BEND, Oregon -- A quartet of 2016 Olympians are set to line up, along with three-time champion Chris Derrick and 2015 champion Laura Thweatt, Saturday morning at the USATF Cross Country Championships in Bend, Oregon.
The USATF Cross Country Championships are the first stop on the 2017 USATF Running Circuit. Fans can tune-up for the live broadcast beginning at 3:10 p.m. ET on USATF.TV with a +PLUS subscription. Race videos, results, post-race interviews and photos will be available shortly after the race in cooperation with RunnerSpace.com. Join the conversation on social with the hashtag #USARC and #USATFXC.
The men’s race features a nice mix of established and young talent, as athletes look to book their trip to the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, which take place in Uganda on March 26.
Leading the way into Saturday’s contest is three-time USATF cross country champion Chris Derrick. Despite dealing with injuries for much of 2016, Derrick placed fifth in the 10,000m at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials last summer. The Bowerman Track Club standout will eye yet another title and looks to put on a show in his home state.
A trio of Olympians will challenge Derrick for the win. Olympic steeplechaser Hillary Bor, along with 10,000m Olympians Shadrack Kipchirchir and Leonard Korir, look to work together to earn spots on Team USA. The three U.S. Army athletes have proven success both on the track and in cross country. For Korir, he looks to build on the momentum he earned at the beginning of the year, when he won the Great Edinburgh XCountry Meet over a tough field.
In Edinburgh, Korir beat fellow Americans Sam Chelanga and Stanley Kebenei and Bor, all of who finished in the top ten, showing good early season fitness and are entered to race in Bend, as well.
Along with the veteran talent entered Saturday are a nice group of young pro runners. Scott Fauble, coming off a fourth place showing at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the 10,000m, teams up with fellow HOKA ONE ONE Northern Arizona Elite teammate Craig Lutz, each hoping to book their ticket to Uganda. Lutz won the 2016 USATF Cross Country title by seven seconds last year.
The duo is joined by teammates Martin Hehir, who placed seventh in the 10,000m at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials last summer, and Scott Smith. Add to the mix former University of Michigan standout Mason Ferlic, University of Oregon All-Americans Jeremy Elkaim and Trevor Dunbar, and there is plenty of top talent ready to challenge for a top-five finish.
Ryan Vail, who finished fourth in 2015, along with USATF Running Circuit veterans Jim Spisak and Timothy Ritchie, are all equally as capable of earning a Team USA spot, as is 2012 Olympian Diego Estrada and Hansons-Brooks Distance Project runner Brendan Gregg.
On the women’s side, the trio of Laura Thweatt, Kellyn Taylor and Courtney Frerichs enter Saturday’s competition as the favorites. Thweatt was the USATF cross country champion in 2015, while finishing fifth in 10,000m at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials last summer.
Taylor is coming off an incredibly successful 2016 campaign, which saw her finish fourth at the U.S Olympic Team Trials – Marathon, only to follow that up with a fourth-place finish in the 10,000m at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the summer. She placed fourth at the USATF Cross Country Championships in 2015.
For Frerichs, she leads her Bowerman Track Club teammates into Bend. The 2016 Olympian qualified for Rio last summer in the steeplechase. After winning the NCAA title in her specialty, then placing eleventh in the Olympic final, Frerichs is readying herself for another big season ahead and a win on Saturday would give her a perfect start to 2017.
Building upon her success on the USATF Running Circuit, Aliphine Tuliamuk had a tremendous 2016 season. After earning her U.S. citizenship earlier in the year, she celebrated by winning three national titles. The long-distance standout will test her early season fitness and is as likely as the rest to pull off the win.
Other notable entries include last year’s runner-up and 2014 champion Amy Van Alstine and 2016 top five finishers Allison Grace Morgan and Megan Rolland. All three will look to use their experience on the course in Bend to their advantage, as they eye spots on Team USA.
Rounding out the top contenders on the women’s side, Boston Athletic Association teammates Elaina Balouris, who placed sixth in Bend in 2016, and Sarah Pagano are plenty experienced in USATF Running Circuit racing, and are joined by fellow top-ten contenders Stephanie Bruce and Natosha Rogers.
About the USATF Running Circuit
The USATF Running Circuit is a USATF 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 $25,000 in prize money will be awarded at the USATF Cross Country Championships
The first ten U.S. runners earn points at each USATF Running Circuit race. For the USATF Cross Country 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 $9 million to U.S. distance runners.
Contributed by Scott Bush