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Commentary on Nike's NXN Championships

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12/08/2008 - 09:26

nxn08finalboysstart.JPG December 8, 2008 by Larry Eder - My trip to Portland for the Nike XC Nationals started Friday afternoon, December 5 in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. It was two degrees when I walked from my home on Clarence Street, turned left on Sherman, hit the ATM and then walked past the oldest bar in Wisconsin, Beinfang's (if one looks closely, it still has a women's entrance---not used anymore), which turned a 100 years old this past year.

Then I walk to my office on Milwaukee Avenue West which takes me across the Main Street bridge, past Funky's , a very hip antique store, and the Nest, a store right out of a Martha Stewart magazine. Most mornings, I will see a few of the regulars out for their morning walk, or heading to the EatMOR, a local breakfast establishment, where the dining experience consists of bright red formica bar, many full chairs and many of the characters that make up our town of 10,000 souls.

My office is in the W.D. Hoards building. W.D. was a governor of Wisconsin and the father of the modern dairy industry. He founded the local newspaper, and from a column in the newspaper, the Hoards Dairyman, the largest dairy magazine in the world. My publications are printed at the W.D. Hoards printer and our other business, the Running Network LLC, is owned by the Knox family that also owns W. D. Hoards. My offices are in a building over a 100 years old. The offices give me comfort and the history of the building and the business are fascinating, at least to me.

Running is a tradition in town. Fort Atkinson High School has had some superb athletes, most recently Ryan Gaspar, a junior at Wisconsin.

My flights, from Madison to Chicago, and Chicago to Portland, were uneventful, except of the usual delays and a mad dash to make the 3:43 flight to Portland, which I missed by one minute. Not really happy, I took a nice walk around the airport and headed over to the C gates for the next flight, at 5:32.


After a nice sleep, I arrived at the Portland Meadows about eight in the morning. Mark Weinmann, our videographer for the event, went about his way, filming different fixtures on the course and getting pictures of starts, finishes and other dramatic minutes of the hectic morning. In the media tent, the Live Web broadcast, provided by the folks at was being fine tuned. Our webmaster, Chuck Bartlett, up and awake in Seattle, was checking the signal and making sure all was okay for the links to our sites. Brenda Barrera, our web editor, in Chicago had coffee cup in hand, watching the Web broadcast.


My job? To observe, to chat, to soak in the details so that I could write this column to you, as I fly, 35,000 feet above the terra firma, heading from Portland to Chicago on Sunday morning.

My first impressions were how well orchestrated the event was. After five years, the details are still key and Nike had done it well. Watching Josh Rowe, John Truax and company doing final checks around the course was interesting. The event was so well organized, Truax, one of the founders of the Border Clash and this event, seemed very relaxed.

I was able to catch up with Alan Webb, very relaxed and cheerful for so early in the morning. Alan had finished his run for the day--noting that the athletes had in past years tried to run after the races, but were pretty sore having jogged back and forth across the course, that getting in the workout before the race made the most sense.

Alan was in the middle of getting into training for 2009. While most of our conversation was pleasantries, it is obvious that Alan's experimentation (if one would call it that) with various distances is over. For the near future, expect to see Alan on the four lap race, the 1,500 meters or the mile. Good for Alan, who has tons of talent, but has had great races and tough races, like anyone else. The only problem, Alan has had is the moniker of the next coming of the mile on him. Alan has the American record for the mile and now, he needs to focus on bringing a world championship or Olympic medal home.

Each year, the NXN has innovations. This year, with nine regionals, NXN brought 45 individual boys and 45 individual girls plus 22 teams for boys and girls from those regions. It was a literal shoot out. The races do change with individuals, but the race is (at least for me) all about the teams. The Nike elite athletes who are honorary captains of the teams are a nice part of the weekend. The whole weekend is about promoting cross country and from the time the teams walk into their hotels and see the banners cheering on their teams, they know that they are special.


The coverage of the meet is also innovative. Giles Norton of Lynx systems, the most innovative company in the track & field meet management software, have been involved here since year one. Lynx provides the ability for the fans to see how the teams are doing at the 1k, 2k, 3k, 4k and finish lines. It is a fascinating and unique part of the event and adds to the excitement.

In the media tent, the crews from,, and were all there, making sure that their live webcast were working and that their updates were going out. With young athletes so web savvy, and the sport so tied into results and records, the web is a perfect avenue for the sport and it fills in the short sightedness of the cable and regular TV networks on covering our sport.


Nike VIPs were out in force. Amy White, the new VP of U.S. Running was out and about. She is quite enthusiastic about her new role and her team, and in our short conversation, stressed the point of the importance of this event. Mel Strong, formerly our contact in U.S. Running, is now moving to the Americas region. Leslie Lane, Global VP of Running and I were able to catch up, noting again some of the great innovations added this year.

