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DyeStat Cross Country 2000

National Finals 
12/9/00
Disney World
Orlando FL

the boys race

Ritz Repeat: 
Dathan Burns it to the Wick in the Florida Heat

By Stephen ("steveu") Underwood

The heat was on from the start at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships Boys Nationals Finals, what with uncomfortably warm and sunny mid-70s conditions greeting the 32 runners at the Oak Trails course in Orlando.

But it was left, as usual, to one gritty 112-pounder from frigid Rockford, Michigan to put the burn on the elite field.

While a 4:47 opening mile left almost everyone in contention, Dathan Ritzenhein accelerated to a 4:33 (9:20 overall) that strung everybody out. Virginia's Alan Webb and California's Ryan Hall gave game chase, but trailed by 3 and 13 seconds at that point.

Ritz was almost gassed coming down the final stretch, but by then he had Webb and Hall nearly 20 seconds in arrears. When he crossed the finish line in 14:35, the senior had his second national CC title in the bag. Confirming that he not only got the best result but probably put out the most effort, he collapsed as he so often does at the finish, then needed a good, long chunk of time before he was recovered enough to talk to the media and hundreds of others who wanted his thoughts.

"I was going to see how it went (early in the race) and then go from there," he said to those wondering why it wasn't a sub-4:30 pace from the start. He went, all right. But with the pain of the effort, he didn't feel confident of the final outcome until he crossed the finish line. His thoughts during the final stretch: "God, this hurts!"

Webb followed in 14:55, while Hall made it three under 15 with his 14:59. The latter gained several seconds on the former in the last mile, but couldn't quite come all the way up.

Charlie Milloen, the New York Federation champ, was then a very impressive fourth in 15:05, but then the West closed out the team victory with four of the next five spots. Erik Heinonen (Ore.), Seth Pilkington (Utah) and Chandler Goodwin (Utah) went 5-6-7 in 15:07, 15:09 and 15:13 respectively.

Michigan then joined Utah with two top-ten finishers, as Tim Moore grabbed 8th in 15:13, but Seth Watkins of Montana became the West's fifth scorer with his 15:16 in 9th. Kentucky's Bobby Curtis rounded out the top ten also in 15:16, just edging out Rod Koborsi, Joe Thorne and Bobby Lockhart.

"I was very disappointed," said Webb, who obviously wanted the win as bad as Ritz. "I thought I could hang with him. He had a good day and I just didn't step up. We started out slow and he surged real hard. I was planning a more even race."

Though Webb obviously moved up from his 8th last year here, he said, "I didn't improve. I was the second-best returnee and I was number two again I wanted to move up with him at the two-mile mark, but he was just real strong."

Said Hall, the FL mile champ who was in his first national CC race, "I felt good the first mile, but even in the second mile it didn't seem like my legs had the usual pop. I think I kind of peaked earlier in the season."

As far as trying to catch Webb at the end, he added, "I was trying to make a move, but he had too much on me. I was hurting the last mile and didn't have a lot left either."

It was Ritz who was having to catch people early in the race. He was almost in last after the first 200 meters. While observers are always assuming he will take off at the same torrid pace in a championship race as he has in many of his course-record runs, his priority is always the competition and running smart. "In big races, that's usually what happens, unless there's a rabbit," he said. "I wanted to push the last two miles. Both Alan and Ryan have a lot of speed and I didn't want it to come down to a kick."

He did say that he thought the 4:47-4:33 splits would have been "the other way around" but, as always, Dathan's incredible ability to make the mid-race break served him well. "We do a lot of speed work in sets," he revealed. "One set easy, one set hard, and so on."

Ritz admitted it was one of his most painful races. "This and the 5K on the track last spring," he said. "At the 2-mile mark I really started feeling the heat. And then around 600 to go it got really bad. I definitely slowed down a lot. I knew Alan and Ryan were still back there, but I didn't know how far back."

"But it's just as great as the first time," he concluded. "Foot Locker and Adidas do such a great job. It feels like the Olympics."

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