ST. LOUIS – Sara Hall (Flagstaff, Ariz.) and Bobby Mack (Raleigh, N.C.) each used late charges to outrun the competition as each won their first career USA Cross Country titles Saturday 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.
The senior women’s 8 km saw pre-race favorite Molly Huddle (Providence, R.I.) take command of the lead pack that included Hall, five-time USA Cross Country team memberRenee Metivier Baillie (Bend, Ore.), Liz Costello (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Laura Thweatt(Boulder, Colo.).
After 3 km Huddle held a one-step advantage over Hall, with Costello close behind. Over the final 2 km 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.
In addition to the national titles on the line in St. Louis, open and junior men and women will qualify to represent Team USA at the North American, Central American, Caribbean (NACAC) Cross Country Championships March 17 in Port of Spain, Trinidad.
The junior women’s 6 km 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(St. Mary’s, W.V.) took second in 21:08 and Macy Bricks (Clovis, Calif.) took third in 21:11.
In the junior men’s 8 km, Syracuse University freshman Jace Lowry (Paragon, Indiana) 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 (St. Francis, Minnesota) and Aaron Bartnik (Eden Prairie, Minnesota), who ran 24:58.
In the final race of the day, Mack ran patiently behind Aaron Braun (Flagstaff, Ariz.) as they led a pack that included Josh Simpson (Morgantown, W.V.), Chris Rombough (St. Paul, Minn.) and Jeff Schirmer (Carbondale, Ill.).
Over the last kilometer, 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.
National championships were also decided for masters men and women at 8 km with titles on the line in five-year age groups beginning at age 40 and up.
The first championship race of the day saw Joanna Zieger (Boulder, Colo.) take the overall masters women’s title, running 30:05 for a 16-second win over Jody Hawkins (Blooming Grove, Texas).
The overall masters men’s title went to Christian Cushing-Murray (Santa Ana, Calif.) as he ran 26:09 for a three-second win over Rusty Snow (Santa Barbara, Calif.).
Sara Hall: It was hard to kick in the last 300 meters like I normally would. 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.
Molly Huddle: I really couldn’t break away like I normally would like to do. I’ve never had a race that close before. It was hard to make any kind of a move out there.
Bobby Mack: I was feeling pretty smooth going over the last hill. 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.
Joanna Zeiger: My plan was to assert myself early and hold on. It’s not the plan I normally go with. It’s out of my comfort zone to run that way. Cold dry air is the worst for me (she has exercise induced asthma), so I knew the breathing would be difficult.
Christian Cushing-Murray: The guy in the front was really tough! I think he’s a little mad at me because I sat on him for so long. I thought the weather would affect me, but it didn’t, other than the warm-up. The hardest part for me was the softer surface; I’m a rhythm runner so the varying terrain affected me.
Shannon Osika: It’s awesome to get the victory! My race plan was to sit on people. That was something that my coach really helped me out with. It wasn’t necessarily to get the win, but to make sure I made the team.
Jace Lowry: I redshirted the indoor season at Syracuse just so I could run this race. The first three laps were really relaxed, but things started to pick up on the final lap. As windy as it was, no one really wanted to lead.
The 2013 edition of the USA Cross Country Championships will also be held at Forest Park in St. Louis, for more information visit www.usatf.org.