2017 USA XC Championships Women’s Preview: Who Will Win a Wide-Open Race?

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By LetsRun.com
February 2, 2017

We’re less than two months away from the World Cross Country Championships in Uganda, a meet we’re very excited about considering the last World XC held in Africa was one of the most amazing sporting events we’ve ever witnessed. Before the running world descends on Kampala in March, however, the teams have to be picked, and for the United States, that will be happening at this weekend’s USATF Cross Country Championships in Bend, Ore. The women’s field is as strong as the men’s (preview here), with the top entrants on paper being 2016 Olympian Courtney Frerichs, 2015 champ Laura ThweattAliphine TuliamukSarah Pagano and Kellyn Taylor. And then to make matters worse, many of the top women have indicated they won’t be doing World XC so it looks like the US team for Worlds won’t be very strong.

As a reminder, the top six finishers who make themselves eligible for selection will be the team for World XC. We preview the women’s race below.

What: 2017 USATF Cross Country Championships

Where: River’s Edge Golf Course, Bend, Oregon

When: Saturday, February 4 (all times PT; for ET, add three hours)
Junior women (6K): 12:10 p.m.
Junior men (8K): 12:45 p.m.
Senior women (10K): 1:30 p.m.
Senior men (10K): 2:20 p.m.

All four races will be shown live online at USATF.TV+ (requires subscription). The broadcast begins at 12:10 p.m. PT.

USATF event site * Entries * Prize money * 2016 results * Course map

Who Will Win This Thing?

Based on past performance, the top contenders on Saturday figure to be the five women we mentioned in our intro: Frerichs, Thweatt, Tuliamuk, Pagano and Taylor. But two of those women (Thweatt and Taylor) are preparing for the London Marathon in April and don’t figure to be in peak shape on Saturday. Neither of them will run World XC if selected.

I’m feeling pretty good about [my fitness],” Thweatt told LetsRun.com. “I’m definitely not where I want to be. I’m probably three or four weeks away from the ultimate fitness goal.”

The last time Frerichs ran a cross country race, it went extremely well

The last time Frerichs ran a cross country race, it went extremely well

That leaves Frerichs, Tuliamuk and Pagano. Frerichs hasn’t raced since finishing 11th in the Olympic steeplechase final in August. She’s a strong cross country runner when fit (she was 4th at NCAAs in 2015, finishing as the top woman on the best NCAA team of all time), but she’s also never run a race longer than 6,000 meters — and given the hills and footing, the 10k course could run more like a 12k. Is her talent enough to take the crown?

Tuliamuk is more proven over 10k (8th at the Olympic Trials last year) and is also a strong road runner, earning U.S. titles in the 5k, 20k and 25k in 2016. She ran 69:58 at the Houston Half Marathon three weeks ago, a solid time given the warm, humid conditions. Pagano is not as accomplished on the track as either Frerichs or Tuliamuk (only 17th in the 10k at the Trials), but she had a great fall and has been running well in cross country this season. She was 2nd at the US Club Champs in December and 9th at the Great Edinburgh XCountry in January. In both cases, she beat everyone else entered at USA XC.

All of this means that there’s no overwhelming favorite in Saturday’s race. One of Frerichs, Tuliamuk and Pagano could win it. Taylor may have trouble winning it after losing to Tuliamuk by over three minutes at the Houston Half, but Thweatt could have a chance, even if she’s not yet fully fit. Remember, she destroyed the competition two years ago, winning by 31 seconds. And it wouldn’t be a surprise to see someone come from totally off the radar to win. Amy Van Alstine is the top returner from last year (2nd) and should be one to watch: remember, she won the USA XC title in 2014, taking down Jenny Simpson in the process. Aside from Thweatt, the only other returner from the U.S.’s last World XC squad is Pagano’s B.A.A. teammate Elaina Balouris, who finished 7th at Club Nats in December, one spot ahead of Van Alstine. Liz Costello (6th Olympic Trials 10k) is another contender, but like Taylor and Thweatt, she’s running a spring marathon (Boston) and will likely skip out on Worlds.

Really, it’s anyone’s guess as to who finishes first, and with a lack of depth up top, half the field will think they have at least an outside shot at one of the six spots on Team USA. Remember, there’s a good chance that several of the top finishers will opt out of World XC, whether due to a spring marathon or the inconvenience of making a long trip to Uganda in March. In 2007, the last time World XC was held in Africa, the top four men and women from USA all skipped Worlds (which was a real shame as the meet was unbelievable). In the end, there were so many scratches the 16th-place man and 13th-place woman both got to run at Worlds. We could be in for a similar situation on the women’s side in 2017.

The Conditions

The unpredictable conditions on the course is one more wildcard in a wide-open race. As we mentioned in our men’s preview, the course in Bend is hilly and this week volunteers have been working to shovel two feet of the white stuff off the course in time for Saturday’s races. Below is a picture of the course eight days ago (courtesy Max King):

screenshot-2017-02-01-at-2-31-34-pm

As of now, Weather.com predicts a high of 42 degrees with some showers and 11 mph winds on Saturday, with snow and rain to come between now and then. Making this team won’t be easy.

What do you think? Tell us your thoughts on our messageboard discussion: MB: Who will win 2017 USA Cross Country Championship in Bend Oregon this Saturday afternoon? and vote in the poll below.


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