Friday, February 1, 2013

USA Cross Country Championships Predictions

The USA Cross Country Championships are tomorrow morning in St. Louis.  My plan for the fall was to run the Columbus Marathon in October, run the USA Cross Country Championships (obviously in February) and then start my Boston Marathon marathon-specific cycle a week or two later.  As you probably know, I got injured and ran the Houston Marathon about three weeks ago, so the cross country championships was out of the question. 

I was a little bummed the way it worked out and if the race would have been a week later, I would have given it a go.  Yeah, it would have probably been ugly, but it would have been fun.  In college, I was a headcase in cross country.  I hated the uncertainty of the exact distance and pacing, the change in course terrain and the idea that time was irrelevant.  I loved racing on the track.  You always knew where you were in your race, the pace you were running, etc.  As time goes on, I've gone from a data-obsessed time trialer to a pure racer, which is the essence of cross country.
Man, look at Matthew Kisorio's guns. He looks like he's on steroids!

But since I can't lace up the spikes, I can play armchair quarterback and make my predictions of what I think will go down. But before you think I'm an idiot, keep in mind, I won the 2012 NCAA Cross Country Prediction Contest.  That was one of my crowning moments in life but sadly, they didn't give any prizes. Before I make my predictions, I must say that I've always been disappointed that the United States has never made a truly stacked mens team.  We've had several stars go through the ranks but we can't lock them all into one race.  I understand people train in their own groups, it doesn't fit into their training plan, they are pursuing money somewhere else, etc. But man, if they stacked a team, I think it would make a lot of people excited about the sport.  

Onwards to the predictions of who I believe will make the team!  Hopefully all these guys will also compete in the World Championships next month, in Poland but I've learned not to keep my hopes up.

1. Dathan Ritzenhein, Nike Oregon Project.  I've always loved this guy since seeing him race in person way back when I was in high school.  He was tough, gritty and would always punish his body more than his competitors could.  Over the years, he's constantly had to battle through injuries.  But rather than giving up and finding a "real job" he's always battled back to run at a world class level.  He ran 2:07 in the Chicago Marathon this past October, but he's always been a very tough and gritty cross country competitor.  He finished 3rd at the World Junior Championships in 2001 (and maybe he really was the best "junior)", was a former NCAA Cross Country Champion at Coloroad and was the USA Cross Country Champion in 2008 and 2010.  This is his first race since Chicago but this guy is a gamer and I feel he will have no trouble winning tomorrow.

2. Matt Tegenkamp, Nike Oregon Track Club. Another tough and gritty sub 13 5k guy and the world's fastest ginger. He was a member of the Olympic 10k team with Ritz last year, and seemed to be on a different level than Ritz at the time.  He was also 5th at the World Junior Cross Country Championships in 2001.  In 2007, he was 4th at the World Championships in the 5k, which was really impressive at the time. This past fall, he was the US 20k champion and has been training at altitude in Colorado Springs for the last few weeks, and is a member of arguably the deepest and best training group in the United States, the Oregon Track Club coached by secretive coach, Jerry Schumacher..  Teg is from Missouri, so it will be somewhat of a homecoming for him.  However, I don't think he will take-out Ritz this time.

3.  Chris Derrick, Nike Oregon Track Club.  Chris is a Stanford grad and finished fourth at the Olympic 10k Trials last summer. He also had the second fastest US time in the 10k last year, with a 27:31.  While at Stanford, he had a 2nd and 3rd place finish at the NCAA Cross Country Championships.  I have no idea what kind of shape he is currently in but with track season coming up and the fact that he is showing up at this race, he has to be reasonably fit.  Fit enough to snag third.

4.  Bobby Mack, Reebok.  This guy doesn't have the pedigree of the guys I've predicted above him, but he's had some success in cross country and has been racing very well lately.  He was a member of the 2010 World Cross Country Team, the 2011 USA 8k Road Champion and the 2012 USA Cross Country Champion.  He also recently won the BUPA Great Edinburgh XC Team Challenge.  However, I heard he just signed with Reebok, so if his spikes fall apart during the race, he may struggle to finish in the top 10.  That is, unless he wears these.

