From Paul Merca
FUKUOKA, JAPAN - The 34-member Team USA squad practiced Friday at the Uminonakamichi Seaside Park, the venue for this Saturday and Sunday's IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
The Championships begin Saturday with the Junior Women's race at 1:30 p.m. in Fukuoka, with the Open Men's 4 km race at 2:20 p.m. The first day of competition will conclude with the Open Women's 8 km race at 3:00 p.m. Competition will resume Sunday with the Junior Men's 8 km race at 1:00 p.m., followed by the Open Women's 4 km at 1:50 p.m., and finish with the Open Men's 12 km at 2:30 p.m.
The course is situated between the Genkai Nada Sea and Hakata Bay and since 1987 has been the venue for the annual Fukuoka International Cross Country Race. The 2-kilometer loop includes several flat sections as well as three sets of man-made hills.
Following Friday's practice session, Team USA members Adam Goucher, Ryan Hall, Blake Russell, Carrie Tollefson and Kiel Uhl talked about the course.
Adam Goucher: "It's fast as advertised. It's a beautiful course–I really like it! I'm a bit concerned about the first hill with the real sharp turn to the right when you come off it. You have maybe 50 or 60 meters to run when you go down the hill, then it cranks steeply. I think that spot's gonna get pretty congested. Otherwise, it is a smooth, flowing course. It's not a bang-your-body-up type of course, but there are spots where it's a bit bumpy. It feels like a fast, grass track."
"I think my chances here are pretty good. I feel like I am in the best shape I've ever been in. I feel confident in where I am in my training, and in knowing how to race the race in order to place high. I want to shoot for top 10–I am really gunning for a top 5 position."
"I feel that this team has a very good chance of medaling. Obviously, everyone's going to have to bring their 'A' game, and run their tails off. It's going to be tough, but the one thing you can count on is that some teams may realize that it's not their day, and they pack it in. You have to be ready to pounce on that when it happens. We are all going to have to have our best races."
Ryan Hall: "It looks like it is a fun course to run. It looks like there are some spots where you can use the downhill to create some momentum. This is a course where you're gonna have to get out fast with the narrow spots. If you get stuck behind, it's going to be hard to make up ground. I think there might be some spills when you come off the first hill and make the sharp right turn. You may have to protect your personal space, and if you need to, create your own space."
Thoughts on doubling (he runs the 4k on Saturday, and the 12k Sunday): "I wanted to double in order to get some experience running at this level. Honestly, I am not thinking too much about the 12k, but rather the 4k, especially with that team as strong as it is."
On the confidence gained from winning the Chiba Cross Country Meeting on March 19th: "It's certainly a good confidence booster, especially running against an international field. Any time you have a positive experience, it is something that you grab hold of. It was a good opportunity to race, especially at the 12k distance, and learning how your body feels at certain stages of the race."
Blake Russell: "This course is just as I anticipated. The first hill is steeper than I thought. It will definitely be quicker than last year. The course narrows quicker than it did last year, so you're gonna have to get out quicker if you don't want to get caught in the pack...there are no mud pits or obstacles to break your rhythm. It's gonna hurt either way."
On running the 8k Saturday, then the 4k Sunday: "You're gonna have to ask me after Saturday (laughs). I may not be as fresh as I would like to be, but I want to help the 4k team. I feel that both teams are real strong."
Carrie Tollefson: "It's gonna be fast, and well suited for any type of runner. I'm glad that they built the hills out there, because I think the strength runners will need those. A lot of the 4k girls are real fast on the track, so I think we'll have fun out there. The one time I ran world cross (2002 in Dublin), I finished 11th."
"I definitely want to try and improve my positioning this year, and help lead the team to hopefully a top-three finish. I think we have a real good chance. Obviously, we have to worry about the usual contenders plus teams like Canada and Australia. If we can race together and race against each other, we'll be up front–we have very similar times at 3k and 5k–we're gonna push each other to a good team finish."
On the keys to medaling: "We have to get out hard. I learned from Dublin that positions really don't change much unless people start coming back to you. I want to let my teammates know that the first lap is going to feel fast, but the second lap goes by really fast. The time you want to take a breather is not the time to do it, especially in a race this short."
Kyle Uhl: "It's a really smooth and flat course. However, you really don't have a lot of room to move, so it's really important to focus on the start in order to do well.
I'm optimistic about our team...we just need to work together, get out hard, and run strong and stay together through the first 5k, then go from there."
The IAAF World Cross Country Championships will be Webcast in the United States for the first time at www.wcsn.com, giving American fans the chance to watch Team USA live as they compete this weekend. The Webcast will begin at 10:20 p.m. Eastern/7:20 p.m. Pacific on Friday, March 31; at 10:50 p.m. ET/7:50 PT on Saturday, April 1; and continue in the early-morning hours of April 2.
Cost of the Webcast of the World Cross Country Championships is $19.95. Fans also can sign up for the wcsn.com World Athletics pass, which provides access to all 2006 WCSN track and field Webcasts, including 13 European events such as select Grand Prix meets, the 2006 World Athletics Final and 2006 World Cup in Athletics.
For more information on the 2006 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, visit www.usatf.org.