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Cross Country 1999

1999 Foot Locker Finals

Doug Speck's Report

1999 Foot Locker National Finals

Doug Speck

The 1999 Foot Locker National Finals race, run on the Live Oak Golf Course within the confines of Walt Disney World on Saturday, December 11th, was as exciting an affair as has ever been held in the twenty-one year history of the event. The contests both featured a number of lead changes, with favorites rising and falling (literally), and an interesting duo emerging victorious with very strong and well-timed finishing rushes. After two years of weather-affected contests (rain in 1997 and some humidity with the mild conditions that affected those from cooler areas in 1998) it was nice to have very foggy conditions start the day off and have it remain cool with all athletes able to dig down for all they had without some environmental monkey on their back. After meet management reacted to talk that the 1997 course was too easy, the 1998 event was made challenging in every manner possible on land with a maybe a total twenty foot elevation difference, with the 1999 contest for some reason moved back to the "flat and fast highway 66" mode of transport, leaving the event with times akin to a track meet. Athletes responded to their elegant treatment at the Disney resort with inspired efforts, as banquets, speeches by Olympians, and constant reminders at every turn that they are the best at their level left all involved in awe at the Foot Locker and Adidas presented experience!

The Young Ladies started the show off at 10:00 a.m., with the fog lifting but the day still a nice and cool one that would lead to some flying. General consensus from those athletes who were here last year was that this year some very tight turns were altered to be much more gradual, with footing on the course always taken to the short instead of the rough grass, and on the flat instead of awkwardly angled slopes, as last year. An interesting array of Regional champs and back-up would battle. In the Northeast Region there was a shocking win by soph Melissa Donais (say it "Donay") from Phillips Academy of Andover, Massachusetts, who had some local successes, but surprised with a win over some strong veterans from these championships, such as New York's Danielle Jelly and Jillian Mastrioanni. Illinois star Victoria Jackson followed up a Mideast Invitational triumph with a fourteen second Midwest win over a strong group, with Amanda Pape and an interesting group, including four time National Qualifier Rebecca Mitchell, to back her up. Down south, Virginia's Erin Swain won, while out West Wyoming's Alicia Craig shocked with a win over last year's fourth placer here, Felicia Guiliford, who fell while leading after asthma complications with 150 meters to go. Shocking in their non-qualification were Shalane Flanagan of Massachusetts and California's Sara Bei, third last year here, with the duo appearing to have "regular season records" that would have them battling for the title in Florida. It was still a very, very competitive field!

At the start it was the red clad west and blue uniformed Midwest, on the outside starting positions, out quickly, with Northeast champ Donais, in purple, fitting in nicely in what appeared to be a patriotic color setting to the contest's beginning. No one of the entrants appeared to favor a lightning fast start, so a "pack" near the front was to be expected, as it turned out. Katherine Hartmann, the Illinois divisional winner over regional champ Victoria Jackson, set the early pace, with a pack of about a half dozen close behind. Fellow mid-westerner Michelle De la Vina, and Westerners Victoria Chang and Victoria Chang were closest to pace-setter Hartmann, with the field purring along nicely early on. Last year's first mile was covered in 5:35, with the field coming into sight on the eighth hole straightaway before crossing that point at a time just over five minutes. One sensed we were out significantly quicker this year than last! When Hartmann led the group through the mile at 5:19 it seemed as she, and others, looking full of run, were ready to give Erin Sullivan's 1997 Course Record of 17:22 a real challenge! After the mile mark the course winds up through the first, third, and fourth straightaway on the way to the two mile mark. Last year in both the Girls' and Boys' event it was a move at between a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half that had the winner begin to put the field behind permanently, with Erin Sullivan stating that she "felt good there and moved," while Boys' winner Jorge Torres made a well-planned move during that phase of the contest, and raced away to a big win. This year it was Victoria Jackson, the Midwest winner, who moved here ahead of leader Hartmann, De la Vina, and the Western group of Chang, Guiliford, Alicia Craig, and Laura Zeigle. The event heads far out of sight during a long loop out to the farthest north reaches of the Oak Trail course before heading back down the east perimeter to the finish. There is a bridge at about two and a half miles that would turn out to be this year's defining point on the course in both races. At the bridge this year it was Felicia Guiliford, last year's fourth placer here as just a ninth grader, but victim of an asthma attack in the Western Regional that had her fall with 150 meters to go, who aggressively moved up to and past Jackson, throwing down the challenge and daring anyone to move with her to the finish. There is a turn just before the three mile mark before the course finishes down the eighth fairway, with Guiliford appearing after that turn in obvious trouble as one looked through binoculars. Staggering awkwardly off-balance, one waited for the fall that would come, with Victoria Jackson and Victoria Chang zooming by as Guiliford went to her hands once, then did a complete fall. Chang powered down the straightaway to a 45 meter win over Jackson at 17:05, with Guiliford amazingly rising to her feet and attempting to finish while Alicia Craig, then Anita Siraki zoomed by to finish in places three and four, Siraki leaping wildly at the finish line in the biggest expression of emotion at that point. Despite her huge problems, Guiliford finished fifth, with the West going four of the top five placings, with that squad and the Midwest (with athletes filling places six through eleven) taking the top twelve placings in the contest.

