Every fall, the high school cross country season gets a moment of exclusive access to the spotlight with the Footlocker Regional and National Cross Country Championships. Though in recent years, Nike Cross Country Nationals have threatened to overtake Footlocker in both attention and competitiveness, the latter’s history as the premier high school race in the country keeps it in the top spot. Add to that the fact that NXN’s team competition in which high schools compete under confusing club names that make it difficult to make meaning of the team competition, and Footlocker’s enduring beauty dwells in its simplicity.
With the annual championships set to take place Saturday, December 10, we figured we’d look back at the top five moments of the 2000s. That top-five countdown will begin in earnest tomorrow (Friday) to make room for a full 2016 preview next Friday. Before we get going on that, though, we’ll go back to a personal favorite of mine, the 2003 Boys’ Championship.
History looks down in great favor on this field. The top five finishers—Matt Withrow, Shadrack Kiptoo (Biwott), Galen Rupp, Josh McDougal, and Ben True—all went on to All-American collegiate careers and Rupp and True went on to become elite runners on the international level. Further down the list of competitors is Garrett Heath, Andrew Bumbalough, Lopez Lamong and Mo Trafeh, who have all had success at the professional level.
Also impressive is the list of runners who barely missed out on the race by finishing just below the qualifying place at regional meets. These include Leo Manzano (South), Mohamed Khadraoui (Northeast), and Chris Barnicle (Northeast).
Central Catholic’s Galen Rupp took the race out hard with a reported 2:15 split through 800m. The video plays up his relationship with Alberto Salazar, one that now 13 years later continues to pay off for both parties. Kiptoo, Withrow, and McDougal all alternated leads over the first couple miles, though Rupp held the lead the preponderance of the time, leading the race through two miles in 9:39.
At two miles, Withrow made a huge move trying to gap the field. However, Rupp and Kiptoo never really let him open up a significant lead, though, and McDougal managed to cover the move as well. That move fell flat as Rupp was able to retake the lead in a matter of only about 400m.
With half a mile to go in the race, it looked like a two man race between future Oregon teammates Rupp and Kiptoo. Withrow was still in striking range, but appeared to be trending in the wrong direction after his earlier surge. They both opened up a lead on Withrow and were back and forth for a good quarter mile.
That narrative was suddenly torn apart with Withrow finding a second major surge with around 200m to go. He made quick work of Rupp and got Kiptoo with about 100m to go. While Withrow’s come-from-behind win is the main story here, the reverberating and differential effects it had on Rupp and Kiptoo helped decide second place. After Withrow took the lead from Kiptoo, the latter appeared demoralized by having victory snatched from his grasp. That allowed Rupp to sneak by his future teammate for second.
- Some good foreshadowing by Salazar in his pre-race interview with Lauren Freshman. Clearly, he’d been studying up on his literary techniques. “A lot of people here are thinking that no one can out-sprint Kiptoo at the end” (4:45). Of course, the race came down to not one but two runners outkicking Kiptoo.
- Ben True repping his Maine roots pretty hard with a flannel shirt and John Deere trucker hat at the 16:00 mark of the video. The early 2000s were great!
- Galen Rupp’s voice has not changed since his senior year of high school.