Another dominating performance from the “blond assassin”.
Written by Matt Fitzgerald
When Shalane Flanagan lines up at the USA Cross Country Championships, she usually wins. And when she wins, she always wins big, as she did today at Mission Bay Park in San Diego, claiming her fifth USA Cross Country Championship title (her third at the 8K distance–she also won two at the discontinued 4K distance) by a margin of 44 seconds over runner-up Molly Huddle, who also finished second to Flanagan in last year’s championship.
True to form, Shalane took the race out hard, taking advantage of the relatively flat, smooth, grassy terrain to set what she described as a “hot” early pace. She reached 1K at 3:05 with Huddle close behind. Soon thereafter Flanagan separated herself from the woman who stole away her 5,000m American record last summer, and the race for first place as effectively over. That’s not to say it was easy for the eventual winner, however.
“I was a little too aggressive at the start,” Flanagan said. “I was really excited to race again and it showed. That middle section, I just wanted to kind of hang out, and I did. Thankfully I had enough of a gap.”
Despite just “hanging out” in the middle laps of the four-lap, 8K race, Flanagan continued to increase her lead. At 3K she had 16 seconds on Huddle, who after qualifying for her second consecutive World Championships team said, “I was hoping to maybe run a little stronger—maybe stay with Shalane until 4K or so, but I felt a little sluggish from the gun.”
Flanagan’s winning time was 25:47. An avid cross country runner, Flanagan has already expressed her intention to claim her World Championships qualifying slot.
Behind Flanagan and Huddle an interesting battle played out for the remaining four team slots. Flanagan’s training partner Lisa Koll, veterans Blake Russell, Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, and Renee Metevier Ballie, and ZAP Fitness team member Allysa McKaig were all together at 2K but gradually strung out thereafter.
Koll eventually reeled in a fading Huddle, but Huddle had enough left in her legs to outkick the recent Iowa State graduate in the homestretch, finishing in 26:31 to Koll’s 26:40. Lewy-Boulet finished fourth, another two seconds back, and Russell claimed the fifth spot.
The sixth and last World Championships team slot went to former Michigan State standout McKaig, the least familiar name in the group. “I didn’t really know what to expect,” she said. “I just knew I wanted to be eighth to tenth at 1K to 2K and then try to move forward. Then it kind of opened up and I was like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to hang on.’” She did, finishing just one second behind Russell in 27:07.
Seventh place went to Kara Goucher in her first cross country race since 2007 and only her third race of any kind since giving birth in September. She fell behind on the first lap and picked off runners ahead of her over the next three.
“The first 800 meters were a shock to my system,” Goucher said. “All of a sudden I was in like 30th place and I was like, ‘What just happened?’”
Goucher’s coach, Alberto Salazar, was seen discussing her performance with her after the race. “He just told me to be confident in what I’m doing,” she said. “He said that even if I hadn’t had a baby, with all the work I’m putting in, there’s a lot of adaptation taking place.”
The IAAF World Cross Country Championships will be held March 20 in Punta Umbria, Spain.
Post-race Interviews: Mario Fraioli caught up with Shalane Flanagan just moments after she captured her fifth national cross country title. Watch the interview here. He also spoke with Kara Goucher after her 7th-place finish and got an update on her training for April’s Boston Marathon. Click here to see what Kara had to say.