Shalane Flanagan, the IAAF 2011 World Cross Country Championships bronze medalist and a four-time U.S. champion (2004, 2005, 2010, 2011), and Dathan Ritzenhein, who has won the U.S. title three times (2005, 2008, 2010), are again the favorites heading into the USA Cross Country Championships in St. Louis, MO, on Saturday.
The top six men and top six women will earn the right to represent the United States at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, on March 24.
“Training has gone well and I can’t think of a better opportunity to get back into racing and start 2013 where I left off last fall,” Ritzenhein wrote on his Competitor.com blog. “Cross country has always been a passion of mine so getting back into the mud and grass was an easy choice.”
Ritzenhein, who will turn 30 in March, is the 2001 World Junior Cross Country Championships bronze medalist. On Saturday, he will face fellow veterans Matt Tegenkamp, 31; Robert Cheseret, 29; Bobby Mack, 28; and Ben True, 27; as well as youngsters Luke Puskedra and Chris Derrick, both just 22.
In his blog, Ritzenhein wrote that he looks forward to the challenge from the “young blood” in the race as well as from the athletes against whom he has been racing for as long as 15 years.
Flanagan, 31, is the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist at 10,000 meters, and she won the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials last January. She is not the only veteran Olympic marathoner in the field, however: Magdalena Lewy Boulet, who made the 2008 Beijing Olympic marathon team, and Deena Kastor, the 2004 Olympic bronze medalist, are both expected to be on the starting line.
It will be a special day for both of them. Kastor, a seven-time U.S. cross country champion and two-time world silver medalist, has not competed in cross country since 2007 and is eager to return to the turf. “My most successful years on the track and in marathons have been when I trained for cross country in the winter,” said Kastor, who is 39 and planning to compete in the LA Marathon on March 17, in this St. Louis Post-Dispatch story.
Lewy Boulet, a U.S. citizen since 2001, was born in Poland. But perhaps just as exciting to the two-time world cross country team bronze medalist as the chance to see family is the opportunity to compete in St. Louis against her training partner and star pupil, 2012 U.S. 10K champion Chelsea Reilly.
“When I started with Chelsea [last July], my primary goal was to get her to a higher level and help her get fit,” Lewy Boulet told Runner’s World. “Along the way, I started to feel good and started to notice that my workouts are still up there and I still have it in me.”
Lewy Boulet is 39; Reilly is 23.
Also in the deep women’s field are defending champion Sara Hall, 2012 5000-meter Olympian Kim Conley, and 2012 Olympic Trials steeplechase finalist Delilah DiCrescenzo.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg