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Defending Champion Derrick Eyes Three-Peat at USATF Cross Country Championships


BOULDER -- Chris Derrick, the two-time USATF Cross Country champion, returns to Boulder Saturday at the USATF Cross Country Championships. Derrick leads a very talented men’s field, while reigning USATF Club Cross Country champion Laura Thweatt headlines a deep women’s field.

The USATF Cross Country Championships are the second stop on the 2015 USATF Running Circuit, which concludes with the .US National 12K in historic Alexandria, Virginia. The top 15 finishers at each race on the circuit qualify to compete in the .US National 12K. The event in Boulder is a USATF Running Circuit “Super Circuit” event, meaning the top 10 finishers earn bonus points towards the overall USARC standings.

In 2014, Derrick pulled away mid-race and never looked back, as he cruised to his second straight USATF cross country title. While the field is stronger this go around, Derrick is in fine shape having won the long-course race at the Great Edinburgh Cross Country earlier in the season.

While Derrick certainly has plenty of success to his name over the past two years, he won’t be alone up front. Two of his main rivals, Ben True and Dathan Ritzenhein, are both entered and seeking the top prize. True, who led Team USA to a silver medal finish with a sixth place finish at the 2013 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, seeks his first national title in cross country. He ended the 2014 season ranked second in the nation over 5,000m on the track and has shown he knows how to win when it matters most.

Ritzenhein, a three-time USATF Cross Country champion, is healthy and coming off two big cross country performances in Europe. He won his first race of the year in Italy, then came back to finish top three at the Great Edinburgh Cross Country meet in the short-course, beating a host of very talented international runners.

The man who won the short-course race, and beat Ritzenhein, is Garrett Heath. Heath, who is a noted middle distance runner, steps up in distance to tackle the 12K. While Heath doesn’t have the long distance success of some of the other pre-race favorites, he’s a veteran and knows how to position himself to be able to maximize his superior speed towards the end of the race.

Many of the top competitors spent much of the past month training at altitude and Heath was no exception. One of his training mates over the past few weeks, Ryan Vail, is another notable competitor fans should not take their eyes off of. While Vail is best known as a top marathoner, he made Team USA back in 2013.

Hansons-Brooks teammates Robert Curtis and Jacob Riley both look to make Team USA for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in China, as well. Curtis, who finished the 2014 ranked second in the country in the 10,000m on the track, is a savvy veteran and will put himself in contention for a top finish, while Riley finished second behind former Stanford teammate Derrick at Great Edinburgh.

Young talent dots the start lists, too. ZAP Fitness teammates Andrew Colley and Joe Stilin are showing strong early season form and could very well challenge for a top five finish. Former University of Wisconsin All-American Maverick Darling looks to prove himself against the tough competition, while Stanford University star Maksim Korolev is a dark horse in the field, coming off a very success collegiate cross country season of his own.

Other top ten finishers from the 2014 edition of the USATF Cross Country Championships returning to Boulder are fourth place Joseph Gray, fifth place Sean Quigley, seventh place Patrick Smyth and tenth place Joe Moore. Each has their own level of success racing in the altitude in Boulder and have enough past success to challenge for a top six finish Saturday.

On the women’s side, two-time defending USATF Club Cross Country champion, and Boulder-resident, Laura Thweatt looks to bring home a win. Thweatt won convincingly at the 2014 USATF Club Cross Country Championships late last year and is in fine shape heading into Saturday’s action. Thweatt had a breakthrough year last season and looks to build upon such success this weekend.

Thweatt finds plenty of competition however from a handful of veteran and youthful talents. Two of those top talents is young pro and former NCAA cross country champion Abbey D’Agostino and Boise State senior Emma Bates, who finished top three at this year’s NCAA Cross Country Championships. Both runners have proven themselves numerous times over 6K and should challenge for Team USA roster spots to the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in China.

The runner with arguably the most momentum on her side is Brianne Nelson. The Boulder Running Club standout finished top five recently at the Great Edinburgh Cross Country meet, while finished second at the USATF Half Marathon Championships. She’s shown tremendous early season fitness and could very well come away with the win on Saturday.

Two other runners ready to showcase their current fitness are Kellyn Taylor and Sara Hall. Hall is a consistent competitor on the USATF Running Circuit, having finished with a handful of top three finishes in 2014. For Taylor, who broke through in a big way at the Houston Marathon in January with a 2:28 performance, she’ll look to continue building on her already successful 2015 season.

A few notable veterans are ready to square off, as well. Colorado-based runners Mattie Suver, Alisha Williams and Rochelle Kanuho all finished in the top six at last year’s USATF Cross Country Championships and have an understanding of racing hard at altitude on their side.

A pair of successful middle distance runners are looking to challenge for top finishes in Boulder, too. Katie Mackey and Brie Felnagle are both proven talents over 1,500m on the track, but the long, challenging grind of cross country leaves them a little unproven. They’ll be joined by Mackey’s teammate Angela Bizzarri, who looks to build off her top five finish at the USATF Club Cross Country Championships.

The Boston Athletic Association team, which includes Elaina Balouris, Juliet Bottorff and Olympian Jen Rhines, have competed well over the past few months. With the ability to run as a team over the challenging terrain in Boulder, it would not be surprising to see at least one team member make the U.S. squad headed to China.

Talented fields on both the men’s and women’s sides line up Saturday morning with much at stake. Record-breaking prize money, Team USA roster spots and early season success are all up for grabs, making the USATF Cross Country Championships a can’t miss event.

Live Coverage

The USATF Cross Country Championships will be broadcast live beginning at 12:50 pm ET at Race video, results, post-race interviews and photos will be available shortly after the race in cooperation with Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #USARC.

About the USATF Running Circuit

The USATF Running Circuit is a USA Track & Field road series featuring USATF championships from one mile through the marathon and consistently attracts the best American distance runners with nearly $700,000 to be awarded in total prize money.

The first ten U.S. runners earn points at each USATF Running Circuit race (15 for first, 12 for second, 10 for third, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1), with those earning the most points receiving prize money at the end of the series. For Super Circuit events, scoring is set as 22.5 for first, 18 for second, 15 for third, 10.5, 9, 7.5, 6, 4.5, 3 and 1.5. Runners who finish in the top 15 at USATF Running Circuit races qualify for the .US National 12K, the culminating event of the USATF Running Circuit featuring $100,000 in prize money.

The mission of the USATF Running Circuit is to showcase, support and promote U.S. runners. Since its inception in 1995, the USATF Running Circuit and its races have provided over $9 million to U.S. distance runners.

Contributed by Scott Bush

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