Cheserek vs Zeinasellassie
Battle at Balboa Park
by Darrin DeTorres
Great races need great match-ups and have we seen some over the long storied history at the original National Cross Championships - Foot Locker Nationals. For many of us, Foot Locker Nationals was where we first heard of Ritz, Hall and Webb and yes, they were in the same race as high school boys before they became NCAA champions, American record holders and Olympians. This years National championship could very well be a precursor to what we can expect several years down the road for American distance running with an epic "Battle at Balboa Park", featuring a cast of many in the boys field but ultimately, the talk and internet chatter will surround the 2 favorites.
Our first competitor weighs in at 5' 6" , 130 pounds and hails from Kenya's Great Rift Valley. He is undefeated in all races and has set a course record on every course he’s run with a season best 5K time of 14:20. He was 2nd last year at Nike Cross Nationals to Lukas Verbicas and decided to skip Nike Cross Nationals altogether this year to try and claim the coveted title of Foot Locker National Champion. Presenting to the world - EDWARD CHESEREK !!!!!
In our other corner, we have a competitor who looks to stop Cheserek’s streak. Hailing originally from the far off land of Eritrea, he too is undefeated this season running a 5K time of 14:36. Last year he was runner up to the great Lukas Verzbicas at Foot Locker Nationals and just last weekend claimed his first National title crown, winning the the 2011 Nike Cross National meet in convincing fashion by 25 seconds. Presenting to the world - FUTSUM ZEINASELLASSIE !!!!!
If you are a distance running nerd like the rest of us at DistancePreps.com, you probably have read 1,000 times over already that this year’s race has already been won by Cheserek with Futsum a close second. But there's a reason we all head to Balboa Park the second weekend in December. There's a reason they lace them up and line them up. The Annual Foot Locker Cross Country Championships pilmigrage are all about great match-ups and the expectation that not only will Cheserek and Zeinasellassie make this a most memorable Foot Locker Experience, but that someone may emerge from the rest of the boys field and feasibly also be crowned National Champion, but we digress.
Without question, Cheserek’s biggest threat will undoubtedly come from Zeinasellassie. Futsum is a veteran to the Balboa Park course and always runs well here. He first qualified back in 2008 as a Freshman, the first to qualify as a Freshman since Jorge Torres back in 1995. Futsum placed 7th overall as a Freshman that year garnering Second-team All-American honors. He skipped competing his Sophomore year, then came back to place 2nd as a Junior. Zeinasellassie, like Cheserek, is undefeated this season and is trying to pull off the Cross Country Triple Crown; a State Title, Nike Cross Nationals Title, and a Foot Locker National Title.
Looking to win a title in his own back yard is Darren Fahy. He won this year’s West regional in a time of 15:29 beating last year’s 4th place finisher, Andrew Gardner, by 12 seconds. Like Futsum, Fahy has run this course before and hopes that he’ll have the advantage of not having to get over the Jetlag that many of these runners seem to face when flying in from all over the country. If anyone on the West Coast has a chance of bringing home the title, he is the one to watch.
Also making a case for the title is the Duo from Texas, Daniel Vertiz and Craig Nowak. Both runners did extremely well at Foot Locker South and followed up their performances by placing 2nd and 3rd at Nike Cross Nationals. These two have arguably one of the hardest individual State meets to win in the country being that three people from the Texas Class 5A state meet qualified to run at Foot Locker Nationals. If they can hold their peaks through Saturday, they can definitely be in the hunt.
Finally we can’t leave out last year’s 3rd and 4th place finishers, Tony Smoragiewicz and Andrew Gardner. Some have argued that these guys might be a little past their peaks but I wouldn’t count them out just yet. Tony is an elite triathlete who most likely started his base phase a little late due to last summer’s Triathlon World Junior Championship, in which he placed 3rd.
Gardner on the other hand is a runner by trade who shows up when it counts. Last year, Andrew was the youngest runner in the field and ran the smartest of races running his first mile exactly to plan even though it put him in dead last. Most young runners would panic at the thought of being dead last, but young Gardner moved up enough to eventually finish 4th. It’s anyone’s guess as to how the race will play out but Tony and Andrew could very well be in the mix.
The best part about racing is that no one wins until the race is run. We can talk all day about the depth of the field and could run 1000 simulations as to how it will all play out but when everything is all said and done, we won’t know until race day. It's why they lace them up and line them up.
If you are as excited as we are or the 33rd rendition of Foot Locker Nationals, make sure to check out DistancePreps.com on Saturday for a live feed of the race, plus our South centered blog, a bunch of race photos and interviews.
Until then, “Stay classy San Diego!”