(USATF) – MECHANICSVILLE, Virginia — With Team USATF roster spots on the line for the World Athletics Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, Australia next month, the competition was fierce at the USATF Cross Country Championships, as U.S. Army standouts Ednah Kurgat and Emmanuel Bor won the open women’s and open men’s titles, Irene Riggs and Leo Young picked up U20 wins, and April Lund and Ben Bruce locked in Masters titles.
The USATF Cross Country Championships are the first stop on the 2023 USATF Running Circuit. Fans can relive the excitement of Saturday’s races on USATF.TV with a USATF.TV +PLUS subscription.
Masters Women’s 6km
The masters women’s 6km event was a runaway win for April Lund (GYS TC). Lund, 40, took control early on and had a lead of more than five seconds over Brennan Liming (Bull City TC) at the first 2km split. She added distance over her nearest challenger through the next loop, passing 3km in 10:57.4 with an 11-second margin over the 46-year-old Liming.
With one loop to go, Lund had eased even further ahead to go past 4km at 14:44.8, 15 seconds in front of Liming. At 5km, Lund was still looking very strong and had a 21-second margin over Liming as she passed the split in 18:29.8. Lund crossed the finish line in 22:02.7, with Liming next at 22:41.1 and Fiona Bayly, 55, claiming the final spot on the overall podium with a 23:09.4 in third.
Masters Men’s 8km
Five men were in the lead pack and within a second of each other through 1km, including 40-year-old Ben Bruce (Hoka Northern Arizona Elite), a sub-8:20 3,000m steeplechaser who was eighth in the long course race at the 2010 World Cross Country Championships and fourth overall at the USATF Club Cross Country nationals in December. The pack went past 2km in just over 6:22 before Bruce surged and took a 20m lead within a 100m stretch.
Through 3km in 9:24.1, Bruce added to his lead and had an eight-second gap on Neil McDonagh (Square State Striders) and Christopher Pruitt (Colonial Road Runners). Reaching the halfway mark in 12:31.6, Bruce was almost 14 seconds in front of McDonagh, who had put some real estate on Pruitt and was more than seven seconds clear in second. Steady over the next kilometer, Bruce hit the 5km mark in 15:39, with McDonagh next in 15:54.3 and Pruitt still third in 16:10.5.
A 3:10 kilometer heading into the final loop had Bruce at 18:49.3 at 6km, followed by McDonagh in 19:10.3 and Pruitt third in 19:33.2. Shucking his gloves and hat as he passed 7km in 21:58.8, Bruce was comfortably in charge and his stretch run over the final 1km put him at the finish line in 24:59.8, 26 seconds in front of McDonagh, who took second in 25:25.7. Pruitt closed well for third in 25:57.1.
U20 Women’s 6km
A small field heavy on quality followed defending champion Zariel Macchia through 1km in 3:11.8. Karrie Baloga, a Team USATF steeplechaser at the World U20 Championships last summer, was second, but just barely, as Nike Cross Nationals champion Irene Riggs was just on her shoulder. Also within a stride was Ellie Shea, the CHAMPS Sports runner-up.
Shea assumed a very slight lead through 2km in 6:36.9, half a stride in front of Macchia as six women were still very tightly grouped. Macchia was first past the 3km halfway point in 10:01.8, with Riggs, Baloga and Eva Klingbeil slightly up on Shea and Abbey Nechanicky as the six-woman pack were three seconds up on the chasing pack.
Riggs took over the lead at 4km in 13:25.9 and had started to put a couple strides on Shea as the lead group started to break up. That duo stretched out the margin over the next group of four through the fifth kilometer and Riggs maintained a gap over Shea as she went through 5km in 16:40.7, with Shea at 16:42.1. Klingbeil grabbed third but was seven seconds behind the leaders, while Macchia was the best of the other three in contention.
Not to be denied over the closing half-mile, Riggs came away with a convincing win in 19:44.3. Shea placed second in 19:47.5, with Macchia outkicking three other women to claim the third spot on the victory stand in 20:04.7. Nechanicky was fourth by .2 seconds over Baloga, and Klingbeil was sixth in 20:10.4 after falling coming around a turn in the final kilometer.
U20 Men’s 8km
Thundering through the 1km split in just over 2:54, a very large pack of runners were led by Luke Ondracek of Georgetown, with CHAMPS Sports champion Kole Mathison also at the front. The top 40 runners were all within three seconds of the lead as the pace eased off a bit over the next kilometer. Jamar Distel of Washington was the first man past 2km in 5:59 as Mathison maintained his position in second, with the top 30 now covered by a three-second margin.
Slowly starting to spread out, the lead pack was paced through 3km in 8:59.1 by Mathison and the Young twins, Leo and Lex, from Newbury Park High School in California had moved into the top 12. Another Washington runner, Evan Jenkins, led Lex Young by .1 at 4km in 12:02.3, but the leading group was ever shifting as more than 10 runners were still in contention.
Villanova’s Marco Langon put on a short surge through the fifth kilometer as he and Jenkins were around 15:02 with 3km remaining. As the pace was pressed through the next kilometer, Mathison dropped off the lead pack and Jenkins and Leo Young were at the front of a group of six past 6km in 18:01.5. Langon continued to hover just off the leaders and Wisconsin’s Micah Wilson was in fourth.
