The US Cross Country National Championships returned to Mission Bay Park for the first time since 2008 and brought with it a star-studded field including national record holders and Olympians. Seven races were held throughout the day on the 2K loop course starting with a community 4K at 9:00 A.M. and finishing with the Open Men’s 12K at 2:00 P.M.
It seemed the most anticipated race of the day was the Open Women’s 8K led by defending champion Shalane Flanagan (Portland, OR). Flanagan won this race last year in Spokane, WA as well as in 2008 right here in San Diego. Her resume also includes cross country titles from 2004 and 2005, the 10K American record, a Bronze medal in the 10K at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and 2nd place at her marathon debut last fall in New York City. Flanagan’s competition this time around would include the 2009 cross country champ Emily Brown, Molly Huddle, who recently stole the American 5K record from Flanagan in 14:44.76, the number one ranked US marathoner according to Track and Field News, Magdalena Lewy Boulet, Lisa Koll, one of Flanagan’s training partners, and Kara Goucher who is making her return to racing since becoming a mother in September of 2010.
It was clear from the first lap that Shalane meant business. She quickly distanced herself from the pack leaving the race for second and third to be decided between Molly Huddle and Lisa Koll . Flanagan took the race in 25:47, an impressive :44 victory over Huddle with Koll finishing third in 26:41. The top six finishers will be leading the US team in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria, Spain on March 20.
The Open Men’s 12K was tough to predict with the only pre-race favorites being Matt Tegenkamp and three-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman. However, the unsuspected Brent Vaughn pulled away from the lead pack in the final meters of the race to claim his first national title. Vaughn had considered giving up running after a disappointing DNF at the Houston half marathon a few weeks ago. He had planned on giving Ryan Hall, who placed second, a run for his money. Like the women’s race, the top six will be representing the US at the World Cross Country Championships in March. Vaughn mentioned after the race that he is excited for the opportunity to wear the USA jersey. Andrew Bumbalough of Portland, OR finished second, only six seconds behind Vaughn’s 35:46. Ed Moran of Williamsburg, VA rounded out the top three in 35:54. Tegenkamp ended up finishing fourth while Abdirahman came in twenty-ninth.
The other big win of the day went to Aisling Cuffe (Cornwall on Hudson, NY) who crushed the junior women’s field with a :26 victory. Just days before the race, Cuffe was named the Gatorade National Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year. Her win at the Foot Locker National Cross Country Championships held at Balboa Park in December helped her secure that title. Cuffe blazed the 6K course in 21:13 ahead of Poway’s very own Molly Grabill in 21:39 and Katie Flood of Des Moines, Iowa in 21:43.
Complete race results can be found on the official USATF website.