Victoria Chang is a student at Punahou High School in Honolulu, with former Stanford University star Duncan Macdonald, whose daughter Eri was a star at Punahou the last couple of years, her Coach. In Hawaii they race two miles all Fall long, with Chang speaking of the confidence that she gained from her qualifying effort the previous weekend at Mt. SAC over 5000 meters. When asked when she felt she had the race won, Chang replied, "When I crossed the finish line." She had 4:35.06 (1500m) and 9:38.03 (3000m) track bests last spring, with some good racing after travel at the U.S. Junior Championships in Denton, Texas, where she placed second in the 3000 to Sarah Gorton, and had some international experience in the Pan Am Junior Meet in Tampa last July over the same distance. A good student, she was rewarded by her parents after the finish with a beautiful ring of flowers that she wore during the interview and picture period after the race. Her aggressiveness at the end of the race appears in direct opposition to her mild mannered personality, with the lass obviously with a hidden steely core. She has not decided on a College yet.

Midwest Champ Victoria Jackson was very strong in second (17:14), with Alicia Craig, part of Coach Orville Hess's Campbell County HS program in Wyoming, closing out two years of probably more travel than any team in U.S. History, with her 17:19 in third also under Erin Sullivan's 1997 CR of 17:22. Anita Siraki finished strong in fourth, with Guiliford, who told West Coach Doug Todd that she was unsure of how to deal with asthma problems that started to appear early Saturday before the race, amazing in how quick she can recover afterwards from seeming conditions that would send most to the hospital. Felicia was talkative and as bouncy as ever within minutes after the finish of a race where she appeared in deep and serious problem the final quarter mile! The veritable dual meet had the West win over the Midwest 25-32, with the Northeast, Danielle Jelly the first athlete from that area in thirteenth, 97 points, and the South, led by Airle Glassman in sixteenth, fourth with 101.

After the excitement of that Girls' contest, it would be hard for the Boys to top it, but their run was every bit as entertaining! The Boys' race appeared to bring together the best-balanced group of athletes ever from all areas of the nation for these Championships. Northeastern Champ Dany Coval of Pennsylvania had a super Fall season, with Virginia's Alan Webb, breaker of Jim Ryun's national soph mile record with a 4:06.94 last June, setting a Course Record in his Southern triumph! 1998 Finalist here as a soph, Michigan star Dathan Ritzenhein had taken down 1998 Foot Locker Champ, Jorge Torres's, Midwest Regional Meet Record, with Utah's Josh Rohatinsky winning over Oregon's Ian Dobson out West. There was good back-up to the front-liners, with the course obviously a quick one off of the Girls' times just previous to this event. Unfortunately, the first start of the race was marred by a fall about forty meters out by Joshua Barchard of Massachusetts, who was limping seriously after a fall, then led the second start to fade to thirty-second and last place.

