On Saturday, December 11, 2010 the thirty-second annual Foot Locker Cross Country Championships took place at Balboa Park in San Diego, California. The meet began in 1979 and at that time was known as the Kinney Cross Country Championships. In 1993 the name of the meet changed to the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships. The meet brings together the top cross country runners from across the country to compete in one race, head-to-head, to determine a national champion. No other high school sport does this.
The format has been pretty much the same since 1979. The US is broken into four regions (Northeast, Midwest, South, and West) with regional qualifying meets held in each of those regions in late November or early December. The top ten runners from each region qualify to the national championship race held on the second Saturday in December. Although the national meet has been held in Orlando, FL on several occasions, the traditional home for the national championship race is a 5K course at Balboa Park in San Diego, CA.
The course records for the Balboa Park course are held by Melody Fairchild, with 16:39 in 1990 and Ruben Reina with 14:36 in 1985. Only three boys have ever won back-to-back titles: Abdirizak Mohamud (1995, 1996), Dathan Ritzenhein (1999, 2000), and this year’s champion Lukas Verzibikas (2009, 2010). Four girls have won the title twice: Erin Keough (1985, 1986), Melody Fairchild (1989, 1990), Erin Sullivan (1997, 1998), and Jordan Hasay (2005, 2008).
An interesting list (thanks Wikipedia!) is runners who won both Foot Locker Cross Country championships and went on to win a NCAA Championship in cross country, outdoor track & field, or indoor track & field. To date that list has ten people.
|Footlocker National Champions and NCAA Champions|
|Chris Solinsky (m)||2002||Wisconsin||2006-07 5000, 2005-06 3000 (I)|
|Dathan Ritzenhein (m)||1999, 2000||Colorado||2003 XC|
|Jorge Torres (m)||1998||Colorado||2002 XC|
|Adam Goucher (m)||1993||Colorado||1998 XC & 5000, 1997-98 3000 (I)|
|Melody Fairchild (w)||1989, 1990||Colorado||1996 3000 (I)|
|Bob Kennedy (m)||1987||Indiana||1988, 1992 XC, 1990 1500, 1991 Mile (I)|
|Marc Davis (m)||1986||Arizona||1989 5000, 1992 3000 SC|
|Reuben Reina (m)||1985||Arkansas||1990-91 3000 (I)|
|Matt Giusto (m)||1983||Arizona||1988 5000|
|Ceci Hopp (w)||1980||Stanford||1982 3000|
Other interesting notes about former Foot Locker Champions:
- 1990 champion Louie Quintana is the current head coach at Arizona State University.
- 1991 champion Corey Ihmels is the current head coach at Iowa State University (college coach of Lisa Koll).
- Chad Hall won in 2006. His more famous brother, Ryan’s best finish was 3rd.
- 1987 champion Bob Kennedy held the American Record for 5,000 meters for thirteen years (12:58.21, 1996-2009) until 1999-2000 champion Dathan Ritzenhein bettered the mark in 2009 (12:56.27). Ritzenhein’s coach just prior to him setting the (since broken by Bernard Lagat) American record was Brad Hudson, who was 3rd in 1984.
- 1980 champion Ceci Hopp and her daughter Anne St. Geme (qualified for the 2005 championships) were the first parent-child duo to qualify for the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships.
The 2000 boys’ race is heralded as one of the greatest of all-time. Runners’ World marked the ten year anniversary of this race with a lengthy article titled “The Turning Point” about the three main protagonists in that race – Dathan Ritzenhein, Alan Webb, and Ryan Hall. This race occurred during a down period in American distance running at the international level, but these three runners – tthen all seniors in high school – gave great hope for the future. The three of them have all competed in the Olympics and are among the best active runners in the US today.
1986 is often overlooked as one of the greatest Foot Locker Cross Country Championship races of all-time. The top three finishers that year all went on to strong running careers at the international level. Winner Marc Davis was a 1996 Olympian, second place Todd Williams was the dominant 10,000 meter runner for the US in the 1990’s (1992 and 1996 Olympian), and third place Bob Kennedy (who would come back to win Foot Locker the next year) was the dominant 5000 meter runner for the US in the 1990’s (American 5000 meter record holder, and 1992 and 1996 Olympian). The top three boys at both the 1986 and 2000 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships all became Olympians.
Another good year for Foot Locker was 1993. The first, second, and fourth place finishers (Adam Goucher, Meb Keflezighi, and Brad Hauser) in the boys race would be Olympic teammates in 2000.
The list of Foot Locker Cross Country Championships participants who went on to compete at the Olympics is also quite impressive. Many top American runners, on their way to national success, competed at Foot Locker during their high school days. I made a list of runners who placed in the top 10 at Foot Locker, who later went to the Olympics or achieved other noteworthy running accomplishment.
