Pure Fun and XC-eptional racing at NXN 08
Manlius Girls XC win 3rd straight National Crown
Portland OR. They call it pure. They say you have guts. Today, 44 teams and 90 individuals tested themselves to see who had more will, guts and drive to be the best cross country team or runner in the U.S. Four years ago, Nike launched its Team Nationals now called simply Nike Cross Nationals. It may have taken five years for John Truax and Josh Rowe’s dream of a NCAA-style national championship for high school cross country to come to fruition. In this fifth year, 90 individual qualifiers joined the 44 teams, 22 boys and 22 girls’ squads to do battle on the twisting and stomach churning 5K circuit inside the track at Portland Meadows. For the first time in these five years, the weather was not an element racing strategy. It was cold at the start of the Open 5K races, but there were clear sunny skies and no wind.
We wondered if anyone could stay with the Kenyan National Champion high school teams in the Open 5K races. The Kenyans came to show their incredible ability in more of a demonstration than a race. Teams or clubs who paid their way to race in the Open race came to prove to themselves that they may deserve a spot in the invitational 5K field. Some also came to celebrate their own team’s success this fall. The young Kenyan high schoolers just raced with smiles and glided to the finish with ease. This was their celebration. Winning the Kenyan National Championship earned them the all expenses paid trip to the U.S.
Today, we also wondered how the Seeded 5K races would unfold with the addition of top individuals who qualified without their in-season teammates. Some of the individual qualifiers opted to forgo the longstanding Footlocker Cross Country Nationals. Some made it when their teams fell short at the Regional qualifying races. Yet we did wonder if the added speed would make the races a bumpy ride on the tight turning course at Portland Meadows.
Winners were also crowned today. As expected, the individual qualifiers had a major impact on the races up front. Take the top 25 finishers in each of the championship 5K races. In the girls race, 14 of the top 25 finishers were individuals not on teams. The boys race had a similar split: 13 of the top 25 were non-team individuals.
The big team winner creating all the buzz came through with a three-peat: Manlius XC Club (Fayetteville-Manlius HS from the upstate power region of New York. We spotted the Manlius XC girls walking on the lake trail on the Nike Campus on Friday. They repeated their bold start strategy of past big meets and quickly had the team lead in the first 1K. The NY girls team win was never in doubt after the strong start.
The boys team winner was still in doubt even after the live results were shown. North Spokane Washington’s club and the Elmhurst XC team were trading the lead right up until the final 400m. A late surge by the North Spokane XC club was the final effort to bring home the Championship crown to a West Coast team for the first time in Nike Cross Nationals history.
Today was a day to relish a pure and gritty effort by 394 boys and girls in a sport they call cross country. They all traveled across the country to compete. Up and down the humps but smiling all the way.