Emily Infeld and Leonard Korir Prevail In Thrilling Duels To Win 2018 USATF Cross Country Championships
February 3, 2018
Both the women’s and men’s races at the 2018 USA Cross Country Championships turned into two great two-person battles, and when it was all over, the champions were the two best current 10,000 runners in the field. Emily Infeld pulled away late from Molly Seidel to win her first USATF title of any kind and Leonard Korir pulled away late from Galen Rupp to repeat as the men’s champion.
The top women weren’t messing around early in this one as by the three-kilometer mark, seven women had broken away: Infeld, Seidel, World Champs steeple medalist Courtney Frerichs, Hoka One One NAZ Elite’s Stephanie Bruce, Susan Tanui, Emily Durgin, and Katrina Spratford.
The pack was tight, but it was clear that Infeld and Seidel were the ones in control, with those two leading the group and dictating the pace. One by one, the others faded away. At 6k, the lead pack was down to five and once Bruce fell off at the eight-kilometer mark, Infeld and Seidel were the last two women standing. Neither Infeld nor Seidel had ever won a USATF national title — which drought would end in Tallahassee?
Both women surged hard on the downhills approaching nine kilometers, but neither gave an inch. Only one extended crushed-gravel hill remained before heading back onto the grass and the finishing straight, and that hill is where Infeld decided to go for broke. She opened up a gap of a couple meters halfway up and continued to push up and over it as the gap widened.
Once she hit the grass, only 500 meters remained and Infeld could smell her first national title. She left no doubt, going to her arms and powering down the home straight for a 3.4-second victory in 33:18.7.
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The race started tactically and there was a large pack of men for the first four kilometers until NAZ Elite’s Scott Fauble made the first significant move to up the pace and string out the pack. Rupp, sensing that Fauble’s move was for real (Fauble was 4th at the 2016 Olympic Trials in the 10k), eventually led the charge to bridge the gap, and by the time the field hit 4,957 meters (14:46, which is 14:54 5k pace), there was still a fairly large pack but the pace was increasing.
There were a series of minor moves through eight kilometers, at which point Rupp made a hard surge to break things up. Korir stuck to him like glue, however, and Rupp relaxed for a few seconds before regathering his energy and dropping the hammer. This time, Rupp didn’t back off and kept his foot on the gas as Korir was the only who could handle the injection of pace.
Rupp tried to make his winning move on the same spot as Infeld as they climbed the final hill, and coming off the hill, his lead was a few meters, about the same as Infeld’s at that point.
But unlike Seidel, Korir had more left in the tank, and with 300 meters to go he quickly closed down Rupp. The two-time Olympic medalist could not answer when Korir went by him, and Korir even had time to celebrate at the finish line as he gained some revenge for the final-straight victory Rupp had imposed upon him at the US 20k champs in September.
Korir was your champion for the second year in a row in 29:16.6 with Rupp a commendable second in 29:17.8 in his first XC race in seven years. Behind them, it was a battle of the steeplechasers for third place as Stanley Kebenei (29:31.4) held off Evan Jager (29:31.5), who was very impressive in his first cross country race since high school.
Despite the loss, Rupp was happy with his performance. “It’s good [to be back out on the XC course for the first time since 2011]. I had a lot of fun out here. It’s been a while. Running the marathon now I don’t get too many opportunities to really race and that’s what I wanted to work on today — even though it was a little slow at the beginning — was to really try to work on my finish. I knew there was great competition here. I was happy and we’ll build from this as we move forward — I’m looking forward to Boston,” said Rupp on the USATF.TV+ broadcast after the race.
When asked about what the race did for his confidence, Rupp said, “It’s good. Again I just wanted to come here and test myself. I was excited to see the field [was so good] between Evan [Jager] and the Army guys.”
When asked to explain why he decided to run XC for the first time in more than seven years, Rupp said, “It just kind of fit in well. There is still a lot of time — we still have 8 or 10 weeks — until Boston,” said Rupp, who added once again he was excited by seeing the big names entered and now still has time to get in a big marathon training block.
Quick Take: What a great day of racing. Stars take note: cross country is awesome.
One of the fundamental truths about our sport is that races only matter if the athletes decide they matter. There are certain events that every athlete peaks for — Worlds, the Olympics, major marathons — but everything is is really dependent on which athletes are running and how seriously they are taking it.
That’s why it was great to see big names like Rupp, Jager, and Infeld come out today and run to win, and why it’s great that Nick Willis has spoken so openly about his desire to win the Wanamaker Mile at Millrose. When the fans see that the athletes take these events seriously and that the outcome matters to them, it makes it much easier to become invested in them as a fan.
We here at LetsRun.com have always maintained that the world’s greatest footrace is the World Cross Country Championships, and with a late World Outdoors next year (September 28-October 6), it is very feasible for the country’s top distance runners to run World XC as well. The Army WCAP team has already led the way in that respect as several of their guys ran World XC in Uganda last year, but we’d love to see more stars return for USA XC and World XC in 2019.
Quick Take: It’s hard to believe this was Emily Infeld’s first U.S. title
The 27-year-old Infeld has been one of the United States’ best distance runners over the past three years, so it’s hard to believe that she had never won a USATF title before this day. In fact, this was just her third win of any kind since turning professional in 2012 — she also won the Wharf to Wharf 6-Miler in 2013 and the 5,000 at the Portland Track Festival in 2015. In between that last victory and this one, Infeld has made three US teams outdoors and earned a World Championship medal.
With Molly Huddle a full-time marathoner now, Infeld is the U.S.’s premier 10,000 female runner, a transition that actually took place in London last year as Infeld beat Huddle at Worlds. Should Infeld manage to stay healthy — a consistent problem for her, though she’s made it to USA outdoors in one piece the last three years — expect her to start adding to her national titles on the track.
Molly Seidel, 23, ran very well today as well and showed once again that she’s one of the country’s top young distance talents.
Quick Take: Leonard Korir is a beast
Korir began last year by picking up wins at Great Edinburgh XC, the Houston Half Marathon, and USA XC and he is once again firing on all cylinders early in 2018. His most impressive recent performance actually came back in 2017, when he ran a 59:52 half marathon in New Delhi on November 19, but since then he’s won at Great Edinburgh and repeated at USA XC. Very impressive stuff.
Quick Take: Not a bad day at all for Evan Jager
Korir and Rupp grabbed the headlines, and deservedly so, but Jager ran a very nice race to take fourth, especially since this race was well out of his comfort zone — only his second race ever above 5k, and his first cross country race since his senior year of high school over 11 years ago. He couldn’t hang with the true 10k guys Korir and Rupp, but he was in the lead group throughout and closed well for fourth place.
“I was pretty much as surprised as everyone else hearing the news that I was gonna be racing here,” Jager said in a piece he filmed with USATF before the meet. “I was totally taken aback. Took me a couple days to wrap my head around the possibility of actually running cross country again.”