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Five Key Takeaways: U.S. 20k Championships

Published by
Scott Bush   on Sep 3 2012, 09:15 PM

The USA Running Circuit saw its men’s and women’s 20k champions crowned this Labor Day, as Matt Tegenkamp and Renee Metivier Baillie took home the titles and $9,000 each at the Stratton Faxon New Haven Road Race. Here’s what we learned:

1. Matt Tegenkamp Can Rock the Roads: A bit dejected after his Olympic 10k performance, Mr. Tegenkamp moved to the roads, showing why his racing future may make more sense to take place on the roads rather than the track. Tegenkamp is one of the most decorated track distance runners in U.S. history, but a shift in mindset could mean it’s time for him to take his shot at road racing.

Tegenkamp showed his stength and speed by kicking down Luke Puskedra in the final stages of Monday’s 20k championship, cruising to an 18 second victory and a cool $9,000 in prize money. His time of 58:30 smashed the U.S. 20k Championship record, set by Abdi Abdirahman in 2005, when he ran 58:42. The only other 20k champion to break 59 minutes was Meb Keflizighi’s 58:57 winning time in 2003.  That’s quite the company Tegenkamp joins.

With such success over 20k of road racing, it has to make fans think that Tegenkamp’s debut marathon could be coming sooner rather than later. It would not be at all shocking to see Tegenkamp take on the marathon challenge next spring, debuting in Boston or London. He still has the speed of the track to be able to handle the upfront racing tactics of major marathons, while he can certainly build the strength needed to handle the 26.2 mile distance.

Don’t be surprised to see Tegenkamp run another road race or two this fall.

2. Renee Metivier Baillie is So Good: While Matt Tegenkamp and Luke Puskedra stole the show in the men’s race, Metivier Baillie was busy running away from a strong women’s field to take the 20k crown. While Metivier Baillie has been relatively quiet as of late, her 20k victory reminds us just how dominant she can be on the roads.

While her 1:07:08 winning time didn’t break any championship records, her 13 second margin of victory over Molly Pritz did show just how fast and strong she can be from the 10k distance on up.

The former Colorado standout has quietly made a living for herself on the roads. One needs to remember her 2010 campaign, when she finished fourth at the U.S. Half-Marathon Championships, sixth at the 15k championship, third at the 5k championship and runner-up at the 10 mile championship.

While it hasn’t been announced yet, if she runs the 5k and 10 mile championship events, don’t be surprised to be seeing her finish very high yet again.

3. Luke Puskedra’s Present and Future is Road Racing: Remember when Puskedra ran 1:01:36 at the Houston Half-Marathon in January? The running world went crazy, as his time was simply phenomenal, especially as a debut mark. Follow that success up with his 20k championship runner-up effort, and Puskedra is showing why he’s one of the brightest young stars in American distance running.

The former University of Oregon standout led much of the 20k race, before being overtaken by Olympian Matt Tegenkamp. However, his tenacity and front-running prowess showed that A) he’s not afraid to take the lead and push the pace and B) he can handle extremely fast times.

Puskedra’s 58:48 finishing time, while not quite as impressive as his half-marathon debut, still left him a mere six seconds from Abdi Abdirahman’s 2005 20k championship record. As we said with Tegenkamp, that’s good company to be in.

It remains to be seen which training group, if any, he’ll join, and based on wearing his Oregon uniform, he still needs to sign with a shoe sponsor, but Puskedra is making waves and showing that when he jumps to the marathon distance, big things can be expected.

4. The USARC Titles Are Still Up For Grabs: The importance of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials skewed the USARC standings a bit, so the first, second and third place finishers in Houston still dominate the top of the standings. However, the next two races (three for women) will have a significant impact on the final standings.

Remember, $25,000 is up for grabs for finishing atop of the standings.

Currently, Abdi Abdirahman, Brett Gotcher and Meb Keflizighi rank 1st, 2nd and 4th in the men’s standings. However, all three are running a fall marathon, so they most likely won’t be racing the 5k championship in less than two weeks and may not run the 10 mile championship. This means 3rd place Christo Landry, who’s only three points behind Abdi (35 v 32) still has a shot to win, as does 5th place Joseph Chirlee (28 points). Don’t discount 20k champion Matt Tegenkamp. While his 15 points trail the top five quite a bit, he is more than capable of winning both the 5k and 10 mile championships, which would give him 45 points.

On the women’s side, Janet CherobonBawcom leads with 42 points, while Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan have 35 points and 30 points respectively. It would not be surprising whatsoever to see Cherobon-Bawom race at least the 5k championships, as she should be in prime shape coming off of the Olympics. One good race for her and she basically clinches the overall title for the second year in a row. 20k champion Renee Metivier Baillie could sneak up and win, as she currently has 22 points and two strong finishes in the 5k and 10 mile (or 10k) championship races could propel her into the lead.

It’ll be interesting to see who races what (if any) races the rest of the USARC season.

5. Over $150,000 Can Still Be Won: While it’s not the same prize money as the Diamond League on the track, the USARC still offers up nearly one million dollars in prize money. While the majority of USARC races have been run, the three remaining races offer up just over $125,000 in prize money, with a remaining $25,000 awarded to the overall winners of the USARC.

Money is something the American sporting public connects to. It’s part of the reason why horse racing is still semi-relevant and why golf is as big as it is. In less than two weeks, at the U.S. 5k Championships, $30,000 of prize money is up for grabs, while the U.S. 10 Mile Championships the first weekend in October offers $72,500. In addition, the U.S. Women’s 10k Championships offers $25,450.

That’s a lot of money!

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This fall, we’re introducing a new column called “Five Key Takeaways.” For every national-level cross country meet and road race this fall, we’ll be breaking down five key takeaways from each race and what they mean moving forward.

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