(20-Jan) -- This Saturday in Pole Green Park just outside of Richmond, Virginia, USA athletes will compete for national team spots for the World Athletics Cross Country Championships for the first time in nearly four years. The COVID pandemic caused the postponement of the 2021 World Athletics Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, Australia, to February 18, of this year, so American athletes haven't had a chance to make a World Cross team since February 2, 2019.
"Making any U.S. team is a huge honor and we recognize that this will be a difficult team to make," said Coach Kevin Hanson of the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project in Rochester Hills, Michigan. "But, heading to a part of the world that most Americans have never been to makes this one even more special."
PHOTO: Weini Kelati winning the 2022 USATF 5-K road running title at the Abbott Dash to the Finish 5-K in New York City on November 5 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
Under the USA Track & Field (USATF) system, athletes will earn team spots for the Open and U20 teams (six athletes per squad) based solely on their order of finish at the USATF Cross Country Championships on Saturday. "In each event, the rank order of place finish in the Selection Event shall determine the eligibility of an athlete to be entered as a member of the Team or to be entered as an alternate on the Team," says the official event instructions.
In both the men's and women's open races, a new champion will be crowned; neither of the 2022 champions, Alicia Monson (On Athletics Club) nor Shadrack Kipchirchir (Nike), are entered to compete this year. Monson is focused on her indoor season, and Kipchirchir ran the Aramco Houston Half-Marathon last Sunday.
In the open women's race, two-time USA 5-K road running champion Weini Kelati (Under Armour/Dark Sky Distance) is the strongest athlete. Kelati, 26, who lives and trains in Flagstaff, Ariz., became eligible to represent the United States in international competition in June, 2021 (she was born in Eritrea), but has yet to compete on a national team. She dominated the last two editions of the USA 5-K road running championships, hosted by New York Road Runners at the Abbott Dash to the Finish 5-K in New York City, and last January in San Diego she finished second behind Monson at the USATF Cross Country Championships. Most recently, she ran 4:30.1 at the Kalakaua Merrie Mile in Honolulu on December 10.
Kelati's key rival will likely be veteran Stephanie Bruce (Hoka Northern Arizona Elite) who, after announcing her retirement last year due to a congenital heart condition, recently decided to return to competition. The 39 year-old Bruce, who also resides in Flagstaff, is the reigning USA 10-K road running champion and has competed in the World Athletics Cross Country Championships twice, in 2017 (22nd place) and 2019 (33rd). She finished fifth in the 2022 national championships and confirmed to Race Results Weekly that she'll be starting in Virginia.
"I do owe a genuine thank you to many people for letting me play out 2022 as if it was my last, and also for accepting that after a period of deep reflection, I have had a change of heart," Bruce recently wrote on her blog about her decision not to retire. "I am not ready to hang up my racing shoes."
Also in the hunt for team spots should be Emily Durgin (adidas), Allie Buchalski (Brooks Beasts), Jessa Hanson (Unattached), Katie Izzo (adidas), Ednah Kurgat (U.S. Army), Makena Morley (Asics), Susanna Sullivan (Unattached), and Laura Thweatt (Saucony). Durgin was fourth at last year's championships, and Thweatt was the 2015 national champion.
Millie Paladino (New Balance Boston), who has a 10,000m personal best of 31:19.92, has scratched because she's "under the weather," said her coach Mark Coogan.
In the men's open race, the second through sixth place athletes from last year are all set to start in Virginia. Dillon Maggard (Brooks Beasts), Sam Chelanga (U.S. Army), Leonard Korir (U.S. Army), Benard Keter (Nike/U.S. Army), and Benjamin Eidenschink (Unattached), finished second through sixth, respectively, in 2022. Maggard, who ran unattached last year, recently returned to the Brooks Beasts Track Club in Seattle under coach Danny Mackey.
The U.S. Army team, coached by Scott Simmons, looks particularly strong. Besides Chelanga, Korir and Keter, Geoffrey Kipchumba and Anthony Rotich are entered. Rotich, a three-time NCAA steeplechase champion for UTEP, was the 2020 USATF cross country champion.
Other key individuals who are expected to contend for team spots include reigning USA 10-K road running champion Biya Simbassa (Under Armour), two-time Olympic steeplechaser Hillary Bor (Hoka One One), his brother Emmanuel (Unattached), reigning national 15-K champion Nicolas Montanez (ASICS Mammoth Track Club), Reid Buchanan (Unattached), Andrew Colley (On ZAP Endurance), Kirubel Erassa (Unattached), and Zach Panning (Hansons-Brooks).
The U20 women's race looks particularly interesting. Karrie Baloga of Cornwall, N.Y., the reigning Champs Sports Cross Country champion, will face reigning Nike Cross Nationals champion Irene Riggs of Morgantown, W.V. Also in the race will be the 2022 Champs Sports Cross Country runner-up Ellie Shea of Belmont, Mass., and 2022 Running Lane Cross Country Championships runner-up Zariel Macchia of Mastic Beach, N.Y. Abbey Nechanicky (Hamel, Minn.), Allie Zealand (Forest, Va.), and Eva Klingbeil (University of North Carolina) should also be in contention for top-10 finishes.
Kole Mathison of Carmel, Ind., is the top entrant in the men's U20 event. Mathison was the winner of the Champs Sports Cross Country Championships last December and was also the 2022 Indiana state cross country champion.
Athletes for the 4 x 1000m mixed relay at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships will be selected by USATF through a separate process, not through Saturday's national championships.