RRW: Laura Thweatt Motivated to Race USA Cross Country Championships At Home

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
February 6, 2015

BOULDER — Just as Laura Thweatt was explaining her love for cross country at a press conference here today in advance of Saturday’s USA Cross Country Championships, the sound system went haywire, letting out a chilling squeal.  Unfazed, Thweatt smiled, moved the microphone away from her mouth and playfully said, “Make it stop!”

After she was given a replacement microphone –which at first wasn’t turned on– Thweatt picked up her sentence without missing a beat.

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“It’s just a great strength event, so I think it carries over into roads, or track down the way,” she explained cheerfully.  “So, it’s a great way to kick off the year.”

How deftly Thweatt handled today’s technical difficulties was emblematic of how her confidence and stature have been growing.  The 26 year-old is under unusual pressure here as a local favorite who could actually win the race, something that Olympian Alan Culpepper accomplished on the same Flatirons Golf Course in 2007.

“It’s in her hometown,” said her coach Lee Troop, a three-time Australian Olympian.  “There is no greater feeling than to win something in your hometown.  That’s what we really want to work on and focus on.  It’s sort of good for her, too, being a developing athlete to have to deal and handle that pressure.  We saw Culpepper do it in 2007.  When a local favorite can rise to the occasion, it can really be a great catalyst for moving along.”

Thweatt –whose name rhymes with “sweet”– has indeed been moving along.  While she was a good contributor to her University of Colorado team here, she wasn’t a star.  In her senior year in 2011, she had modest personal bests of 15:57.24 for 5000m and 33:49.00 for 10,000m.  Although her times dropped over the next two years, she didn’t start to show national class speed until Troop began to coach her.  In 2014 she got her 5000m time down to 15:04.98, making her the fourth-fastest American last year.  Her road 10-K time improved to 32:37, and she made a solid debut at the half-marathon: 1:11:02.

Also playing to Thweatt’s advantage is that she is accustomed to living and training at altitude.  Boulder is at an elevation of 5430 feet (1655m), and athletes who train at sea level are at a distinct disadvantage.

“I’ve been fortunate to grow up at altitude and continue that in college and now here,” said Thweatt who is originally from Durango, which is in the southern part of Colorado and at an even higher elevation of 6512 feet (1988m).  “It’s still a different animal than racing at sea level; it will definitely take its effect tomorrow.”

Thweatt’s main rivals will be 2012 national cross country champion Sara Hall, 2:28 marathoner Kellyn Taylor, 2014 NCAA 10,000m champion Emma Bates, 2014 ACC 10,000m champion Juliet Bottorff, 70-minute half-marathoner Brianne Nelson, and six-time NCAA D-II champion Neely Spence.  The recent snowfall here followed by a rapid warm-up will likely make the course muddy, at least in spots.

“I definitely think that after a few races are run it’s going to be nice and sloppy still which is just how I love cross country,” Thweatt said gleefully.  “It should still be plenty muddy.”

If Thweatt earns a top-6 finish she’ll qualify for her first national team for a global championships, something that deeply excites her.  The IAAF World Cross Country Championships are set to take place in Guiyang, China, on March 28, which is also at high altitude.

“I would definitely be honored to run in China if that were to work itself out tomorrow,” she said.

Thweatt avoided making predictions today, but stated plainly that it was her goal to stick her nose in the race and place as high as possible.  Her coach said that their anticipation has really been building.

“This has been the only and only thing we’ve been focused on,” said Troop.  “I can’t wait for tomorrow to be over.  It’s been a stressful three months for me.”

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