Ritzenhein, Flanagan Headline USA Cross Country Championships

Athletes will vie for world championship team slots Saturday in Spokane, Wash.

Written by: Sean McKeon

This weekend the nation’s top cross country runners will converge upon scenic Plants Ferry Recreation Park in Spokane, Wash. for the 2010 USA Cross Country Championships. Athletes will look to capture national titles, as well as coveted national team spots for the upcoming NACAC Cross Country Championships in Tobago and the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Let’s break down the contenders in the highly competitive open races:

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Ritz en-route to his 2008 victory. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Open Men:

Two-time USA cross country champion Dathan Ritzenhein leads all contenders going into the weekend. The former champion had a career year in 2009, setting an American record over 5000m and taking bronze at the world half marathon championships. Ritzenhein is prepared to take his third title and then make a statement at the world championships. “I want to get in and race against he best guys there are,” he said. “The world cross country championships offer one of the best fields.”

Predicting who else may join Ritz in Poland is tough as the field behind him is extremely deep. The field includes former world cross country team members Scott Bauhs, Matt Gabrielson, Max King, Ryan Vail and Mike Spence, all known for their off-road prowess. In addition, look for strong showings from US Half Marathon Championships 1-2 finishers Antonio Vega and Patrick Smyth, 2008 Olympic steeplechaser Billy Nelson, Nick Arciniaga, top-10 at NYC Marathon in 2009, David Jankowski of Zap Fitness, and veteran steeplechaser Tom Kloos. Jankowski may be the top dark horse pick as he ran a new personal best 13:40 for 5000m in January.
RunNow.com says: 1. Ritzenhein, 2.Nelson , 3. Smyth, 4. Vega, 5. Bauhs

Flanagan cruising to her 2008 title. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Open Women:

Shalane Flanagan is a three-time USA Cross Country champion and is certainly the class of this year’s field. Flanagan took the overall title in 2008 and the short course (no longer contested) titles in 2004 and 2005. She said of the race, “Cross country is the first form of running I fell in love with. I’ve been missing cross country and I’m looking forward to racing this weekend and then hopefully again in Poland.”

Flanagan’s biggest challenge will come from defending champion Emily Brown and two-time US 10K road champion Molly Huddle. Six-time USA cross country team member Katie McGreggor is probably the most consistent performer over the past decade and is always ready to return to the world stage. The race will also mark the comeback of 2006 long-course champion and Olympic marathoner Blake Russell. Russell took a year off to have her first child and looks ready to return to top form. Former US team members Renee Metivier Ballie, Kathy Newberry, Amy Hastings and Sara Hall will all look to add another team birth to their resumes.
RunNow.com says: 1. Flanagan, 2. Huddle, 3. Hall, 4. Brown, 5. Russell

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