2004 Olympic men's marathon silver medalist Meb Keflezighi won his third national cross country title while Emily Brown won her first at the USA Cross Country Championships on Saturday (7) at the Agricultural History Farm Park in Derwood, Maryland.
Defending junior men's champion German Fernandez won his second consecutive title and Neely Spence won the junior women's 6 km.
In addition to the national titles up for grabs, the open and junior men and women qualified to represent Team USA at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships March 28 in Amman, Jordan.
For Keflezighi, first cross country outing since 2003
Keflezighi jumped to an early lead in the open men's 12 km, leading a chase pack of five after the first 2 km loop. The pack included Beijing 10,000 meter Olympian Jorge Torres, 2008 U.S. cross country team member Ed Moran and 2008 NCAA 5000 meter champion Bobby Curtis, with Olympic steeplechaser Anthony Famiglietti beginning to lose contact.
Over the next three laps, Keflezighi extended his lead to as much as eight seconds with Torres and Curtis taking charge of the chase pack. Heading into the final lap, Keflezighi began to slow slightly as former University of Wisconsin All-American Tim Nelson joined Torres and Curtis as the trio closed the gap slightly.
Over the final kilometre, Nelson continued to close on Keflezighi and going into the final 150 metres, looked like he might have the momentum to take the win but Keflezighi kept a watchful eye on him and held Nelson off by a step for his second USA title of 2009.
"That's what a championship race should be like; guys were stepping up to the plate," Keflezighi said. "This is my first cross country race since 2003, and I am glad to win my third national title."
For now, Keflezighi has yet to decide to accept the team spot for Amman.
"The London Marathon is the priority. My coach and I will make a decision on whether or not to go to Amman for World Championships. World Championships are a great event, but the priority for the spring is the London Marathon."
In the kick to the finish, Curtis pulled clear of Torres for third with Moran, and Ryan Vail (Gresham, Ore.) rounding out the top-six, qualifying for the Team USA Cross Country Squad.
Brown cruises to open women's title
The open women's 8 km saw Brown and Team USA Minnesota teammate Katie McGregor working together to open a small gap on the field after 2 km. Approaching 3 km, Brown began to pull away from McGregor.
Over the final three laps, Brown looked easy and as she continued to extend her lead as McGregor stepped off the course at 4 km. In the race for second, local favorite Julie Culley, ran 27:30 to qualify for her first U.S. team while Kathy Newberry finished third in 27:40 to qualify for her fifth U.S. Cross Country team. Completing the qualifiers for Team USA, Delilah DiCrensco finished fourth in 27:43 with Rebecca Donaghue and Samia Akbar running 27:46 and 28:02 for fifth and sixth respectively.
"I had no idea where the rest of the field was at; 25 meters, 75 meters, 100 meters; I don't know how that relates in terms of time," Brown said. "I was running like I had dogs behind me and running towards the finish line. I heard people cheering (for the runners behind me) and that's too close for comfort."
As expected, the first three laps of the junior men's 8 km saw defending champion Fernandez, Stanford freshman Chris Derrick and Oregon freshman Luke Puskedra taking brief turns in the lead.
Going into the final lap Fernandez started to press and pull away from Puskedra and Derrick and cruised to his second U.S. title in 23:20. During the final kilometer Derrick overtook Puskedra for the runner-up position, running 23:39. Puskedra was timed in 23:53 while the Team USA qualifying positions were rounded out by Ryan Hill in 24:35, Patrick Dupont and Francisco Medrano.
In the junior women's 6 km race, Allie McLaughlin took the early lead, opening up a 20 meter gap on the field at 2 km. Going into the final lap, Shippensburg State freshman Neely Spence, the 2008 NCAA Divdision II cross country runner-up had pulled even with McLaughlin and began open a lead that gave her a national title and a berth on her first U.S. Cross Country Team, running 20:43 to finish 14 seconds ahead of Ashley Brasovan. Rounding out the Team USA qualifiers for Amman were Alex Dunne, McLaughlin in 21:10, Sara Vaughn and Katja Goldring.
Jim Estes (USATF) for the IAAF