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Great Moments in Footlocker History #4: 2011 Girls Race

Molly Seidel comes back on Erin Finn for the win that allowed her to break the Footlocker Curse four years later.

Cross Country: NCAA Championships Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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 before undertaking a full preview of both the boys and girls races Friday.

The Field

Only three girls from the 2010 top-20 at Nationals returned to the 2011 field. Erin Finn, who finished seventh in 2010, was top among them, though she finished a distant third in the Midwest Regional—26 seconds behind Molly Seidel. Neither of the other two returners from the previous year’s top 20 won their regions either. 2010 15th place runner Grace Tinkey finished third in the South and Abbey Leonardi (16th in 2010) finished second in the Northeast. As a result, the race lacked a clear favorite.

The Race

Note: Embedding has been disabled on this video, but you can check out the entirety of the girls race by means of this hyperlinked text.

It took less than 200m for Erin Finn to open up a gap on the field. She extended it even further going up the hill into the mile mark, which she crossed in 5:21, which, given how hilly the second half mile was compared to the first, indicated she was still as strong as her 2:37 first half mile. Given that Finn wasn’t an obvious favorite entering the race, it was odd that none of the other girls even attempted to respond to that early move. They mostly sat back entirely for over a mile.

After the mile, going up the biggest hill on the course, a number of the consensus prerace favorites—Seidel, Tinkey, Leonardi, and Karlie Garcia—started to make a push to cut into Finn’s lead. By the start of the second loop, it was clear that, if anyone was going to ever overtake Finn, it would be Seidel.

Finn still held the lead coming through two miles in 11:08, but it was increasingly becoming clear that Seidel was likely to eventually catch her, with only around four seconds separating them at that point.

Crossing the road approaching the course’s hill for the second time, Seidel pulled even with Finn. We’ve all watched enough races to write the narrative from here. 99 times out of a 100, when a runner who has been leading for over two miles surrenders that lead, it’s over. When Seidel passed Finn up the hill, that should have been it.

Though Seidel opened up two seconds coming off the hill, Finn wasn’t about to let that be the end of her bid. She held that gap at around two seconds on the flat at the top of the hill before closing it and retaking the lead on the downhill and stretching it out to about 10m with only about 600m to go.

Seidel didn’t let that hold up long, though, as she was back in the lead a mere 200m later with about a quarter mile to go in the race. That managed to be the move that finally took care of Finn, though. Finn by no means fell apart, as she only gave Seidel two seconds over those final 400m, but Seidel’s final move was clearly the definitive one.

With Laura Leff coming in third place a full 10 seconds back of Finn, this was purely a two girl race. After about 100m, no one besides Finn and Seidel even threatened to hold the lead. That lack of true suspense is why this race ends up at No. 4 and not higher on the list. However, these sorts of performances in which athletes are pushing each other to their best—as Seidel and Finn did over the final mile of the race—are when competitive running is at its most compelling.

Other Notes:

  • It took the broadcast team three tries to correctly identify Erin Finn as the early leader in the race. Their first guess of Nikki Hiltz was spectacularly off the mark as they mistook the Midwest singlet as a West. Their second guess of Molly Seidel, while in the correct region/uniform, was also incorrect.
  • Just past the 8:20 mark, Finn gives a wave to the camera. She still has a commanding lead at this point, just around the halfway mark on the course.
  • At around 13:50 in the video, Seidel appeared to have a bit of close call as she mis-stepped and looked to roll her ankle a little bit.

Full Results