NOTE: This story was written remotely --Ed.
(08-Jan) -- Shadrack Kipchirchir (Nike) and Alicia Monson (On Athletics Club) claimed the men's and women's senior titles at today's USATF Cross Country Championships at Mission Bay Park in San Diego. Running in warm and sunny conditions on soft grass which some athletes called "spongy," Kipchirchir won in an exciting sprint finish while Monson took off mid-race to get a comfortable win. Kipchirchir was clocked in 30:32 over 10 kilometers, while Monson ran 34:01. Both athletes won $2000 in prize money.
Monson's race came first, and the former University of Wisconsin Badger asserted herself right from the gun. She along with Weini Kelati (Under Armour), Emily Infeld (Unattached), Emily Durgin (adidas), and Natosha Rogers (Hansons-Brooks ODP) formed a tight lead pack of five after the first two-kilometer loop (6:34). Rogers drifted back in the second lap, and during the third circuit Infeld and Durgin both fell off the lead group.
Monson, who finished third in the 2021 USA Olympic Trials 10,000m and 13th in the Tokyo Olympic Games, decided her best strategy was to attack the speedy Kelati mid-race instead of waiting for the final lap. About 6.5 kilometers into the race, Monson surged and quickly opened up a four-second lead on Kelati. Monson grew that lead to 14 seconds by the 8-K mark (26:45), and was never challenged in the final lap. Today's win was her first after turning pro in 2020 and moving to Boulder to be coached by three-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein.
"This was my first win as a pro, actually, and then also my first national title," Monson told mixed zone reporter Shannon Rowbury on the USATF.tv broadcast. "So, it's a pretty big day for me."
Kelati, who won the USATF 5-K road running title at the Abbott Dash for the Finish 5-K in New York City last November, was a clear second in 34:18. Infeld, who recently left the Nike Bowerman Track Club, was third in 34:36, while Durgin held on for fourth just edging a charging Stephanie Bruce of Hoka Northern Arizona elite (both women were timed in 34:50). Rogers, who was the race's defending champion, finished sixth in 35:24.
Olympic Marathon bronze medalist Molly Seidel (Puma) was never a factor in the race and finished eighth in 35:58. Before today's competition she said she was coming off of a holiday break where she mostly ran on snow in her home state of Wisconsin and was in San Diego to get a competitive jolt to start her 2022 campaign which, she revealed, would include a spring marathon.
"I might get my butt kicked, but that's why I'm here," she said in her USATF.tv pre-race interview.
Kipchirchir, who was the national cross country champion in 2019 in Tallahassee, had to use his 3:55 mile speed to get the win today. He stealthily followed the early leaders, Benard Keter (U.S. Army), Sam Chelanga (U.S. Army), Dillon Maggard (Hoka One One), Leonard Korir (U.S. Army), and Benjamin Eidenschink (Unattached), and didn't overreact when Chelanga made a number of powerful surges throughout the race.
At the 6-K mark (18:12), Eidenschink fell back leaving the lead group at five athletes. Those men stayed together through the penultimate lap, and Kipchirchir tried to stay patient.
With the clock showing 27:25 on the final lap, Maggard got on the front and Chelanga stuck close behind him. Kipchirchir moved onto Chelanga's heels, while Korir tried to stay close (Keter dropped off). Chelanga made the next surge about a minute and a half later, whittling the pack to just three. Rounding the final left hand turn, which goes up then down a small rise, Kipchirchir shot to the front on the little downhill. Maggard gave chase, but in just a few meters knew he couldn't match Kipchirchir's powerful sprint. Maggard just held off the 36 year-old Chelanga in the final 10 meters to claim second; both men were timed in 30:34. Korir got fourth in 30:37 and Keter, an Olympic steeplechaser, was fifth in 30:49.
Today's win was important for Kipchirchir. He missed the 2021 Olympic Trials with an injury; he had finished second in the 2016 Trials at 10,000m and was a favorite to make the Olympic team again.
"You know I'm glad to finally be at the start line," Kipchirchir said in his USATF.tv interview. "I got injured right before the Olympic Trials. I was frustrated, but I held on to a lot of hopes that I was going to come back."
He also announced that he and his wife, Elvin Kibet, were expecting a child later this year.
In the under-20 races, there was a surprise win on the women's side by 15 year-old Zariel Macchia, a ninth grader at William Floyd High School in Mastic Beach, N.Y. She covered the 6-K distance in 22:50 and was never seriously challenged.
"When the race went out it was at a pretty comfortable pace for me so I just stayed with the top group right at the front," Macchia said. She added: "It was like, this is pretty cool. Maybe I can actually win!"
Gabe Simonsen of Oklahoma State was the men's U20 champion, running 8 km in 25:42.
The masters titles went to Renee Metivier and Sergio Reyes, both in the 40 to 44 age group.