BYDGOSZCZ, Poland--In one of the most surprising performances in recent memory, Team USA, led by the sixth place finish of Ben True (Hanover, N.H.) earned a hard fought team silver medal in the senior men's 12-kilometer race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships at Myslecinek Park. The senior women’s team placed fourth with the junior men fourth and the junior women sixth.
It was the first team medal in the 12-kilometer race earned by Team USA since 2001 in Ostend, Belgium, and the first silver medal won since 1984 in East Rutherford, N.J., when Pat Porter led the squad to a second place finish behind Ethiopia.
True's sixth place finish was the highest at the world championships since Todd Williams was ninth in 1995 in Durham, England. The last time Team USA had two men finish in the top ten was in 1986 in Neuchatel, Switzerland, when Pat Porter finished sixth, and John Easker was tenth.
True, along with the rest of the squad, took a conservative approach on the first lap of the six-lap race, as he started out in 25th place. He along with Chris Derrick (Portland, Ore.) worked their way through the pack, and found themselves in the top ten at the 10-km mark, while eventual winner Japhet Kipyegon Korir of Kenya, defending world champion Imane Merga of Ethiopia and Teklemariam Medhin of Eritrea broke away from the field.
True held his place in the last lap, crossing the line in 33:11, while Derrick moved up to ninth, but was passed in the last ten meters to finish tenth in 33:23.
Behind Derrick came Ryan Vail (Portland, Ore.) who finished 17th in 33:42, and Bobby Mack (Raleigh, N.C.) in 19th at 33:49 to round out Team USA's scorers. Elliott Heath (Portland, Ore.) was 30th in 34:11 and James Strang (Colorado Springs, Colo.) finished in 37th place in 34:20.
Ethiopia won the team gold medal with 38 points, with Team USA scoring 52 points, two points lower than perennial power Kenya's 54.
In the senior women's eight-kilometer race, the squad finished fourth, missing out on its third consecutive team medal.
Neely Spence Gracey (Lake Orion, Mich.) found herself at the tail end of the lead group that included eventual winner Hiwot Ayalew of Ethiopia, along with former champion Emily Chebet of Kenya and Belaynesh Oljira of Ethiopia, who finished second and third, respectively.
Gracey worked her way up all the way to 11th with one lap to go, but lost ground, and finished 13th in a time of 25:08.
Behind Gracey were Emily Infeld (Portland, Ore.) and Mattie Suver (Boulder, Colo.) who finished 21st and 26th, respectively, with times of 25:27 and 25:41. 2012 US Olympian Kim Conley (West Sacramento, Calif.) was 30th to round out the USA scorers with a time of 25:45.
Deena Kastor (Mammoth Lakes, Calif.), the 2004 Olympic marathon bronze medalist, competing in her tenth career world cross country championships, finished 34th in 25:52, and Delilah DiCrescenzo (New York, N.Y.) was 47th in 26:05.
In the junior men's eight-kilometer race, Team USA was fourth with a score of 106 points, led by Matt McClintock (West Lafayette, Ind.), who finished 20th in 22:52.
USA junior champion Craig Nowak (Stillwater, Okla.) was 24th in 23:03, followed by Malachy Schrobilgen (Madison, Wis.) in 26th at 23:12, and Darren Fahy (Washington, D.C.) rounded out the four scorers in 36th at 23:25.
Thomas Graham (Stanford, Calif.) was 40th in 23:27, and Andrew Gardner (Spokane, Wash.) placed 42nd in 23:30. Ethiopia, led by winner Hagos Gebrihwet's 21:04, won the junior men's team title with 23 points, followed by Kenya at 26 points, and Morocco with 65 points.
The junior men's team earned its highest placing since a fifth place finish in Amman, Jordan in 2009.
The day led off with the junior women's 6 kilometer race, as Carrie Verdon (Boulder, Colo.) finished 20th in 19:33 to pace Team USA to a sixth place finish, scoring 105 points.
Reigning USA champion Emily Stites (Williamsburg, Va.) was 23rd in 19:37, followed by Katie Knight (Spokane, Wash.) in 28th at 19:52, and Erin Finn (West Bloomfield, Mich.) 34th in 20:03 to round out the four USA scorers. Sydney Scott (Morgantown, W.V.) finished 38th in 20:19, followed by Samantha Nadel (Washington, D.C.) in 44th at 20:30.
Kenya took the junior women's team title with 14 points, led by individual winner Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon's time of 17:51. Ethiopia was second with 23 points, followed by Great Britain with 81 points.
For more on the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, please visit www.usatf.org. Athlete Quotes
“The race plan was to go with the flow and feel the course. Don't try to fight the conditions because they were so crazy. I've never been in a race like this, so it was important to keep an open mind, and not think too hard about it. I worked my way up through the race and caught some people, and I'm proud of that.”
Junior Men Matt McClintock
“A bunch of us got knocked down in the first 50 meters. One of the guys caught me and told me to get up and maintain my cool. I'm most proud of the fact that I maintained my composure after getting knocked down, and that I was able to keep fighting for my friends and for Team USA.”
Senior Women Kim Conley
“That was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I tried to get out hard, and I felt that I was getting gapped every lap. I'm proud of the fact that the other US girls ran well, and offer words of encouragement.
"We talked about trying to get four in the top 20. I was hovering around 25th place the last half of the race. I really wanted to try and fight my way up, because I knew I was in either the third or fourth position on the team
“All the girls performed outstanding. Kim and Neely did an outstanding job, and Emily as well. The future of the sport in the US is very bright.
"The course really wasn't that bad. It was slippery in places. I shed my arm warmers going into the second lap. I was expecting worse conditions that what was out there."
Neely Spence Gracey
“That was really great to go in with teammates in the race. I had a set goal for each lap. My (club) coaches were here and they were able to learn from the previous races what the best strategy was for us.
”After this race, anything is possible. Conditions won't phase me in the near future. There are some things you can train for, and others that you can't. Today was one of those days that you had to go into it with an open mind."
“It was fun out there, especially on a hard course. It was hard to get a rhythm. We had a great group of women out there. I wanted to get out there and compete and race the other women, and ultimately run as good a race as possible.
“It was really hard. I felt good for the first two laps, and started to push a little bit. It might have been the cold, but I really couldn't see that well over the last few laps. I knew Ben was up there, and that I needed to get in the top ten if we were to have a shot at a medal.
“I don't think I quite realize what an accomplishment this is. We had six guys in the top 35, and in the past few years, it seems that's where our first guy is.”
“It was a hard course, with a lot of twists and turns, and a steep uphill, and it was great that I was able to hang in there."
I thought we had a real good shot of getting four guys in the top 25. It's nice to see that we are all running well. Chris and I were sitting around the low 20s and feeding off each other, and I kept telling myself to hang in there for one more lap, as guys from other teams started to drop back and we started picking them off.”
“We all had the same game plan and that is to go out conservative, and conservative meant going out about 50th place or so. Every lap we worked on picking people off.”
“My first world team was here three years ago. I was 67th here. I thought maybe that top 40 would be good, or maybe top 30, but we crushed it. It was exciting to hear the team numbers being called out during the race. On the last lap, I heard people yelling at me that if you get two more people, that we would have a bronze medal. I wasn't going to get passed, and I got those last two guys. It's an amazing feeling.”
“It's an absolutely incredible feeling. We knew that this course was made for us. Our game plan was to go out conservative, and work our way up each lap. All of us know how to run cross very well, and we knew we had to go and take care of business.”
From USA Track & Field Media Correspondent Paul Merca