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Race Report: Team USA Sweeps First Annual NACAC Cross Country Championships
By John Nepolitan
March 6, 2005
Clermont, FL
American Track & Field

After years of discussions, the first NACAC Cross Country Championships made its debut and was added to the track and race walking championships already contested by the NACAC (the regional division of the IAAF). Held just two weeks before the World Cross Country Championships, a few of those athletes who will represent the USA in St. Galmier, France saw this as a chance to test themselves against international competition. For other up and coming elite athletes it was a chance to get a taste of what international competition is all about.

In the days leading up to the championships, the countries who had committed to attend may not have been known cross country powers: Bermuda, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Mexico, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, and Puerto Rico. One notable missing absentee was Canada. The short notice of the staging of this event caused a conflict with the Canadian team. Some members of their national cross country team had already left for a training camp in Europe and others were about to leave. Canada has not only promised to send a team to future stagings of these championships, but has also shown interest in being host to the event. For the nations in attendance, it was a chance to take part in a championship cross country event, and for members of team USA, a chance to wear a uniform with USA on the chest - an honor anytime.

Junior Women - 4000 meters

Hometown girl Jennifer Barringer (Oviedo HS, FL) wasted no time in getting to the front of the race in her last competition prior to the World Cross Country Championships in two weeks time. Once she had gotten to the front she never looked back and kept building on her lead and would eventually cross the line 16 seconds ahead of Team USA teammate Christina Fidducia, as the United States swept the first four places to record a perfect score of 10 (teams could run six athletes, but only four were scored - the same format used at the World Championships). Another high school runner who used a different strategy was 2002 Foot Locker Champion Zoe Nelson (Flathead HS, MT). Nelson, who will attend the University or Oregon in the fall, started out towards the rear of the race, but steadily moved through the field to finish fourth and secure the perfect score for Team USA.

For Barringer, who will be making her second trip to the World Championships, this was a good race to gauge her fitness and also a chance to compete in front her hometown fans one last before she heads to the University of Colorado in the fall.

"It was really fun to run at a course where friends and family can come out," said Barringer. "I am really happy to be here and honor my country and represent it right here in my home state."

With the win under her belt, Barringer has already turned her thoughts to France and the World Championships. "Just like last year I want to get out there and score for the United States and this was a good marker to see how I am doing on the hills and get the competitive juice going again," she said. "This race shows I am in shape to go kill a 6K out in France."

Junior Men - 6000 meters

Not to be outdone by the Jr. women's team, the Jr. men also swept both the individual and team titles and scored a perfect 10. But they used a totally different method to achieve the victories. Off the line the Jamaican team looked more like the Kenyan Jr. team that is sure to contend for team honors at the World meet. Bolting to the front the Jamaicans looked to be in control and ready to challenge the team from the USA. The challenge would be short lived though. At the 2,000-meter flag (1.25 miles), Jon Harding had taken over and would make a strong bid to break away and hide from the field. Harding would remain in the lead as his USA teammates continued to work through the field, and by the 3,000-meter mark Team USA was holding the first six places in the race and Dave Mock was about to take over the race for individual honors. After passing Harding, Mock would continue to build on his lead over the difficult multiple loop course. Mock would hold on to win with a seven second cushion and lead Team USA to its second perfect score of the weekend.

In assessing his race, Mock said, "They took it out pretty hard and it took me a while to catch the leaders. I went out in about 10th or so, I didn't push the pace. I worked the hills a little to work my way up and at about the 3000-meter mark I took over the lead and tried to work the hills again for a little bit. It all caught up to me at the end, but I was able to hang on.

In regards to the surprising hilly course, Mock echoed the view of many: "It was not what I imagined for Florida, it is a challenging course. I really enjoy the hills."

Senior Women - 6000 meters

The Sr. Women's team kept USA's perfect win streak alive with a 10- point total of their own. In the early going, Lucinda Hull forced the pace and coming past 2,000 meters looked like an easy winner. But moving through the field was Sabrina Munro who took over the lead just before 5K and pushed all the way to the finish for a 12 second victory in her first opportunity to represent the USA.

"It was pretty exciting and gives me lots of confidence going into next year," said Munro. "I am going to try to make the World team in 2006 and go to Japan."

Of their team effort, Munro said, "We wanted to go out as a group and then work together and that is what I think we did. It's a lot better to work with somebody out there then to work by yourself."

Senior Men - 8000 meters

The largest and most competitive race of the day was saved for last as the Sr. Men took to the course for four loops of the difficult National Triathlon Training Center course. Following yet another fast start by the Jamaicans, USA's Max King slowly worked his way into the lead which he would maintain until into the third kilometer.

"Many times at these big races I go out and try to hang on, today I was leading for the first two miles or so which is a little different," said King, of Bend, OR. "Overall I didn't have a strategy except go out and race."

During the second and third laps, King started to drop back, but when challenged by a runner from Puerto Rico, King surged over the final 2,000 meters to nail down a third place finish and lead Team USA to a clean sweep of the team championships.

"I wanted to surge on the last lap and hold off the guys behind me, especially the guys from Puerto Rico, and I think I did that pretty well," said King. "I wish I would have stayed closer to those front two guys. Maybe I could have gained a little ground on them and maybe even caught them."

Juan Barrios of Mexico was the overall winner, just ahead of Alfred Arevalo of Guatemala. For Barrios, this race was a tune-up for the short course competition at the World Championships in two weeks.

"The tactic was to hang on for the first half of the race with the group and after the halfway point I tried to push the pace," said Barrios of his strategy. "This is part of a long preparation for the outdoor track season. For us it is great to be here to beat all these runners and to be the first champion of this event, this is important for us."

The NACAC Track and race walking championships are events that have been overlooked in the past by the USA, but have helped develop talent in many of the smaller nations of the region. This may now be another opportunity for up and coming USA distance talent to gain valuable experience in international competition. Surely this event will not only grow in participants, but in importance to USA distance running in future years.

Full results can be found at: events/2005/NACACXCChampionships/results.asp

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