The Next Level: World Cross Country Championships - Team USA Capsules
By Scott Bush
Immediately after the USA Cross Country Championships, fans started dreaming of the US squad bringing home a medal in the men’s senior team race. With Dathan Ritzenhein and Matt Tegenkamp on the squad, the team looked incredibly tough to beat. However, Ritzenhein quickly stated he wouldn’t be running and Tegenkamp pulled out the championship last week.
Despite the two Olympians missing from the squad, Team USA has the strength to challenge and beat just about any squad. While it will be tough to beat Team Kenya and Team Ethiopia, the Americans, led by Portland-based teammates Chris Derrick and Elliott Heath, have the talent and depth necessary to pull off a top three finish.
Derrick gives the team a top-15 contender, while Heath, Ben True, Ryan Vail, Bobby Mack and James Strang are sure to pack it up and push for top 25 finishes. Remember, only four of the six score, so an off day by one or two of the men won’t blow up the team score.
Keep a strong eye on True, who mentioned earlier this week that he’s feeling strong, and after his USA 15 km Championship title two weeks ago, he seems ready to have another big IAAF World Cross Country Championship performance.
Chris Derrick (Portland, OR)
USA XC Championships: 1st
Recent Accomplishments: 2nd place Columbia Qualifier 5k (13:12.0), 4th place USA Olympic Trials 10k (27:40)
Overview: After claiming his first national title as a pro at the USA Cross Country Championships, Derrick followed that up with an incredible indoor 5,000m performance of 13:12 at the Columbia Qualifier. He’s showing strong form so early on in his 2013 season and joining Jerry Schumacher’s training group is obviously paying dividends. With cold temperatures and snowy footing happening in Poland, along with his past accomplishments in cross country (four-time top ten finisher at the NCAA XC Champs), Derrick not only should lead Team USA on the day, but should vie for a top-12 finish.
Elliott Heath (Portland, OR)
USA XC Championships: 4th
Recent Accomplishments: 4th place Columbia Qualifier 5k (13:33.22), 7th place USA Olympic Trials 5k (13:28)
Overview: Heath has been a little overlooked since last summer, where he finished seventh in the 5,000m final at the U.S. Olympic Trials. The former Stanford standout joined college teammate Derrick with the Schumacher group and continues to show improvement. His fourth place finish in St. Louis at the USA Cross Country Championships, along with a 13:33.22 fourth place finish at the Columbia Qualifier this indoor season, have Heath running strong. A top-40 finish is not out the question.
Ben True (Hanover, NH)
USA XC Championships: 5th
Recent Accomplishments: 1st place USA 15 km Championships (43:38), 1st place USA 5k Championships (13:52), 6th place USA Olympic Trials 5k (13:28), 12th place USA Olympic Trials 10k (28:08)
Overview: True has been quoted saying he realized how out of shape he was at the USA Cross Country Championships, where he finished fifth. Since then, True has been on a mission to gain strength and sharpen his speed. After dealing with Lyme’s disease at the Olympic Trials, True seems poised for a huge 2013 season. His late race kick at the USA 15 km Championships two weeks ago pushed him to another USARC championship title. His newly built strength should serve him well in Poland, as he looks to improve upon his 35th finish from the 2011 World Cross Country Championships, where he was the first finisher for the United States.
Ryan Vail (Portland, OR)
USA XC Championships: 6th
Recent Accomplishments: 3rd place USA 15 km Championships (43:43), 6th place USA Olympic Trials 10k (27:52)
Overview: While Vail came up just short of winning the USA 15 km Championships over True two weeks back, he’s proving his form with strong efforts. The Portland-based runner is one of the most consistent runners in the country, always putting himself in position for high finishes. He’ll be plenty challenged in Poland, where a top 40 finish would be a very good day, but Vail has shown time and again he’s a pure strength runner, which should serve him well over cold and snowy conditions.
Bobby Mack (Raleigh, NC)
USA XC Championships: 7th
Recent Accomplishments: 1st place Bupa Great Edinburgh XC 8k (24:27), 9th place USA Olympic Trials 10k (27:58)
Overview: The 2012 U.S. Cross Country champion ran a great race early on in the year, winning the Bupa Great Edinburgh race over some strong European competition. That, along with his solid performance at the USA Cross Country Championships, show Mack is in prime form for the challenge that lies ahead in Poland. A strong training group in Raleigh is pushing Mack to new levels and he should pack it up with Heath, Vail and True on Sunday to hopefully push Team USA to a high finish.
James Strang (Boulder, CO)
USA XC Championships: 9th
Recent Accomplishments: 21st USA Olympic Trials 10k (29:09)
Overview: Pretty quiet since his disappointing Olympic Trials 10k performance last summer, Strang has a big opportunity to show he’s stepping it up in a big way in 2013. With Matt Tegenkamp not running, Strang got the call and the Colorado-based runner has a chance to mix it up with his American colleagues and proves he belongs in the discussion of athletes to watch this year.
