Chris Derrick Three Peats as USA XC Champion in Dominating Fashion

February 7, 2015

A little before halfway into the 2015 USA Cross Country Championships in Boulder, Colo., Chris Derrick of Nike’s Bowerman Track Club had had enough. Sixteen minutes into the race, Derrick started to push from the front. Seventeen minutes in, Derrick had gapped the field.

He’d go on to a dominating 30-second win in 36:18 as Hansons-Brooks Distance Project team member Bobby Curtis ended up second in 36:48. The domination by Derrick wasn’t a big surprise as this was his third straight US title. 32-year-old former Colorado star Dathan Ritzenhein ended up third, just as he did in 2007 but in a different fashion. In 2007, Ritz gapped the field early but was unable to hold it.

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Chris Derrick All Alone on USATF.TV Screenshot

Chris Derrick All Alone on USATF.TV Screenshot

“I was fairly comfortable through about four laps there when I built up my lead. But racing at altitude, it’s going to catch up to you. From then on, I had to work really hard to keep the same rhythm,” said Derrick on the stream of the race.

Even with a huge lead, Derrick continued to run fast throughout as his coach Jerry Schumacher wanted him to keep pressing. “I was very fortunate to break away early and be able to win with a steady rhythm. But a lot of times at this level, you have to soften people up, then put in the work and go again, so he kind of reminded me not just enjoy it the last 1k. Make sure you are accelerating and making another move to prepare for harder races,” said Derrick.

Another Medal For Team USA?

Behind Derrick, Curtis and Ritz (who will not run Worlds), the battle was on for the six Team USA spots at the World Cross Country Championships.

Ryan Vail, who was a key member (17th in World) of the 2013 USA team that shocked the world with a silver in Poland, made the team once again as he was fourth with former Notre Dame runner Patrick Smyth fifth. Two-time NCAA top-four finsiher Maksim Korolev, who is in grad school at Stanford, was sixth. With Dathan Ritzenhein not running Worlds due to the Boston Marathon, seventh-placer Andrew Colley of Zap Fitness will be going to Worlds.

Derrick was very optimistic about the team’s chances.

“I don’t think we’re going be beholden to expectations or whatever. We’ll try to take confidence from what we did last time and go out there and represent well, and if we do that and focus on ourselves and working together, then I think we have an awesome chance to medal again.”

Quick Take #1: Chris Derrick For Three. Is a medal in the cards at World XC?

Derrick used an altitude stint in Flagstaff to prepare for this race and the result couldn’t have been better: a dominant win over a quality field for his third straight US title. Two years ago, Derrick won this race by six seconds and went on to place 10th at World XC. Last year Derrick beat a weaker field by 25 seconds. Today he won by 30.

Now Derrick turns his attention to Worlds.

Just how low can he go? An American man hasn’t medalled at World XC since Alberto Salazar’s second-place finish in Rome in 1982. A medal would require a fantastic effort by Derrick, but it’s not out of the question. At the professional ranks, it’s not always the guy with the fastest pb who wins cross country races (just ask Asbel Kiprop about Garrett Heath).

Guess what 2013 World XC champ Japhet Korir’s pb is? 13:11. Derrick’s is 13:08. Derrick has World XC experience and is in great shape. There will be a group of 10-15 guys with a shot at a medal in China and Derrick is certainly one of them.

Based on how he looked today, Derrick will probably be really disappointed by anything lower than 10th in Guiyang.

HT to Kevin Liao for pointing out Derrick’s finishing celebration:

Quick Take #2: A couple of great runs from NCAA studs Maksim Korolev and Stanley Kebenei.

Korolev, who doesn’t have indoor eligibility at Stanford, built his winter season around this race and was rewarded with a sixth-place finish and a berth on Team USA for the World Championships. He’s the first collegian to make the men’s senior team since Oklahoma State’s Ryan Vail in 2009.

Kebenei is a more interesting case. He just missed making the Worlds team, finishing eighth today. He competed today for the U.S. Army, even though he competed for Arkansas in an indoor meet two weeks ago. USTFCCCA says he is now a US citizen.

Korolev (who was fourth at NCAA XC, sixth today) and Kebenei (sixth NCAAs, eighth today) both showed just how competitive NCAAs is in cross country. It would have been fun to see a race between the top seven finishers from USAs today and the top seven from NCAAs last fall (putting Korolev on the NCAA team).

Quick Take #3: If there ever was a time when we wish the US could just select a team member or two, this is one of them as we feel for Ben True.

Before we get to this point, let us make one thing clear. We love how the US always has had a direct qualification system for all World/Olympic teams, meaning the results of the race result in qualification – no politics – and we don’t want that to change. But this race reminds us of why other teams often save a spot or two for the selectors.

When Chris Derrick broke free, the guy who most tried to stay with him was 13:02 5000 meter man Ben True, who led the 2013 US team to a silver medal with a sixth place showing at Worlds (he was also the top American at World XC in 2011). True bit off more than he could chew however and staggered home 11th and thus won’t be going to Worlds.

That’s a shame as in 2013, True wasn’t great at USAs – only 5th – but was amazing at Worlds, finishing in 6th.

Altitude may have caused True to crater more than he would at sea-level, but the US team will need to be ready for some altitude as Worlds will be in Guiyang, China at 1100m (3608 feet).

Unofficial results below. USATF took over an hour to post full results. UPDATE: Full results now available here.

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