Gardner, Finn, and Knight star at USA Champs
The USA Cross Country Championships in St. Louis, Missouri did not disappoint as some of the top junior harriers met up to try to qualify for the IAAF World Cross Country meet to be held in Bydgoszcz, Poland on March 24th. On a cold and windy day at Forest Park, the athletes were ready to run one more cross country race of the season.
This USATF junior race is open to all athletes 19 years and younger which makes for a mix of high school and college athletes competing against each other. The college athletes usually having the better advantage, especially in the men’s race which is a longer race at 8,000-meters versus the 5,000-meter course they are used to.
Andrew Gardner, a senior from Mead High School (Wash.) and three-time Foot Locker finalist, stayed off the fast initial pace set by the lead pack but by the middle of the race, he had worked his way up to be in the mix with the lead pack of fifteen men. The final one-kilometer was when Craig Nowak, freshmen at Oklahoma State University and Cypress Woods High School grad), the eventual winner, took off and spread the race out. Gardner stayed with a small pack of five that broke away together. They all came in together to finish where Gardner finished officially in sixth place in a time of 25:52.6 over the 8,000-meter course. Top six athletes qualify so Gardner earned his spot on the team with his performance.
In the women’s junior race, Emily Stites (College of William and Mary) and Erin Finn (Sr, West Bloomfield High School, Mich.) pulled away from the pack early running side by side for most of the race until Stites pulled away and finished a comfortable 21 seconds ahead of Finn, who came in second. Finn ran 20:48.6 over the 6,000-meter course and was looking to qualify for Worlds, “I felt really strong and I wanted to cement my position early on in the race. This race was all about qualifying, so I’m happy with that.”
Finn is looking to redeem herself after not qualifying for Foot Locker Nationals back in December (she was sick at the qualifying race). A few weeks ago, Finn, who is the national record holder in the indoor 5,000, ran an indoor 3200-meters in 10:18. With her second place finish here, she’s well on her way to redemption.
University of Washington commit Katie Knight (sr, North Central High School, Wash.) was the other high school junior who qualified for Worlds finishing fourth in a time of 21:09.3.
For complete results, click here.