Flanagan, Ritzenhein Win USA Cross Country Championships

Both are legitimate medal contenders at next month’s World Championships in Poland

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

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Shalane Flanagan and Dathan Ritzenhein accomplished the expected in impressive style in winning the women’s and men’s national cross country championship titles Saturday at Plantes Ferry Recreation Park in Spokane, Wash. Ritzenhein had won two previous cross country championships and Flanagan three, two of them at the no-longer-contested 4K distance.

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Their victories earned them opportunities to compete in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, on March 28. The next five finishers in their respective races also qualified, as did the top six in the masters and junior races contested earlier in the day.

Flanagan pulling away to victory in Spokane. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Women’s Race

It was a brisk 48 degrees with gusty winds and clear skies when the women’s senior 8K race started at 1:15 pm local time. Wearing a black racing brief, green bib top and black arm warmers, Flanagan shot straight to the front of the 80-woman field from the gun. Only Molly Huddle went with her. But by the end of the first 2K lap on the undulating, grassy course Huddle had lost contact. Well back, seven women formed a pack to decide the last four world championships qualifying slots. Amy Hastings and Sara Hall, teammates on the Mammoth Track Club, worked together at the front of the group in an effort to break their rivals.

After 3K, their effort began to pay off, as the pack splintered. Among the survivors was Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, who surged at the halfway mark and started to reel in a flagging Huddle.

Flanagan passed the 5K mark in 15:47. Behind her, Huddle hit the panic button upon stealing a glance at Lewy-Boulet and Hastings closing behind her. She pumped her arms and lifted her knees in a desperate effort to protect her gap. Seeing this, her chasers responded.

Although her win was already secured, Flanagan did not let up after passing 7K at 22:17. She ran hard straight through the finish. Her winning time of 25:10 gave her a cushion of 51 seconds over Huddle, who hung on valiantly for second. It was a satisfying performance for Flanagan, who suffered through illness and substandard performances last year after winning an Olympic bronze medal at 10,000m in 2008.

“I think today proves that I’m ready to run cross again,” she said. “I’m excited for Poland.” Flanagan added that she felt better in Saturday’s race than she had since her American record-breaking medal performance in Beijing.

Lewy-Boulet, Hastings, Renee Metivier-Baillie and Hall completed the world championships team.

Ritz captured his third senior US Cross Country title. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Men’s Race

Ritzenhein ran a more patient race than Flanagan, perhaps in part out of necessity. A large group of talented runners set a torrid pace at the start, led by 2009 Notre Dame graduate Patrick Smyth, who had a breakthrough performance at the recent Houston Half Marathon, where he finished second in 1:02:01.

Smyth hit the 1K mark in 2:46, followed closely by Scott Bauhs, Ritzenhein, Max King, and Antonio Vega, who won the Houston Half Marathon seven seconds ahead of Smyth. At 3K, reached in 8:33, nine runners remained close together. A very relaxed-looking Ritzhein was still in third place, tucked behind Smyth and Bauhs out of the wind.

Given the fast pace it was only a matter of time before attrition whittled down the lead group. It finally happened at roughly 4k, when the group rather suddenly shrank to four runners: Smyth, Bauhs, Ritz and a surprising Ben Bruce, who lasted another mile before he was forced to let the three bigger names go.

Ritz continued to bide his time until the group reached a hill approaching 9K, when he surged suddenly and dramatically. Bauhs and Smyth were completely unable to respond, but instead fell into a battle for second place that was not decided until the final kilometer of the race.

Ritzenhein built his lead all the way to the finish line, which he reached in 34:33, 18 seconds ahead of Smyth.

Portland Pilot Trevor Dunbar took the men's junior title. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Other Races

Earlier in the day, the junior and masters races were contested.  The ageless Colleen De Reuck, 46, destroyed all comers in the women’s masters 8K. Her winning time of 27:27 put her at the finish line one minute and 45 seconds ahead of runner-up Laura Haefeli, 42. The amazing Kathryn Martin captured the last world championships qualifying slot at age 58.

Tracy Lokken, 44, of Marquetteville, MI, dominated the masters men’s race, finishing 40 seconds ahead of Keith Mulhollon, 40, of Geneva, WI, with a time of 25:39.

The junior women’s 6K race was the race of the day. Shelby Greany, 18, of Providence College outkicked three other women in the homestretch to claim the victory in 20:27.  Those other three finished within a second of each other just a few strides behind Greany.

Alaska native and University of Portland freshman Trevor Dunbar entered the junior men’s 8K race as a prohibitive favorite and did not exactly wilt under pressure. Dunbar broke away from the lead pack at 1K and never looked back. Colorado Buffalo Schafer made a heroic effort to chase him down over the last 3K but came up short, finishing second.

The first race of the day was the Erik Anderson Community 4K, whose overall winners were Spokane’s own Anthony Brown, 18, (12:08) and 29-year-old Malinda Elmore of Kelowna, BC (12:51).

Full results: USATF Web site

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