West stars Josh Rohatinsky, Ian Dobson, and Eric Logdson were the early reported leaders out on the course, with Ricky Brookshire, then Southern winner Alan Webb and Illinois star Donald Sage mentioned among the leaders. Webb's finish off his 4:06 mile best was tough to argue with, with Sage a 4:08 over the four lap distance, with Rohatinsky and Dobson better as the distance lengthened. Rohatinsky and Dobson both were aware of Webb's reputation as a big kicker, with something probably in store long before the finish to break away. Last year's first mile for the Boys was 4:51, with this year's pack appearing at the head of the straightaway before the mile mark just like the Girls' in a time that would put them far below last year's clocking there. Dobson, who the front pack seemed content to defer to at this time, led Rohatinsky, Webb, Logdson, and Sage through that first significant checkpoint at 4:37. Purring along at 70 seconds per 440, the tall red-clad Dobson continued to lead, meandering up and down the straightaways that make up the second mile. Dathan Ritzenhein, Matthew Tegenkamp, and Tim Keller of the Midwest crew moved up to join with Don Sage in the front group and give it a definite blue tint in the team scoring department. Dobson continued to do the work through the two mile at 9:22, with Sage, Ritzenhein, Rohatinsky, Keller, Webb, and now Danny Doval, Brian McGovern, Augie Escobar, and Stephen Padgett rounding out the top ten. This was screeching fast pace for a high school level 5000 meter event, with something sure to give. A report at 11:00 had Dobson leading over Ritzenhein, with the latter's gradual move up through the field probably quite significant, with Rohatinsky, Sage, Tegenkamp, and Keller rounding out the top half dozen, as Alan Webb surprisingly fell off the pace. The bridge at two and a half miles was significant in this race also, with Dathan Ritzenhein there mounting a charge that had him race past Dobson in a move akin to that of Guiliford, a statement, "I am going hard from here, come along if you can." The thin Ritzenhein (5-7 and 110) showed that wiry strength is what is needed after eleven quarter miles at 70 seconds per lap if we were on the track, rocketing the final quarter mile to win at 14:29, with Sage mounting a furious kick to edge Dobson 14:33-14:34. Josh Rohatinsky, the thirteenth male athlete ever to qualify for these championships three times, finished out his great career at this level with a fifth place run at 14:36. The Midwest was super, setting a Meet Record with their 23 point winning total, as team members Tegenkamp (5th 14:47), Tim Keller (6th 14:50), were followed by Northeast Champ Coval (7th 14:56), Southern winner Alan Webb (8th 15:05), before fifth Midwest scorer Stephen Padgett (9th 15:09) slammed the scoring door on the other areas.

Jorge Torres had won here last year at 15:16, with fifteen under that clocking this year. Torres was the first ever four- time male qualifier for these championships, with the course obviously quite a bit faster this year combined with what was probably a better overall field. Interestingly, Ritzenhein's teammate and fourth placer last year, Jason Hartmann, told this writer that he about collapsed at the finish due to the slight humidity, with the weather a factor in the athlete's favor this time round.

The 14:29 is a very sobering time, with Ritzenhein just an eleventh grader. Not many preps in history under any conditions have been able to run close to a 9:20 two mile, then slightly pick up the pace during the next nearly mile and a quarter to the event. Ritzenhein was overcome immediately, both physically and mentally, following the race, but was soon alert, responding to a lengthy questioning period by the press in attendance. Rockford, Michigan has quite a distance program, with an unprecedented double win (Boys/Girls) in the National Scholastic Outdoor in the Distance Medley events last June in super 11:57.22 (Girls) and 10:07.91 (Boys) clockings, with Ritzenhein joining current University of Oregon frosh star Jason Hartmann to lead the relay, then returning the next day to win the Two Mile in 9:01.79 in a spirited style that sparked real interest in the slight midwesterner. Dathan did come here to win, talking of a planned move over the final half mile with Coach Mark Nessner.

Immediate talk after the finish went to the length of the course. Meet Director Max Mayo came up yours truly right after the finish and stated that he knew there would be questions. There were changes made to some of the sharp turns that really slowed the momentum of athletes during the difficult third mile, with the course seeming to stay on even ground and where the grass was shortest on the different segments. The weather was definitely more hospitable for the Boys race, run at 10:40 and finishing at close to 11:00, this year. It was measured out twice at the 5000 meter distance.



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