Sara Hall and Bobby Mack each used late charges to outrun the competition as each won their first career USA Cross Country titles Saturday (11) at Forest Park in St. Louis.
The championships consisted of six races for men’s and women’s categories, with national titles on the line for junior, masters and open divisions. The nation’s premier cross country event, the Championships featured $35,000 in prize money. In addition to the national titles on the line in St. Louis, open and junior men and women qualified for the North American, Central American, Caribbean (NACAC) Cross Country Championships 17 March in Port of Spain, Trinidad.
The senior women’s 8km saw pre-race favorite Molly Huddle take command of the lead pack that included Hall, five-time USA Cross Country team member Renee Metivier Baillie, Liz Costello and Laura Thweatt.
After three kilometres Huddle held a one-step advantage over Hall, with Costello close behind. Over the final two-kilometre loop, Huddle looked to be in charge but could never pull completely clear of Hall. Charging down the home straight, Hall made one final rally to edge Huddle at the line in a photo finish. Hall and Huddle were both timed in 26:51. Costello held on to finish third in 27:18.
"It was hard to kick in the last 300 metres like I normally would," Hall said. "I was having trouble on the muddier parts of the course. It's an honor to be able to run longer distances this season, and I hope that it's a good sign and that it will bode well for the rest of the year."
"I really couldn't break away like I normally would like to do," said Huddle. "I've never had a race that close before. It was hard to make any kind of a move out there."
Patience pays for Mack
In the final race of the day, Mack ran patiently behind Aaron Braun as they led a pack that included Josh Simpson, Chris Rombough and Jeff Schirmer.
Over the last kilometre, Mack made his move on the final hill on the course, pulling away to run 35:42 for a ten second win over Braun. Simpson took third in 36:04.
"I was feeling pretty smooth going over the last hill," Mack said. "I started to get the feel of the race over the last two loops. I wanted to make sure I had enough to finish strong. I was feeling confident in my finish at the end. I enjoy competing on a cross country course like this that is rolling unlike a golf course. I felt real comfortable today. I'd like to think that I'm versatile enough on the track and the roads to compete at this level."
The junior women’s 6km was the first of the day to determine the Team USA spots for NACAC, and University of Michigan freshman Shannon Osika waited patiently among a group of runners to earn her first national title, winning the race in a time of 21:05. Margaret Drazba took second in 21:08 and Macy Bricks took third in 21:11.
In the junior men’s 8km, Syracuse University freshman Jace Lowry used the same strategy as Osika as he waited until the final hill with a group of five runners to attack and take home the victory, winning in a time of 24:55, three seconds up on the University of Minnesota duo of Adam Zutz and Aaron Bartnik, who ran 24:58.
Jim Estes (USATF) for the IAAF