RRW: Chris Derrick, Laura Thweatt Dominate USA Cross Country Championships

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By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
February 7, 2015

BOULDER (07-Feb) — On a summery day where the temperature hit 75F (24C), Chris Derrick and Laura Thweatt completely dominated the open men’s and open women’s races at the 2015 USA Cross Country Championships at the Flatirons Golf Course here.  Derrick got his third consecutive victory at these championships, while Thweatt –who lives here in Boulder– got her first.  Both athletes will lead strong American teams for the 2015 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang, China, on March 28.

DERRICK GOES EARLY

Derrick’s victory was widely expected.  He won these championships in 2013 in St. Louis, Mo., by six seconds, and the 2014 meet here in Boulder by 25 seconds.  In today’s race, he left nothing to chance, running conservatively near the front for the first four kilometers, then leaving the field behind in the sixth kilometer.  He was never seriously challenged, finishing the 12-K course in 36:18 and winning by his biggest margin yet: 30 seconds.

“Jerry (Schumacher, his coach) and I talked before the race about the difference between strategy and tactics,” Derrick told reporters.  “I’ve gone early before because it felt good, it felt right.”  He continued: “We just went in with the mentality of be relaxed, be under control, don’t do anything because you’re forcing it.”

Derrick looked completely relaxed as he came down the finish straight.  As he broke the tape, he held up three fingers with his right hand, then made a circle with his index finger and thumb around his right eye.  When asked about the gesture after the race, he said it was the “three goggles” sign sometimes flashed by NBA players after they hit three-point shots.

“I just wanted to do something fun this time,” said Derrick who is known for his seriousness.  “Don’t worry, next time I’ll go back to being boring.”

Derrick now joins Pat Porter as the only other American to win three consecutive USA Cross Country Championships (Porter won eight in a row, from 1982 through 1989).

“That feels really good,” Derrick said when a reporter mentioned that only he and Porter had won three consecutive titles.  “I obviously never won in college (an NCAA cross country title), so it’s nice to win a few.”

Behind Derrick, there was a spirited battle for second between marathoners Dathan Ritzenhein and Bobby Curtis.  Curtis, who had trained for this race in Barcelona, Spain, where he is in school, prevailed to finish second in 36:48, three seconds up on Ritzenhein.

“I haven’t been at altitude for years,” said Curtis who, like Derrick, sports a closely cropped beard.  “Whenever I had trained at altitude in the past, I really excelled.  So, I thought my chances were pretty good.”

Ritzenhein, who ran for the University of Colorado here but hadn’t been back to Boulder for eight years, was completely exhausted at the finish.  Downing a Gatorade as he sat on the edge of a large tub holding drinks and ice, Ritzenhein shook his head.

“It was brutal, man,” he lamented.  “You just forget what it’s like.  It’s been eight years, and that hurt me.  That hurt really bad.”

Ritzenhein, who is running the Boston Marathon on April 20, announced before the race that he would not take his team spot for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships.  So, finishing behind him, Ryan Vail, Patrick Smyth, Maksim Korolev and Andrew Colley all qualified for the World Championships.

“That was my main goal here,” said Vail who qualified for his fifth IAAF World Cross Country Championships.  “I love running World Cross.”

HOMETOWN ADVANTAGE FOR THWEATT

Thweatt had a tougher race on her hands than Derrick.  Cheered on by local fans –many wearing T-shirts and some in shorts– Thweatt ran near the front of the field on the first of four laps, joined by key rivals Sara Hall, Brianne Nelson, Neely Spence, Mattie Suver, Katie Mackey and 40 year-old Jen Rhines.  In the fifth kilometer, Thweatt and Hall moved away from the field, and by the 6-K checkpoint they were the only women in contention for the win.  Thweatt began to see it was going to be her day.

“I just felt really relaxed,” Thweatt told Race Results Weekly.  “That was the goal, to feel smooth the first two (laps) and then to open it up and run for dear life.”

Hall –who joked before the race that the last time she raced at altitude it nearly killed  her– began to struggle.  Behind her, Suver –who lives at high altitude in Colorado Springs– began to move up and took over second place.  Rhines, who had made six previous USA Cross Country teams, moved into third.  Spence, pulled off the course just before the 6-K mark looking dizzy.  After resting, she re-started the race, but was unable to finish.

Thweatt widened her lead in the final two kilometers and, like Derrick, had the finish straight to herself.  She finished the 8-K course in 27:42, beating the second place Suver by 31 seconds.  She was overjoyed about winning at home, something that Alan Culpepper had done here in 2007.

“It’s something you want, but when it’s actually happening you’re like, shit, it’s actually happening,” Thweatt gushed.  “It was an incredible field, and I knew I was going to have to run as hard as I’ve ever run before to do it.”

Rhines –a three-time Olympian who last competed at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in 2002 when the American women won the silver medal– held on for third, qualifying for her seventh USA national cross country team.

“I haven’t done it, run World Cross, since 2002, I think,” said Rhines who was equal parts pleased and stunned.  “It’s been a long time.”

Hall would finish fifth behind Brie Felnagle, and Rhines’s Boston Athletic Association teammate, Elaina Balouris got the sixth and final team qualifying position.

“Very excited,” said Balouris. “It’s a huge honor.”

JUNIOR RACES GO TO MANTZ AND BENNER

The junior races, which also picked teams for World Cross, went to Conner Mantz, 18, of Smithfield, Utah, and Kaitlyn Benner, 18, of Superior, Colo.  Mantz beat Oklahoma State Cowboy Cerake Geberkidane, 25:12 to 25:37 over the 8 km distance, and Benner beat her own University of Colorado teammate Valerie Constien, 21:48 to 21:54, over the 6 km course.

“I wasn’t expecting to take the lead until, maybe, a half lap to go,” said Mantz after the race. “It was scary when I took it with one and a half laps to go.  I didn’t know what was going to go on.”

Benner said she felt confident the whole way, taking coach Mark Wetmore’s advice to run the first stages of the race like a threshold run, then pick it up.

“It was feeling kind of slow so I went to the front,” explained Benner, gasping to catch her breath after the race.  “Luckily, Val joined me and really got to push me through the last two or three K.”

Fifty year-old Colleen De Reuck, a Boulder resident, won the women’s masters 6-K in 22:26, and 40 year-old Jacques Sallberg of Pasadena, Calif., won the men’s masters 8-K in 26:29.


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