On Saturday, January 21, the U.S. team headed to the World Cross-Country Championships was named in four memorable races at the USATF Cross-Country Championships. The meet, hosted at the Pole Green Park in Mechanicsville, Virginia, featured dominant victories by U.S. Army runners Ednah Kurgat and Emmanuel Bor in the open races, an upset by high school senior Leo Young in the men’s U20 competition, and a decisive win by high school national champion Irene Riggs in the women’s U20 race.
Here are all the highlights from the championship that determined who will compete for global medals in Bathurst, Australia this March.
Ednah Kurgat claims women’s title
A strategic move on the penultimate kilometer of the looped course led Kurgat to win the U.S. cross-country crown. After running patiently within the lead pack through the early miles, Kurgat took off on the last 2-kilometer lap. Running solo, she maintained her position up front and ultimately covered the 10K distance in 32:07, about 5:10-mile pace.
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“I felt really confident coming into it because it’s something I’ve prepared for,” Kurgat said on the USATF.tv broadcast. “After track last year, I looked forward to cross country because it’s one of my favorite events.”
The open women’s race started with Kurgat, U.S. 5K champion Weini Kelati, and U.S. 15K runner-up Emily Durgin getting out quick with a 3:08 split in the first kilometer. They settled into a more manageable pace, hitting 3K in 9:40 and 5K in 16:11.
By 6K, a top group that included Durgin, Kelati, Kurgat, Emily Lipari, Makena Morley, and Katie Izzo was formed and running almost 20 seconds ahead of the rest of the field.
Heading into the 8K split, Kurgat made her big move to the front, which opened up the race significantly. By attacking the kilometer between 8K and 9K, which she covered in 3:05, the former University of New Mexico NCAA champion established an 11-second lead over Morley, the next closest competitor. “I just wanted to leave it all out there, and if anyone caught me, I’d know I did my best,” Kurgat said.
The aggressive strategy propelled Kurgat to win her first U.S. cross-country title, a big improvement after finishing third at the Sound Running Cross Champs in Austin last December.
If they accept the invitation, the top six, which included Morley (32:24), Durgin (32:27), Lipari (32:32), Kelati (32:39), and Izzo (32:40), will represent Team USA at the world championships.
Emmanuel Bor runs solo effort to become men’s champion
Tenacious racing gave Bor the advantage in the men’s race. The University of Alabama alum won the title in 28:44, about 4:37-mile pace for five grass loops on the 10K course.
“This is an honor to me to represent the United States and this flag and to represent the Army is amazing,” Bor said. “It’s a dream that I’ve always dreamed about. Last year in the 10,000, I fell down close to the line, almost making the team. This is one of those moments that I cherish.”
Bor pulled ahead of the top group before the halfway point after working his way up in the early stages of the race. At 4K, the unsponsored athlete broke away from the lead pack with a blazing 2:50 kilometer.
Although the chase pack started to close the gap in the final kilometer, Bor’s lead was too big to make up at that point. On the homestretch, he finished comfortably ahead of a fast-closing group fighting for the remaining spots on Team USA.
Behind Bor, only one second separated runner-up Andrew Colley of ZAP Fitness from sixth-place finisher Dillon Maggard, who beat Reid Buchanan to the line for the final spot in consideration for the world championships. Army runners Anthony Rotich, Leonard Korir, and Sam Chelanga snagged the third, fourth, and fifth-place finishes, respectively.
Irene Riggs leads Team USA in the U20 race
In the women’s U20 championship, the pre-race favorites emerged early on in the 6K race with Riggs, NXN runner-up Ellie Shea, 2022 U20 U.S. champion Zariel Macchia, University of Colorado commit Abbey Nechanicky, Champs Sports winner Karrie Baloga, and Eva Klingbeil of the University of North Carolina pulling ahead in a pack.
Heading into the competition, many expected Riggs, fresh off her victory at Nike Cross Nationals to duke it out with Baloga, a fellow high school national champion. But around 4K, Riggs broke away from the group for good. At first, Shea was the only runner to follow, but Riggs continued to put distance between herself and the competition as the field came through the 5K split, which she covered in 16:40, almost two seconds ahead of Shea.
The chase pack saw some drama when Klingbeil fell down with less than a kilometer remaining in the race. As they neared the finish line, the college freshman managed to get back up quickly and regain her position within the group.
Riggs’ move with two kilometers remaining paid off when she won the national title in 19:45, three seconds ahead of Shea. Macchia placed third in 20:05, Nechanicky finished fourth in 20:07, Baloga placed fifth in 20:07, and Klingbeil held on for sixth in 20:11. If they all accept the invitation, the U20 women’s team representing the U.S. in Australia will be made up of five high school runners and one collegian.
Leo Young beats college standouts to win men’s U20 title
A perfectly timed sprint finish led Young to win his first national title as a high school senior. The Newbury Park star pulled an upset over the college runners when he claimed the men’s U20 8K victory in 23:47.
The top six athletes came together as a group in the final loop. With 1,000 meters remaining, a leader finally emerged when Micah Wilson of the University of Wisconsin broke away from the pack. But the lead didn’t last long as Marco Langon of Villanova caught up quickly. The competitors went back and forth until Young sprinted ahead of the duo heading into the homestretch.
No one was able to cover Young’s last-second move as he barreled into the finish line seven seconds ahead of Wilson (23:54) and Langon (23:54). Evan Jenkins of the University of Washington (23:55), Max Sannes of the U.S. Air Force Academy (23:55), and Luke Venhuizen of the University of Michigan (23:59) all finished within the top six and earned spots on Team USA.
Young, whose brother Nico is an All-American at Northern Arizona, will compete for Stanford in the fall. Their mother, Lynne, also raced on Saturday. She finished 33rd in the women’s masters competition.
Dan is a writer and editor living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and before coming to Runner’s World and Bicycling was an editor at MileSplit. He competed in cross country and track and field collegiately at DeSales University.