A muddy, icy course, surrounded by two feet of snow throughout the 2k loop led to some exciting racing at the USATF Cross Country Championships in Bend, Oregon, as Leonard Korir kicked home to victory on the men’s side, while Aliphine Tuliamuk dominated the women’s field.
The USATF Cross Country Championships are the first stop on the 2017 USATF Running Circuit. All the action from Bend is available on demand on USATF.TV +PLUS and full results can be found here.
Max King, who designed the course the athletes raced Saturday, took out the senior men’s race in Bend, pushing the pace early and challenging those in contention for IAAF World Cross Country Championship spots to run an honest pace. While King remained in the lead for the first 2 km loop of the race, the fast early start set up the rest of what would become a very exciting race.
As King seemingly stepped aside and the pre-race favorites took over, it was Stanley Kebenei, Shadrack Kipchirchir and Korir who did much of the work, along with three-time USATF Cross Country champion Chris Derrick, to push the pace and string out the field as they crossed the half way point in the 10 km race.
Heading into the fourth loop, and passing through 6 km, a group of seven emerged with that talented quartet, along with Sam Chelanga, Trevor Dunbar and Scott Fauble. All seven seemed to be running relaxed and smooth, that was until Kebenei, Korir, Chelanga and Kipchirchir put in a calculated move that dropped the other three.
With a lap to go, the newly formed quartet pushed the pace, each taking a turn leading at one point or another. With less than a mile to go, Korir and Kebenei charged ahead and with one last push with under half a mile to go, Korir shot to the lead and charged home for what would be another big win on the 2017 season and his first U.S. title of the year.
Korir held off Kebenei, crossing the finish in 30:11.8, while Kebenei ran four seconds ahead of third place finisher Kipchirchir, 30:14.3-30:18.6. Chelanga took home fourth place in 30:22.2, while Derrick outlasted Dunbar and Mason Ferlic, as the trio went 5-6-7 in 30:27.7, 30:33.4 and 30:37.1 respectively.
Completing the top ten, despite falling, HOKA ONE ONE Northern Arizona Elite’s Fauble placed eighth overall in 30:55.7, while Joseph Gray ran a consistent race throughout to come home in ninth with a finish of 31:02.0. Augustus Maiyo took tenth in 31:03.5, nearly twelve seconds up on eleventh place.
On the women’s side, Tuliamuk took off from the gun, jumped to the lead and never looked back. Only Kellyn Taylor and Laura Thweatt tried to hold pace with Tuliamuk over the first 2 km loops of the 10 km race, but by the time Tuliamuk passed through 6 km, she had a 23 second lead over Thweatt, who was running in second.
While Tuliamuk dominated the field, Taylor and Thweatt ran within a few strides of each other for the first half of the race, but as the 6 km mark approached, Thweatt pulled ahead and ran by herself for the rest of the race.
Taylor continued to charge forward, while behind her Sarah Pagano, Olympian Courtney Frerichs, Liz Costello and Pagano’s BAA teammate Elaina Balouris ran tough and mostly together.
Into the final loop Tuliamuk charged, building her lead step by step, until she crossed the finish line victoriously. Tuliamuk won her fourth USATF Running Circuit title since becoming a U.S. citizen in 2016, this time winning in 34:23.5 and by 48 seconds. For the former Wichita State star, running for the United States at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships next month will be her first time competing wearing the red, white and blue.
Thweatt finished tough and crossed the finish in 35:11.7, well ahead of third place Taylor, who held off a furious late charge by Frerichs to finish 35:36.1-35:39.9. Finishing fifth and sixth, teammates Pagano and Balouris ran to 35:43.1 and 36:18.3 times.
Rounding out the top ten, Stephanie Bruce came on strong over the final two laps to nab an impressive seventh place finish in 36:20.7, while Costello hung on to place eighth in 36:35.7. Emily Pritt of Bowerman Track Club and Natosha Rogers of New Balance finished ninth and tenth respectively in 36:45.5 and 36:50.0.
The next stop on the USATF Running Circuit takes place on March 11 in Jacksonville, Florida, as the USATF 15 km Championships showcase some of America’s finest distance running talent.
About the USATF Running Circuit
The USATF Running Circuit is a USATF road series featuring USATF championships from one mile through the marathon and consistently attracts the best American distance runners with more than $500,000 to be awarded in total prize money. A total of $25,000 in prize money is awarded at the USATF Cross Country Championships.
The first ten U.S. runners earn points at each USATF Running Circuit race. For the USATF Cross Country Championships, scoring is set as 15 for first, 12 for second, 10 for third, 7 ,6 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1, with those earning the most points receiving prize money at the end of the series.
The mission of the USATF Running Circuit is to showcase, support and promote U.S. runners. Since its inception in 1995, the USATF Running Circuit and its races have provided over $9 million to U.S. distance runners.