NEW YORK - Nicole Blood of Gansevoort, N.Y., Adam Goucher of Portland, Ore. and Blake Russell of Marina, Calif., captured U.S. titles at the 2006 USA Cross Country Championships presented by Gleukos held at Van Cortlandt Park on Saturday.
In addition to crowning national champions, the championships served as the selection event for the U.S. team that will compete at the 2006 IAAF World Cross Country Championships. The top six finishers in the Open and Junior races are eligible to compete for the U.S. team on April 1-2 in Fukuoka, Japan. The USA Championships follows the same format as the upcoming World Championships, with six races over a two-day span.
The Junior women's 6 km began under cold, windy conditions to lead off an exciting day of cross country racing at the legendary course in the Bronx. Blood and last year's runner-up Erin Bedell of Plano Texas took charge during the first circuit of the three loop course with Mckayla Plank (Los Gatos, Calif.), Madeline McKeever (Durham N.C.), Kauren Tarver (Wrightwood, Calif.), and Marie Lawrence (Reno, Nevada) on their heels.
As the race progressed into the final lap, Plank and Tarver positioned themselves to take the win over Blood but as the trio headed into the home-stretch, Blood had one more gear that took her to her first USA Cross Country title in 20:45 with Plank and Tarver finishing second and third running 20:46 and 20:47, respectively. Lawrence, Bedell and McKeever rounded out the top-six while qualifying for the U.S. Cross Country squad for Fukuoka.
"It was tough today. I had a really good feeling with about 800 meters to go; then I kicked it in," said Blood, who will attend the University of Oregon in the fall. "It's going to be a good experience going to Japan. It's kind of sad that this is my last race in New York. I love this course."
The senior men's 4 km featured a strong field with any one of ten men that might emerge as champion. After the first 2 km circuit, only four were in contention for the win with Goucher, Ryan Hall (Woodside, Calif.), Daniel Lincoln (Little Rock, Ark.), and Jorge Torres (Boulder, Colo.), in front of the field by ten meters.
As the field entered the final straight away it was Goucher pressing to the front for the title running 10:50 to finish two seconds ahead of Daniel Lincoln. Ryan Hall, Jorge Torres, Ian Dobson and Luke Watson rounded out the top-six to qualify for the Team USA cross country team.
"I wanted to get in good position early, as the course narrowed quickly. I knew that within the first half mile, the contenders would show their faces," said Goucher, the 2000 USA champion at 4 km. "I knew that this would be a close race with Jorge (Torres), and Ryan Hall, and Daniel Lincoln in there. Overall I think that this is going to be the strongest U.S. 4 km team going to worlds."
In the final race of the day, two-time defending champion Colleen De Reuck of Boulder, Colo., Russell and Katie McGregor (Saint Louis Park, Minn.), took charge early, opening a gap on the field by the end of the first loop. Shortly after the start of the second circuit, Russell began to push to the front and by the beginning of the third lap McGregor had fallen 10 meters off the pace.
As Russell and De Reuck battled for the win on the final loop, Sara Slattery (Portland, Ore.), and Rene Metivier (Boulder, Colo.), began to gain ground on McGregor. As De Reuck and Russell emerged from the woods, Russell made her final push to open up a five meter lead and take her first USA Cross Country title running 26:47 to finish two seconds up on De Reuck who made her fourth Team USA Cross Country squad. Metivier, Slattery, McGregor and Sharon Thompson rounded out the top-six to qualify for the U.S. team.
"I wanted to go out hard and get a good start. The course was good. When I ran it yesterday, I didn't think that hill was all that bad; however, the hill was a little harder than I thought. Colleen really pushed the pace on the third lap. She'd take off on the uphill, and I'd come back on her on the downhill. I think I'm going to run the 4km tomorrow, unless I feel really beat up."
The USA Cross Country Championships presented by Gleukos will be televised February 20 (late evening February 19) at 12:00 a.m. EST on ESPN 2.
For more information on the USA Cross Country Championships presented by Gleukos, including complete results, visit www.usatf.org.