 65:11 set in 1998, but still an impressive victory.
Coming off a disappointing fourth place finish in the 10,000m at the IAAF World Outdoor Championships, Huddle looks to rebound. Despite her heartbreak in Beijing, Huddle is having a tremendous 2015 season, including a 10,000m national title at the USATF Outdoor Championships and a 1:08:31 half marathon victory at the NYC Half back in March.
Cragg joins Huddle among the top contenders in Monday’s Labor Day contest. Cragg won the USATF 15 km Championships earlier in the season, while finishing fourth in the 10,000m at the USATF Outdoor Championships. While Cragg fell short of besting Huddle last year in New Haven, she was the only athlete to challenge Huddle and one has to think she’s eyeing her second USATF Running Circuit title of the season.
The third Olympian in the women’s field is Janet Bawcom. The experienced road race veteran has struggled with injury much of the early part of the year, but she has winning experience in New Haven. Bawcom won the 2011 edition of the USATF 20 km Championships. She’s had a quiet season for the most part, but did place third back in January in the USATF Half Marathon Championships in Houston.
Reigning USATF Marathon champion Blake Russell is another to keep an eye on. The 40 year old California native surprised the field in Los Angeles, proving that when healthy she’s as tough as any competitor in the field.
The trio of Lindsey Scherf, Heather Cappello and Marci Gage are others who will fight for a top three finish. Scherf claimed a big victory at the USATF 25 km Championships earlier in the season, while Cappello and Gage placed third and fourth. Scherf tends to take the pace out quickly, so do not be surprised to see her pushing the pace with Huddle and Cragg early on.
Experienced pros Dot McMahon and Alisha Williams lead the rest of the field, both seeking positive performances as the fall season swings into action. Neely Spence Gracey is another to keep an eye on, having changed coaching and living situations earlier in the season and owns a third place USATF 15 km performance to her name. Katie Matthews, Katie DiCamillo, Maegan Krifchin and Tara Welling are others capable of challenging for top five.
On the men’s side, defending champion Girma Mecheso has his hands full with the likes of Olympians Dathan Ritzenhein, Matt Tegenkamp and Abdi Abdirahman in the field.
Mecheso ran away from a tight-knit field in the final stages of the race last year, barreling home to win by one second over runner-up Christo Landry and ultimately winning his first national title. Building on his 2014 success, Mecheso earned third place finishes at the USATF Half Marathon and 15 km Championships this season and eyes to defend in New Haven.
For Ritzenhein, Monday’s race is another opportunity to gage his fitness as he works his way back to top racing form. The three-time Olympian seeks a major race victory and coming off his third place finish last month at the Crim 10 Miler, Ritzenhein should be in contention for the win in the final stages of the race.
Similarly for Tegenkamp and Abdirahman, the focus for both athletes is to test their fitness having raced little in 2015, all the while contending for the win. Both athletes have winning experience on the course, Tegenkamp having won in both 2012 and 2013, while Abdirahman winning in 2011. Abdirahman has some momentum on his side as race day approaches, after placing third at the USATF 25 km Championships earlier in the season.
Joining Mecheso and the trio of Olympians is Jared Ward. The former BYU standout is having a tremendous 2015, having won USATF Marathon and 25 km titles. Ward is one of the rising stars on the road race scene and can cement his status as an Olympic contender that much more with a win in New Haven.
Not to be overlooked, Sam Chelanga competes for his first U.S. title this weekend after gaining American citizenship earlier this year. The former NCAA champion has raced sparingly in 2015, but did take fourth place finishes at the Falmouth Road Race and Carlsbad 5000 this summer. Known more as a track runner than road racer, Chelanga will test the leaders Monday and could very well take away top prize.
2014 USATF Marathon champion Tyler Pennel, multi-time USATF Running Circuit champion Fernando Cabada, 2014 third place finisher Luke Puskedra, USATF 25 km fourth place finisher Augustus Maiyo and young pro Parker Stinson are a few others in Monday’s race who could very well contend for top five finishes.
USATF 25 km Coverage
Race video, results, post-race interviews and photos will be available shortly after the USATF 20 km Championships, in cooperation with RunnerSpace.com. Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #USARC.
About the USATF Running Circuit
The USATF Running Circuit is a USA Track & Field road series featuring USATF championships from one mile through the marathon and consistently attracts the best American distance runners with more than $500,000 to be awarded in total prize money. A total of $45,000 in prize money will be awarded at the USATF 20 km Championships.
The first ten U.S. runners earn points at each USATF Running Circuit race. For the USATF 20 km Championships, scoring is set as 15 for first, 12 for second, 10 for third, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1, with those earning the most points receiving prize money at the end of the series.
The mission of the USATF Running Circuit is to showcase, support and promote U.S. runners. Since its inception in 1995, the USATF Running Circuit and its races have provided over $7 million to U.S. distance runners.
Contributed by Scott Bush