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Posted: March 28, 2019:  

(RRW) Athletics: USA Champion Kipchirchir Focused on Team Medal at World Cross

From David Monti, @d9monti
© 2019 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved.

AARHUS, DENMARK (28-Mar) -- One of the oldest expressions in sports is that there is no "I" in "Team," and reigning USA cross country champion Shadrack Kipchirchir has clearly embraced that as his mantra ahead of Saturday's IAAF/Mikkeller World Cross Country Championships on the grounds of the Moesgaard Museum here.

PHOTO: Shadrack Kipchirchir of the United States in advance of the 2019 IAAF/Mikkeller World Cross County Championships in Aarhus, Denmark (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

Kipchirchir, 30, who won the USA title last month in Tallahassee, Florida, with an explosive sprint finish, told Race Results Weekly this morning that achieving a team medal was his top priority.

"Most important thing is to win as a team, to podium as a team," the former Oklahoma State star said wearing his bright blue Team USATF warm-up suit. "We're going to go for a win, but the worst-case scenario we'll go for the bronze. Then individual goals, I don't know. Win as a team; that's the most important thing."

Kipchirchir, an Olympian who finished ninth in the IAAF World Championships 10,000m in 2017 in London, has a unique advantage over the other top athletes entered here like reigning champion Geoffrey Kamworor of Kenya. Four of his five American teammates are his actual training partners under coach Scott Simmons in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He and brothers Hilary and Emmanuel Bor, Stanley Kebenei and Leonard Korir know each other well, and it will be easy for them to work as a team on the twisting and hilly two-kilometer circuit which features 66 meters of climbing and descending in every loop.

"I talked with the guys and they are really excited," said Kipchirchir, who finished 21st in the last edition of these championships in Kampala, Uganda, in 2017. "So, we're going to run as a team. We're going to run as a unit together. I'm sure people are going to blow up. We're going to try to encourage each other like the way we do in training and run together as a pack. Hopefully, we get the win. Our hope is to win it."

The course set up by the local organizing committee is beyond challenging. During each circuit, the athletes must climb and descend the grass roof of the Museum which has an exceptionally steep pitch. They make a U-turn about two thirds of the way up the roof, then descend at full speed before shooting into a specially designed banked curve (which looks like it a skate park feature) which redirects the athletes back uphill for the next circuit. The course also has deep sand in spots, off-camber turns and even a mud pit. Kipchirchir loves it.

"The course is pretty amazing," Kipchirchir said. "The guys that did it did a good job. You know, it's like a really hard course, and it's challenging and I like it. That's the way cross country should be."

The course here stands in stark contrast to the one used for the USA national championships in Tallahassee, Florida, last month which was the team trails event for these championships. That course was mostly flat grass with several hard-packed dirt sections. Over that 10-kilometer race Kipchirchir was able to clock what would be a solid track time for 10-K: 28:53.

"Three hundred and sixty degrees opposite," Kipchirchir said when asked to compare the Tallahassee and Aarhus courses. "Totally different. There's like a lot of hills, downhills, amazing obstacles. The rooftop, the grade is really steep. Mud pit, water and sun. Everything is, like, right there. So, I'm excited for it."

Growing up as a boy in Kenya, Kipchirchir dreamed of running in global championships, but never imagined he would do that for the United States (he began representing the United States in 2015 after getting citizenship through the U.S. Army).

"I used to watch all the time, like the Olympics and track and cross country at Worlds," Kipchirchir reminisced. "Everything that I watched. I was like, I want to be like them, and here I am."

Above all, Kipchirchir said he would savor the team experience. It's his band of brothers which will really drive his effort on Saturday.

"I talked with the guys and we're going to run together as a group," he said. "If one person passes a competitor, we'll all pass them. That's the cool thing with cross country; it's all about passing people as much as you can."

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