Top American women embark on San Diego for USA Cross Country Champs

Some of America’s best female distance runners will be toeing the line at Saturday’s USA Cross Country Championships at Mission Bay Park in San Diego.  The entry list contains a who’s who list of the current stars of the sport along with those who will be leading the charge for years to come.  Names like Flanagan, Huddle, Goucher, and Koll make the women’s contest the race to watch.

Source: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport, Victah Sailer, PhotoRun

Shalane Flanagan has cemented herself as the premier female cross country runner in the United States on the basis of her two USA titles in the open race in addition to two she won back when there was a short course race contested.  She placed 12th at last year’s World Cross Country Championships and led the American squad to a team bronze medal.  Flanagan’s newfound strength derived from preparations last fall for the New York City Marathon along with her natural speed that has produced a 4:05 1500 meter PR make her the strong favorite on Saturday.

For all of Flanagan’s accomplishments, don’t forget about the woman who broke her 5000 meter American record, Molly Huddle.  Before her phenomenal track season in 2010, the Notre Dame grad was second at USA Cross and went on finish 19th at Worlds as part of the bronze medal winning team.  Huddle’s gains from last year have seemed to have carried over as she easily won a rustbuster at the Bay Area Cross Challenge on January 16 in a time of 19:19 over six kilometers.

If her performance at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon was any indication, Kara Goucher still has a lot of cobwebs to brush off from her pregnancy before she’s sharp enough for compete with America’s best.  Goucher likely won’t be a contender on Saturday as she is using early competitions like these to get herself back into racing mode before hunkering down into marathon training mode in preparation for Boston.  With the guidance of Alberto Salazar, she will surely be ready for 26.2 miles on April 18.

After a tremendous senior season at Iowa State, Lisa Koll appears to have transitioned well to her new professional surroundings as a member of Jerry Schumacher’s training group in Portland.  She ran a 8:53 indoor 3000 meter race three weeks ago with the help of training partner Flanagan’s pacing.  Koll, however, never excelled at cross country during her collegiate days having never come higher than 12th at NCAA’s.  At the pre-race teleconference, Koll assured that her new levels of fitness that have made her a stronger overall runner should carry through in cross country.

Other than the four big names, a number of other cross country veterans will challenge for top places and spots for the World Cross Country team.

Emily Brown of Team USA Minnesota was the 2009 U.S. cross country champ when the race was held in Washington D.C. and has been a member of three World teams.  Her best performance at Worlds was in 2008 in Edinburgh when she was 18th.

2008 marathon Olympian Magdalena Lewy-Boulet looks to repeat her top 20 World Cross performance from 2010.  She was second at the Bay Area Cross Challenge three weeks ago and will be using cross country as preparation for the London Marathon in April.  This strategy worked well for Lewy-Boulet last year as she followed up World Cross by going on to set a personal best at the Rotterdam Marathon.

Renee Metivier Baillie is yet another woman will vast amount of cross country experience.  She was second at the USA Cross Country Championships in 2008 the last time it was hosted in San Diego and has made three World teams since the long course era.

An up-and-coming pro Kim Conley is also in the field.  Her goal is to improve upon her 18th place finish last year and make the World Cross Country team.  See our interview with Conley, a Northern California-based runner and UC Davis assistant coach, here.

For more on the USA Cross Country Championships, visit our coverage index page here.

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