Most importantly, Mark Parker, CEO and President of Nike, was there---and not for a few quick photo moments---but for the entire day. My videographer noted that Parker was running around the course, "like an excited cross country parent," very natural, but also very happy to see such an event on Nike turf. Parker's note in the program said it all. He congratulated the athletes for making it here, and reminded them to thank their parents and coaches for all of the support that they have given them. Good advice and a nice example. Parker noted that this is, in his mind, his favorite running event of the year. He saluted the young runners for carrying the torch of the sport and how pure cross country is and how it is part of the core values, the soul of Nike. Parker's presence was indicative of his feelings for the sport but also a message to the assembled masses and Nike itself.

Nike has made a huge push over the past several years, in both product and in personnel, to the grass roots running. It should be noted that Kevin Paulk, RSG guru, was traversing the course with a group of key grass roots running store managers, all wearing a very cool RSG logo festooned on their jackets with the elite Nike athlete swoosh logo. RSG is retail sporting goods, Nike speak for grass roots running stores.

The key for Nike, in this down economy, is to continue the support for this channel. Stores are happy to see events like this, but great product, continued marketing and support of that channel and keeping key personnel in the channel is the real litmus test for this group. Running will continue during the tough economic times, and running shoes will be purchased, as the sport is one of the few things most people can control in their lives.


nxn08finalSveinsson2.JPG THE GIRLS RACE

The girl's elite race was cross country running at its best. Chelsey Sveinsson of the Addison XC Club, along with Sarah Andrews of The Woodlands XC and Eleanor Fulton of Highlands Ranch were fighting for the lead at the top. Danielle Winslow of Adirondack XC Club was running just behind the top three. One kilometer after another, the runners challenged the course and each other. The hay bales were fun to watch, but did not stop the runners. My first thought was that there were a few potential steeplers in the crowd.

In the end, Chelsey Sveinsson took charge and broke the course record with her stellar 17:26.9. Sarah Andrews took second and led her Wooldands squad with her second place time in 17:35.8. Eleanor Fulton stayed third, hitting 17:45.1 and Danielle Winslow took fourth with a fine time of 17:48.4 with Lindsay Flanagan of Roselle XC Club in 17:50.3.

The 40 individual runners changed the nature of the race. The races became faster. Did it affect the team races? I am not sure. Manilus, in my mind, was unstoppable, and their 3, 9, 10, 11 and 33 gave them 66 points with a team average of 18:17.92 for the 5,000 meter course!

In the second team spot, Santa Clarita XC ran 5, 28, 31, 35, 36 and a team score of 135, with a team average of 18:40.84.

Wilmington XC Club, from my old stomping grounds, ran for third with 182 points, with 14, 20, 26, 49 and 17, giving them a time average of 18:52.58. Kinetic XC was close in fourth, with 193 points and a team average of 18:53.68!

Cross country is the real meeting place for distance runners. And over this course on the Portland Meadows, the best 22 teams and 40 individual girls made history on this course! Before each race, the teams were announced with their highlights as were the individuals from those regions. This was the proper way to do a great cross country meet!

nxn08finalconnor.JPG THE BOYS RACE

The guys race was close from the beginning. It was fun to watch Reed Connor of The Woodlands, Jakub Zivec (an exchange student from the Czech Republic) with the Grand Rapids XC, who runs like Alan Webb meets Steve Ovett--always menacing, and Joash Osaro of Bismark XC Club, with Joe Rosa of Plainsboro XC Club and Craig Lutz of Flower Mound XC.

Reed Connor has a presence himself. He hit the hay bales with vigor and continued around the course with Zivec and Joash Osaro also in contention, and Craig Lutz showing some real toughness.

As the crowd screamed, Reed Connor extricated himself from the top five and charged down the last five hundred meters, winning the race in 15:13.6, giving him a five second win! Jakub Zivac and Joash Osoro were together until Zivac made his play with 30 meters to go, giving Zivac the nod at 15:18.1 to 15:18.7 for Osaro. In fourth place, Joe Rosa stayed in fourth in 15:19.0 and Craig Lutz in fifth in 15:25.0.

On the team side, North Spokane XC showed its stuff, with a win in 134 points, with 6, 23, 34, 37, 54 and a team average time of 16:01.5 for 5,000 meters. With 151 points, Elmhurst XC had runners in 5, 8, 40, 48 and 50 and a team average of 16:09.16. The Woodland's XC club was fourth in 197 points, with scores of 1, 26, 39, 58, 73 and a team time of 16:06.98. In fifth, Plainsboro XC was there with an average team time of 16:10.28.

I am reminded of the interview Toni Reavis made with Reed Connor. When Reavis mentioned Connor was a good runner, Connor disagreed, "I want to be a great runner. "

This was a day of great heroics by runners from first to 153rd, with teams from first to twenty-second. These kids were the best runners in the country. With 350,000 high school cross country runners in this country, running hill and dale, the top 300 runners in the country and their teams made this past weekend a historic one at the Portland Meadows.