A young, but experienced, squad leads the way for Team USA in the senior women’s race. Led by two-time World Cross Country medalist Deena Kastor and 2012 Olympian Kim Conley, the women’s squad is strong from top to bottom and should challenge for a top three finish in the team standings.
While Kastor is an unknown, as she just competed in the LA Marathon this past weekend, where she placed third in 2:32:39, Conley is coming down off of a month-long stint at altitude and is feeling strong and confident heading into Sunday’s race.
Two of Team USA’s younger senior women, Infeld and Spence Gracy, are running well. Both have shown the ability to mix it up with some of the best in the world over the past year and have done well in cross country in the past.
Kastor is the X-factor in many ways. If the veteran can mostly recover from her marathon and push a top 35-40 finish, Team USA should be in decent shape.
Kim Conley (West Sacramento, CA)
USA XC Championships: 2nd
Recent Accomplishments: 3rd place USA Olympic Trials 5k (15:19)
Overview: After earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic squad with her jaw-dropping finish in the women’s 5k at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Conley has found a whole new confidence in herself and competing at the World Cross Country Championships is her first big-time test since the Olympic Games. Conley ran strong, only losing to Shalane Flanagan at the USA Cross Country Championships. A four-week stint at altitude and some sharpening up, has Conley eyeing a top-15 finish this weekend. Don’t be surprised to see her finish even higher.
Deena Kastor (Mammoth Lakes, CA)
USA XC Championships: 3rd
Recent Accomplishments: 3rd place LA Marathon (2:32:39)
Overview: Kastor ran the LA Marathon this past weekend. One week later, she’s facing some of the very best distance runners in the world in Poland. It’s a case study of sorts seeing how the 40-year old recovers. Kastor still ran 2:32:39 in LA, so she’s obviously in very good shape and she has a tremendous amount of experience running the World Cross Country Championships, including two individual runner-up finishes. Kastor is the veteran leader this team needs, so while she might not have her best race Sunday, she can help guide some of the young up-in-comers on the team. Don’t be surprised if Kastor surprises a bit and challenges for a top 20 finish.
Emily Infeld (Portland, OR)
USA XC Championships: 4th
Recent Accomplishments: 2nd USA Indoor T&F Championships 3k (9:23), 8th place USA Olympic Trials 5k (15:28)
Overview: Infeld, who finished fourth at the USA Cross Country Championships, is poised for a breakout 2013 season. Joining Jerry Schumacher’s Portland-based training group in the back half of 2012, the former Georgetown All-American is now training partners with Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher. You can bet Flanagan and Goucher offered Infeld some tips from their combined international experience. While Infeld isn’t at the same level of those two just yet, she’s on her way and her first big international experience in Poland could be viewed as the stepping stone to a big year ahead.
Neely Spence Gracey (Rochester Hills, MI)
USA XC Championships: 5th
Recent Accomplishments: 1st place Zatopek 10k (32:16), 2nd place USA 5k Championships (15:33)
Overview: While only in her first full season as a pro, Spence Gracey has international racing experience, including a big win this past December at the Zatopek 10k, which she won in 32:16. The Hansons-Brooks runner is up to the challenge on Sunday. She ran with Infeld for much of the race at the USA Cross Country Championships and the two should pack it up again in Poland. Spence Gracey is from Pennsylvania and trains in Michigan, so the cold, wintery weather should be an advantage for her.
Delilah DiCrescenzo (New York, NY)
USA XC Championships: 6th
Recent Accomplishments: 8th place USA 15 km Championships (50:53), 7th place USA Olympic Trials Steeplechase (9:46)
Overview: DiCrescenzo is no stranger to racing internationally and brings a veteran edge to Team USA. While only 30 years of age, she the second oldest member (men and women) on the team, and having raced in some very big races over the past decade, the Puma sponsored athlete is ready to showcase her talent over the cross country fields on Poland. Never to back down, don't be surprised to see DiCrescenzo group up with Infeld and Spence Gracey with all eyes on top-40 finishes.
Mattie Suver (Boulder, CO)
USA XC Championships: 7th
Recent Accomplishments: 5th place USA 15 km Championships (50:30), 3rd place Bupa Great Edinburgh XC 6k (21:00), 13th place USA 20k Championships (1:10:53)
Overview:Still relatively unknown amongst American distance running fans, Suver is looking to prove herself not only among some of the best in the United States, but the best in the world. Two weeks ago, the Colorado-based athlete ran to a strong fifth place finish at the USA 15 km Championships, beating Team USA teammate DiCrescenzo by 23 seconds and showing she's ready for a strong showing in Poland. Some early season international experience with a third place finish at the Bupa Great Edinburgh race in Scotland should have Suver primed to compete come Sunday.