- Matt Guisto (1982-1st) – 1996 Olympics 5000
- John Trautmann (1984-2nd) – 1992 Olympics 5000
- Marc Davis (1986-1st) – 1996 Olympics Steeplechase
- Todd Williams(1986-2nd) – 1992 & 1996 Olympics 10,000
- Bob Kennedy (1987-1st, 1986-3rd) – 1992 & 1996 Olympics 5000
- Martin Keino (1989-6th) – famous European meet “rabbit”
- Alan Culpepper (1990-4th) – 2000 Olympics 10,000; 2004 Olympics marathon
- Adam Goucher (1993-1st) – 2000 Olympics 5000
- Meb Keflezighi (1993-2nd) – 2000 Olympics 10,000; 2004 Olympics marathon (silver)
- Brad Hauser (1993-4th) – 2000 Olympics 5000
- Tim Broe (1994-10th) – 2004 Olympics 5000
- Gabe Jennings (1995-7th) – 2000 Olympics 1500
- Jonathan Riley (1996-8th, 1995-10th) – 2004 Olympics 5000
- Jorge Torres (1998-1st, 1997-2nd, 1996-5th) – 2008 Olympics 10,000
- Ian Dobson (1999-2nd) – 2008 Olympics 5000
- Matt Tegenkamp (1999-5th) – 2008 Olympics 5000
- Dathan Ritzenhein (2000-1st, 1999-1st, 1998-8th) – 2004 Olympics 10,000; 2008 Olympics marathon
- Alan Webb (2000-2nd, 1999-8th) – 2004 Olympics 1500
- Ryan Hall (2000-3rd) – 2008 Olympics marathon
- Billy Nelson (2001-9th) – 2008 Olympics Steeplechase
- Chris Solinsky (2002-1st, 2001-3rd) – current 10,000 meter American record
- Galen Rupp (2003-2nd) – 2008 Olympics 10,000
- Cathy Schiro (1984-1st, 1983-3rd, 1982-10th) – 1998 & 1992 Olympics marathon
- Suzy Favor (Hamilton) (1985-2nd) – 1992 & 1996 Olympics 1500
- Amy Rudolph (1989-10th) – 1996 & 2000 Olympics 5000
- Deena Drossin (Kastor) (1990-6th) – 2000 Olympics 10,000 & 5000; 2004 & 2008 Olympics marathon (2004 bronze)
- Jen Rhines (1991-5th) – 2000 Olympics 10,000; 2004 Olympics marathon; 2008 Olympics 5000
- Carrie Tollefson (1993-5th, 1992-9th) – 2004 Olympics 1500
- Kara Wheeler (Goucher) (1993-9th) – 2008 Olympics 10,000 & 5000, 2007 World Championships 10,000 (bronze)
- Amy Yoder (Begley) (1995-2nd) – 2008 Olympics 10,000
- Christin Wurth (Thomas) (1997-4th) – 2008 Olympics 1500
- Molly Huddle (2001-4th) – current 5000 meter American record
- Jenny Barringer (2003-3rd, 2004-10th) – 2008 Olympics Steeplechase, current 3000 SC American record
To date, there are four married couples with Foot Locker top 10 finishes to their name:
- Dathan Ritzenhein (2000-1st, 1999-1st, 1998-8th) and Kalin Toedebusch (2000-5th, 1999-10th)
- Ryan Hall (2000-3rd) and Sara Bei (2000-1st, 1998-3rd, 1997-10th)
- Andrew Begley (1994-4th) and Amy Yoder (1995-2nd)
- Adam Goucher (1993-1st) and Kara Wheeler (1993-9th)
I myself have some experience with the Foot Locker Regional meets. I ran at what was then the Kinney Western Regional Meet in 1987 and 1988 in Fresno. I was not fast enough to run in the seeded race, which is the race to qualify for the national championship meet. But I did my thing in the junior (1987) and senior (1988) boys races. I also feel very privileged to have worked with four women who were top 10 finishers at Foot Locker (then it was Kinney) during my days as the UCLA manager. Melissa Sutton (1985-6th), Laurie Chapman (1985-9th), Kira Jorgensen (1987-1st, 1986-4th), and Karen Hecox (1988-4th) were all Bruins when I had to run my race pace to keep up with the back pack of athletes that I was helping to coach.
The Foot Locker Cross Country Championships has a long history, however, the meet is getting competition from a cross country meet sponsored by Nike. Nike Cross Nationals (NXN), formerly known as Nike Team Nationals (NTN) is a cross country team national championship race held in Portland, OR. This meet began in 2004. At first there was little conflict between the two meets and athletes (if their team was invited to NXN) could compete at both meets. In 2005 and 2006, Nike and Foot Locker worked together to create a provision for athletes from the Foot Locker West Region to qualify for Foot Locker Nationals based on their race at NXN. However in 2007, Nike added Regional Meets to qualify for NXN and that has led to more meets, which means more potential for conflicting meets. In addition to thee team aspect, NXN now also has individual runners competing who aren’t on one of the top teams. A handful of athletes now have to decide if they want to run with their team at NXN Regionals or NXN Nationals, or run at their Foot Locker Regional meet to attempt to qualify for Foot Locker Nationals. To date, no runner that was considered a legitimate contender to win Foot Locker Nationals has chosen to skip Foot Locker for NXN.
Both the Foot Locker meets and the Nike meets are good for the sport of cross country. It gives kids from all over the country a chance to compete against one another at a high level. It gives runners something to strive for. Both meets give high school cross country national media attention. I just hope that something can be worked out so the two meets aren’t in a position of “fighting” to get athletes to run at their meet. The beauty of the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships has been that the winner of that race is the undisputed national champion. Some of the best US runners qualified, ran, and placed at this meet. It’s been a breeding ground for future Olympians and record holders. It would be a shame if, down the road, many of the top runners passed on Foot Locker or if the title of national champion becomes muddled because there are two champions crowned, one at Nike and one at Foot Locker.