5.  Luke Puskedra, Nike Oregon Project.  I don't know a lot about this kid but I like his laid back attitude.  At 6'4", he's really tall for a distance guy but he runs it well.  He ran 1:01 in his half-marathon debut, recently beat Aaron Braun at the Houston Marathon and at Stanford finished 5th, 21st, 3rd and 6th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships.  He seems to run well in the big races and with the Salazar effect, I think he will run well here.

6.  Elliott Heath, Nike Oregon Track Club.  Huge talent but is better suited for the 1500m-5000m range.  However, he did say he felt like he would be able to fight for the win, so he has to be confident in his fitness.  He was also the 2011 NCAA 3k Champion and a 10-time All-American while at Stanford.  


Alternate Predictions (too tired to fully type these out and since Mary and Kate are both asleep, I have free reign of the TV and XBox.

7. Jake Riley
8. Ben True
9. Scott Bauhs
10. Max King. I love this guy.  He races on the track, on the roads, on the trails, on the mountains, in marathons and ultra marathons and competes at a high level in all of them..  I'd love to buy this guy a beer one day. 

My 12k Dream Team

1. Galen Rupp
2. Dathan Ritzenhein
3. Matt Tegenkamp
4. Bernard Lagat
5. Ryan Hall
6. Lopez Lomong

Women's Predictions

1. Shalene Flanagan, Nike Oregon Track Club. This is a bit of a no-brainer here.  Was a 2012 Olympian in the marathon and was the bronze medallist at the 2011 World Cross Country Championship and the 2008 Olympic 10k.  I can go on but I don't think anyone will beat her this day.

2. Neely Spence-Gracy, Hansons-Brooks. Neely was an 8-time Division II National Champion while at Shippensburg University.  Since joining the Hansons, she's been on a hot streak.  She ran 32:16 for the Zatopek 10000m (and was also the first American women to win the race), finished four seconds behind Molly Huddle at the US 5k Road Championships and has a PR pr of 15:27.  I almost predicted her to finish third, but feel the move to the Hansons will help her here.

3. Kim Conley, New Balance. This girl had a heck of a race at the 2012 Olympic Trials in the 5k.  She did not have the Olympic "A" Standard going into the trials and was not a favorite to make the team.  However, she had a heck of a kick to squeeze out a 3rd place finish by 4/100 of a second and got under the standard by 21/100 of a second.  Her 5k PR is 15:14 and she's been drastically improving since her college career at UC-Davis.

4. Deena Kastor, Asics. At 39 year old, this lady has been a high level performer for quite some time.  She was the silver medalist at the 2004 Olympics in the marathon and won the 2006 London Marathon in a PR of 2:19:36.  While she's been focusing on the longer races for the past several years, she also has some wheels with PR's of 14:51 for 5000m and 30:50 for 10000m.  Last year, she finished 6th in the Olympic Marathon Trials and was hoping to make the Olympic Team in the 10000m, but had to pull out of the Trials due to an injury.  This is a bit of a gamble pick here, but she is planning on racing the Los Angeles Marathon this spring, so I feel she will be pretty fit.

5. Emily Infeld, Nike Oregon Track Club.  Man, the Nike OTC looks like they will be racking up here.  While running for Georgetown, Emily was the 2012 Indoor NCAA Champion and finished 2nd later that year in the 1500m at NCAA Nationals.  Nearly five miles of racing may be a little long for her, but she has a great training group and should be ready for the task.

6. Sara Hall, Asics. Sara is the wife of marathoner Ryan Hall.  Sara ran for Stanford and my roommate had a crush on her and even made a collage of her for his computer background.  Sara won this race last year, was a seven-time All-American while in college and competed in the Olympic Trials in the steeplechase last year.  While she won last year, I feel this race is more competitive this 
 year, so she will drop several spots.

Alternate Predictions

7. Sarah Crouch
8. Delilah Dicrenzo. The song "Hey There Delilah" was actually written about her
9. Mattie Suver
10. Magdalena Lewy Boulet

My Women's Dream Team

1. Shalene Flanagan
2. Kara Goucher
3. Desiree Davila
4. Amy Hastings
5.  Lisa Uhl
6. Janet Cherobon-Bawcom

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