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Top College Runners Gather For NCAA Cross Country Championship

The last time I went to the NCAA Cross Country Championship was 1982. The races were held in Bloomington, Indiana, on a cloudy November day. I don’t even think there was an announcer for that race. All you could hear was the wind rustling the leaves as the runners poised at the starting line before the gun went off.

I never forgot that experience and I promised myself I’d go to another cross country championship eventually. I never fulfilled it until this weekend, when I was in Louisville for the meet at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park.

There are a couple of things that I love about cross country. First, it’s not a spectator sport in the sense that you sit in the bleachers and watch the action. You can do that. At a big event like this there are some seats that the finish line.

But the real way to experience a cross country race is to almost participate in it. You run or walk as fast as you can to get to various points on the course to see the runners when they reach those points. Hundreds of fans did that on Saturday. You could see them through the trees in huge packs, almost like watching migrating animals as they followed the runners.

The other thing I love about this sport is the way it combines individual accomplishment with team success. There are great champions like Oregon’s Edward Cheserek, who did something no one else has ever done by winning his third straight men’s race. In fact only three other men (Gerry Lindren, Steve Prefontaine and Henry Rono) have three NCAA Cross Country crowns.

But as a team, Oregon finished fourth. In cross country, a runner’s point total corresponds with the place he or she finishes in the race. Cheserek scored one point, which is as low as you can go, but the other Ducks’ runners finished 46th, 50th, 56th and 85th. Those numbers add up quickly.

Syracuse, on the other hand, placed three runners in the top 10 and won its first team title since 1951. As the runners celebrated after they found they out they had won, I heard one say “let’s go find our parents.”

The women’s team from Albuquerque, the University of New Mexico, had a motto this season: “Expect nothing. Achieve everything.” They did just that on Saturday. All five Lobos runners finished in the top 24 and they totaled a scant 49 points, the lowest team total in decades.

“They have a common bond in running,” New Mexico coach Joe Franklin said after the race. “When you’re out there in the foothills and the mountains, it takes special souls to do that. And they’re all special women.”

Reporter

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Patrick Tiernan of Villanova leads Oregon’s Edward Cheserek in the men’s race at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. Cheserek would win; Tiernan finished second. (Alex Ashlock)
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Patrick Tiernan of Villanova leads Oregon’s Edward Cheserek in the men’s race at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. Cheserek would win; Tiernan finished second. (Alex Ashlock)