2023 USA XC: Weini Kelati, Lex & Leo Young, Among Athletes Chasing World XC Berths

By Jonathan Gault
January 19, 2023

It has taken almost four years, but the event once known as the world’s greatest footrace — the World Cross Country Championships — is almost upon us. You can debate whether World XC still deserves that title, though the world record holders in the 5,000 and 10,000 — Joshua Cheptegei and Letesenbet Gidey — will both be there this year. There’s no debate that World XC’s return is great for the sport. After being postponed twice by COVID, we’re now less than a month away from the first World XC ever staged in Australia. That race will be held in Bathurst on February 18, but before we get there, the United States has to pick its team. That’s what we’re here to talk about.

The 2023 USATF Cross Country Championships are Saturday at Pole Green Park in Richmond, Va., and the top six finishers in each race will qualify to represent the US Down Under next month. For various reasons, a number of top Americans are skipping the meet, which means the American medal drought at World XC is likely to continue (the US’s last medal was silver in the men’s team race in 2013 — the “Miracle on Dirt” in Poland) and my boss Robert Johnson may have to start stripping some pros of their non-existent ‘pro cards.’

MB: My belief: Any US long-distance pros that don’t go to 2023 World XC in Australia should have their pro cards stripped

But Weini KelatiEmmanuel Bor, and US steeple champ Hillary Bor are all showing up to race this weekend. And what’s even cooler is it looks like while not all of the top US pros want to go to Australia, many of the top US juniors do as the U20 races feature a number of America’s top high school talents. In the men’s U20 race, Newbury Park stars Lex and Leo Young are both running, as is Foot Locker champion Kole Mathison of Indiana. In the women’s U20 race, NXN champ Irene Riggs and Foot Locker champion Karrie Baloga are running. So is New Yorker Zariel Macchia, who won the U20 race here last year as a 15-year-old high school freshman.

The races will be streamed live on Saturday afternoon by RunnerSpace+ (requires subscription). Here’s what you need to know ahead of time.

What: 2023 USATF Cross Country Championships
When: Saturday, January 21
Where: Pole Green Park, Richmond, Virginia
How to watch: Live on RunnerSpace+
*Live results *Entries

Schedule (all times US Eastern)

Article continues below player.

12:30 p.m. U20 women
1:15 U20 men
2:00 Open women
2:50 Open men

Women’s open race: Kelati is the heavy favorite

Kelati after winning the Manchester Road Race for the second consecutive year (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

Kelati came as close as you can get to making a US team last year without actually making one. She finished 2nd at the USA XC champs in January — but there was no World XC team for her to make. She was 3rd in the 3,000 indoors, one spot off the team for World Indoors. Outdoors, she had two more near-misses: 5th in the US 10,000 champs in May, then 4th in the 5,000 in June.

On Saturday, that streak of near-misses should end. Kelati will be a huge favorite not just to make her first US team but to win the national title in her adopted home state of Virginia, where Kelati moved in 2014 after leaving her home country of Eritrea. Despite not making a team, 2022 was a successful season for Kelati overall as she ran a 5,000 pb of 14:57 on the track and repeated as champion at the USA 5K road champs and the Manchester Road Race in November.

Kelati’s coach/agent Stephen Haas said training has been tricky the last week as Kelati’s base of Flagstaff has been bombarded with snow, but said Kelati is in great shape.

“We’ve had little aches and pains in the last couple days I think mainly based on doing too many runs on the treadmill and too many runs on slippery surfaces,” Haas said. “I’m not worried about it, but we need to be really careful with the amount of snow we have right now. But the fitness is very good.”

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Kelati has a strong cross country pedigree as she was the Foot Locker champion in 2015 and the NCAA champion in 2019. Should she win on Saturday, she’d become the first woman to win Foot Lockers, NCAAs, and USA XC. On the men’s side, Bob KennedyAdam Goucher, and Dathan Ritzenhein are the only men to pull off the trifecta.

Haas also said Kelati will run World XC should she make the team and doesn’t believe it will inhibit her preparations for chasing a Worlds standard on the track this spring as long as she can stay healthy.

“We’re gonna train through the winter no matter what,” Haas said. “I’d rather have something to train for. I know a lot of athletes that are focusing more on 3k and maybe a little more speed for the indoor season. They’re just taking a different approach than we did.”

Who else could make the team? Emily Durgin (67:54 half pb) and Stephanie Bruce were 4th and 5th last year and should be in the mix once again. Though Bruce, who had intended to retire at the end of 2022 before reversing course, turned 39 last week, she’s still plenty dangerous. She has made the last two World XC teams (she was the top American at World XC in 2019, finishing 33rd) and won the US 10k road title in September.

Ednah Kurgat is a former NCAA XC champion and finished 3rd at last months’ Cross Champs in Austin, while new B.A.A. signee Bethany Hasz is coming off a win at the US Club Champs. Emily Lipari (8th in USA 10,000 last year) and Allie Ostrander (who finished top-10 at NCAA XC three times at Boise State) are other familiar names on the start list.

Men’s open race: Bor brothers & Dillon Maggard lead the way

A Kenyan-born man has won the last five USA XC titles and there’s a decent chance that streak is extended to six on Saturday. Four of the top five finishers last year were Kenyan-born athletes, and three of those men return in 2023: 3rd placer Sam Chelanga (now 37 years old), 4th placer Leonard Korir (the USA XC champ in 2017 and 2018), and 5th placer Benard Keter, who has made the last two Worlds teams in the steeple. All of those men have a shot to make the team, especially Korir, who was very strong on the roads in 2022: US titles in the half marathon and 25k, and runner-up finishes in the US 10k, 15k, and 20k champs.

None of those men is the top returner, however. That would be Dillon Maggard, who had a breakout season last year at 26. Maggard was 2nd at USA XC, just two seconds behind winner Shadrack Kipchirchir (not running this year), then made the World Indoor team at 3k (he was 9th in the final in Serbia), ran pbs of 13:13/27:37 on the track, and finished 4th at USAs in the 10,000. Maggard, who spent last year unsponsored training under his college coach Artie Gulden of Utah State, has now returned to run for his former team, the Brooks Beasts.

Embed from Getty Images

The Bor brothers, both of whom made the last World XC team in 2019, should also be formidable. Younger brother Hillary has won the last three US steeple titles but it’s Emmanuel who has the better shot at the win in Richmond. Emmanuel Bor was in terrific shape last year but also caught some bad breaks. Indoors, he ran 13:00.48 for 5,000, which would have been the American record…had Grant Fisher not broken it in the same race. He qualified for World Indoors in the 3,000, but the Army didn’t grant him permission to travel to Serbia so he was not able to compete there (Bor remains enlisted in the Army as a lieutenant but is no longer part of the World Class Athlete Program). Then outdoors, Bor looked to have a spot on the 10,000 team sewn up with 50 meters to go before running out of gas as Sean McGorty blew by him for third. A win on Saturday would help heal some of those wounds.

Eric Jenkins (27:22 10k), Kirubel Erassa (60:44 half), Isai Rodriguez (8th at NCAA XC), Anthony Rotich (2020 USA XC champ), Biya Simbassa (US 10k road champ), Zach Panning (2:09 marathon, 3rd at Club Cross), Nico Montanez (2:09 marathon), 2016 Olympian Jared Ward, and Ben Eidenschink (6th last year) are other names that should be in contention.

U20 races

With a number of the US’s top high schoolers entered this weekend, the US could wind up sending its most exciting junior team to World XC since the 2009 edition in Jordan, which featured German Fernandez, Chris Derrick, and Luke Puskedra. Fun fact #1: Ryan Hill was also on that team and would go on to have more pro success than any of his more-hyped teammates. Fun fact #2: The US boys finished 5th in that race.

Embed from Getty Images

On the girls’ side, NXN champ Irene Riggs of West Virginia and FL champ Karrie Baloga of New York are both entered. They didn’t get the chance to race each other last fall so Saturday’s race could serve de facto tiebreaker for the “true” national champion. Abbey Nechanicky (4th at NXN) and Ellie Shea (FL runner-up) are also running, as is defending champion Zariel Macchia, who was just 15 years old when she won this race last year (she was 6th at FL this year). Among college freshmen entered, UNC’s Eva Klingbeil was the top finisher at NCAAs in 108th.

Lex Young (7:57/13:43 pbs, at right) is among the fastest high schoolers ever and his twin brother Leo, the RunningLane runner-up in 2021, typically isn’t far behind him. They’ve been key components of the Newbury Park dynasty that have won three straight national high school XC titles, and though both were off their games in their last XC race at NXN (Leo was 11th, Lex 35th), they will both be favored to make Team USA on Saturday. Their Newbury Park teammate, NXN individual champ Aaron Sahlman, is not entered.

Foot Locker champ Kole Mathison of Indiana (who was 4th at NXN) is also running. Villanova freshman Marco Langon (121st at NCAAs) is the top collegian entered.

Who’s not running

We at LetsRun.com love World XC and would love if more of the top Americans ran it every year. Unfortunately, many of America’s top distance pros are skipping USA/World XC in 2023. The reasons are varied — some don’t want to interrupt their preparations for a spring marathon, some are worried racing cross country could carry an increased risk of injury compared to training/racing on the track, and some would rather hole up at altitude for a few months and train as opposed to interrupting that training by flying halfway around the world for a race.

Your mileage may vary on those explanations. The fact is, even though World Cross Country is an official World Championship, many athletes (not just Americans) simply don’t view it on the same level as a World Championship on the track (and perhaps more importantly, many shoe companies feel similarly). Couple that with the US’s recent lack of success at World XC and many athletes treat it as a luxury rather than a priority. Notably, the Bowerman Track Club — who sent five athletes to Worlds last year between the men’s and women’s 5k and 10k — won’t be sending anyone to USA XC. On Athletics Club’s top US stars, Joe Klecker and Alicia Monson, aren’t going either, they are focusing on indoor track instead of XC. Here’s a look at the top 10 finishers in the 10,000 at USAs last year and their plans for the first half of 2023 (if announced).

Men

Place at USAs Athlete Winter/spring 2023 plans
1 Joe Klecker Millrose 3k
2 Grant Fisher ???
3 Sean McGorty ???
4 Dillon Maggard USA XC
5 Shadrack Kipchirchir Houston Half
6 Lopez Lomong ???
7 Conner Mantz Houston Half/Boston Marathon
8 Emmanuel Bor USA XC
9 Frank Lara Houston Half
10 Sam Chelanga USA XC

Women

Place at USAs Athlete Winter/spring 2023 plans
1 Karissa Schweizer ???
2 Alicia Monson Millrose 3k
3 Natosha Rogers ???
4 Emily Infeld ???
5 Weini Kelati USA XC
6 Sarah Lancaster ???
7 Stephanie Bruce USA XC
8 Emily Lipari USA XC
9 Carrie Verdon USA XC
10 Molly Grabill ???

Talk about the 2023 USA XC meet on our world-famous fan forum/messageboard.

MB: 2023 USA XC is Saturday and it’s LOADED (in the jr races). Official discussion thread

P.S. LetsRun.com will be on-site on Saturday in Richmond so be sure to come to LRC for post-race interviews.

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