Langon retook the lead heading into the final kilometer, slightly in front of Wilson and Max Sannes of Air Force, but Wilson then put the pedal down and made his move almost immediately, pulling Young with him. Langon wouldn’t let Wilson go and the lead see-sawed between the two as they and Young made for a very competitive top three. Young powered up a hill to break away from the collegians and put a large gap on his challengers to win in 23:46.8. Wilson nabbed second in 23:53.4, .4 up on Langon, while Jenkins settled for fourth and Sannes fifth. Michigan’s Luke Venhuizen came through for sixth in 23:58.9.
Open Women’s 10km
As the open women’s 10km race got underway, a pack of twelve women immediately jumped to the lead, with pre-race favorites Weini Kelati and Emily Durgin heading the charge. The lead pack shrank ever so slightly as the leaders came through the first 2km loop, with ten runners working to power along the course.
Carrying on over the next 2km loop, Kelati and Durgin continued to push the pace, with Makena Morley, Kurgat, and Susanna Sullivan right behind.
As the lead pack ran through the halfway point in the race, passing through 5km in 16:12, the group had dwindled to six runners, as Kelati and Durgin continued to lead, with Kurgat, Morley, Emily Lipari, and Katie Izzo right behind.
Durgin started to push the pace over the next kilometer, but then at 6km Kelati put in a hard surge that the entire pack was able to cover, with Durgin jumping back to the lead shortly after and continued to control the pace.
With 3km to go, the lead pack of six had a 20-second lead over the rest of the field, each athlete knowing if they worked together to the finish Team USATF roster spots would be claimed by all six of them.
With 2km to go, Kurgat quickened her pace substantially, spacing out the pack and immediately putting a five second gap on the field over the next minute. By 9km, Kurgat owned a 12-second lead and continued to put space on the field. Kurgat charged around corners, opened her stride down small declines, and it was only a matter of time before the finish came into view.
Kurgat’s surge proved decisive, as she crossed the finish line victoriously in 32:07, well clear of her competition. Kurgat, who runs for the U.S. Army, claimed her first-ever USATF title.
Behind Kurgat, Morley ran a strong final mile of the race to cross the finish second in 32:24, just ahead of Durgin, who finished three seconds back in third in 32:27. Lipari also finished very well to claim fourth overall in 32:32, while Kelati and Izzo took home fifth and sixth in 32:39 and 32:40.
Behind the lead six, Allie Buchalski claimed seventh in 33:02, pulling well ahead of the rest of the chase group over the final 3 km of the race. Susanna Sullivan earned herself another top ten finish on the USATF Running Circuit with her eighth-place performance in 33:14, just ahead of Laura Thweatt, who took home ninth in 33:17. Carrie Verdon rounded out the top ten, crossing the line in 33:33.
Open Men’s 10km
From the start in the open men’s race, a massive pack of 25+ men merged, running shoulder to shoulder, and came through 2km packed up. Shortly after it was brothers Hillary Bor and Emmanuel Bor pushing the pace, with Reid Buchanan, Leonard Korir and a host of others, stringing the field out.
Just before the halfway point, Emmanuel Bor surged ahead of the field, coming through 5km in 14:23, a couple seconds ahead of the chase pack that shrank down to 12 men and led by Sam Chelanga, Buchanan, Korir, and Hillary Bor.
One kilometer later, Emmanuel Bor had a five second lead over the field, with a group of 10 packed up and moving around the next 2km loop. Bor continued to grow his lead over the next kilometer, passing through 7km 11 seconds ahead of the chase, then 12 seconds ahead of the chase as he came through the 8km split.
While Bor’s victory seemed nearly in hand, his lead started to slip. The chase pack cut the lead down to nine seconds with a kilometer to go, with a pack of eight working together to reel in Bor.
Bor would not relent, however, pushing the pace over the final half mile to make sure his lead was safe. As the finish line moved closer, Bor pumped his fists and raised his hands, savoring his first USATF title as he crossed the line victoriously in 28:44.
Behind Bor, it was a mad dash to the finish. With the finish in sight, Andrew Colley pulled away to finish second in 28:48. He was followed by Anthony Rotich, Korir, and Chelanga, who all finished in 28:49 for third, fourth, and fifth.
The battle for sixth came down to the final stride of the race, as Brooks Beast’s Dillon Maggard held off Buchanan for sixth, both clocking a finish time of 28:49.
Behind the chase pack, Hillary Bor claimed eighth in 28:57, finishing five seconds up on Abbabiya Simbassa, who earned ninth in 29:02. Zachery Panning rounded out the top ten with a time of 29:06.
The next step on the USATF Running Circuit is the USATF Half Marathon Championships, which takes place February 26 in Fort Worth, Texas.
About the USATF Running Circuit
The USATF Running Circuit is a USATF road series featuring USATF championships from one mile through the marathon and consistently attracts the best American distance runners with more than $500,000 to be awarded in total prize money. A total of $26,200 in prize money will be awarded at the 2023 USATF Cross Country Championships.
The first ten U.S. runners earn points at each USATF Running Circuit race. For the USATF Cross Country Championships, scoring is set as 15 for first, 12 for second, 10 for third, 7 ,6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1, with those earning the most points receiving prize money at the end of the series.
The mission of the USATF Running Circuit is to showcase, support and promote U.S. runners. Since its inception in 1995, the USATF Running Circuit and its races have provided over $7 million to U.S. distance runners.
Contributed in part by Scott Bush