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BIG CROWDS CHEER CULPEPPER AND KASTOR TO U.S. CROSS COUNTRY TITLES
By David Monti
(c) 2007 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved


BOULDER (10-Feb) -- Alan Culpepper and Deena Kastor scored convincing victories here at the U.S. Cross Country Championships presented by Gleukos, carried home by the biggest crowds these championships have seen in years.  Some 10,000 fans lined the 2 km circuit at the Flatirons Golf Course, undetered by pools of slushy melting snow and thick mud.

"Honestly, I mean, I almost came to tears coming down the homestraight," said Culpepper who went to the University of Colorado here and now lives in nearby Lousiville.  "Boulder is my home," he continued.  "This is a special place."

It is also special to Adam Goucher, Dathan Ritzenhein, and Jorge Torres, all of whom ran for Colorado in their university days.  Like Culpepper, they enjoyed exceptional local fan support which helped them to finish 2-3-4, respectively, behind Culpepper.

"It was amazing," said Ritzenhein who won the U.S. 12-K cross country title in 2005.  "Everybody was, 'Ritz, Ritz, Ritz!'  The crowd was unbelievable."

PATIENCE PAYS FOR CULPEPPER

It was Ritzenhein who grabbed the race by the scruff of the neck, charging to an early lead.  After the first 2 km lap, he had seven seconds on Goucher and another four seconds on Torres. Culpepper was running fourth.  Ritzenhein's lead widened slightly through 5 km, and Goucher was still second, but Culpepper had moved into third.  At this point, Ritzenhein was beginning to doubt himself.

"I felt it was a smart move to push the pace," said Ritzenhein who was surprised that he didn't have any company at the front and that is strategy might ultimately backfire.

At 7 km he still had a eight second lead over Goucher who was running alone between Ritzenhein and Culpeper.  But, in the pentultimate lap, he began to tire.  Culpepper was feeling strong; he passed Goucher and then Ritzenhein.

"When I passed Dathan I felt pretty confident," said Culpepper.  "I felt the best I've felt in years."

Culepper, 34, held his position in the final lap of the 12-K race.  The crowd roared as he broke the tape in 37:09, his third U.S. cross country title.  He won his first in 1999.

"I felt like I owed it to Boulder to run well," said Culpepper whose wife, Shayne, finished 12th in the women's race.  "It's just amazing."

Goucher held on for second in 37:35 with Ritzenhein not far behind in 37:47.  Torres was a distant fourth in 38:07.

Goucher, who fell three times during the race, was disappointed.  "I never got the chance to run in first place today," he said.  But commenting on his wife's third place finish in the women's race he said, "It was a great day for the Goucher family."

KASTOR OVERWHELMS WOMEN'S FIELD

She's got two World Cross Country silver medals to her credit, and even though she is in the midst of training for the Boston Marathon, Deena Kastor was good enough today to beat her top rival, Shalane Flanagan by over a minute.  Bagging her eight U.S. cross country title, she danced through the 8 km course, leading from gun to tape, in 26:47.

"I haven't felt that pain in a long time," said Kastor of the burning sensation in her lungs at the finish.  She pointed out that she was one of the few athletes who actually came down from a higher altitude to run the race (Mammoth Lakes, Calif., where she lives is at 2400m or 7900 ft.).

Kastor's biggest challenge was the muddy course, but she took it in stride.  "He's called me a 'mudder' from the first day," Kastor said of her former coach, Joe Vigil, who was on hand to see her victory.

For Flanagan, who ran a North American indoor record of 8:33.25 last month in Boston, both Kastor and the altitude were simply too much.  She finished a distant second in 27:48.

"This was one of the hardest races I've ever run," said Flanagan who was born in Boulder.  "I think it was a little na´ve to think I could run with her," she added.

Goucher, who was clocked in 28:01, welled up when she talked about her race.  "I really wanted to win," she said.  "This was by far the best race of my life."

HASAY AND HEATH LEAD JUNIORS

Jordan Hasay, 15, the tiny sophomore from San Luis Obispo High School in California, dusted the women's field in the junior 6-K, leading from gun to tape and winning by 14 seconds.  Never before racing at altitude, she was woozy as she spoke to reporters sitting on her coach's knee for support.

"I was really happy when I saw the finish," said Hasay.  "I've never been at altitude before."

Elliot Heath, 18, of Winona, Minn., got away from a huge pack in the last lap to win the junior men's 8-K in 26:07.

WORLD CROSS TEAMS TO BE SELECTED

The top-6 finishers in each of the junior and open races are eligible to represent the United States at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, Kenya, on March 24.  It will take some time to determine the actual teams because not all of the eligible athletes will accept team berths.

  NOTE: Results are available at this link: http://www.usatf.org/events/2007/USAXCChampionships/schedule.asp


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