This is Oliver Hinson’s feature on the USA XC Open titles, held in Mechanicsville, VA on January 20, 2024. Oliver Hinson’s last feature was for the NCAA Cross Country Men’s and Women’s Division I Champs. Oliver Hinson covered the USA Cross Country this weekend event live.
Cooper Teare and Weini Kelati win USA XC titles in dominant fashion
Teare ran 29:06 for 10K, while Kelati ran 32:58.
By: Oliver Hinson
MECHANICSVILLE, VA – The last time Cooper Teare ran a cross-country race, he could barely walk across the finish line. Plagued by anaerobic debt, he crawled to a 247th-place finish at the 2021 NCAA Cross Country Championships. He described the race as “one of the worst days” in his running career – and it was certainly in his mind leading up to Saturday. A few days prior, he posted a short training reel on Instagram with a caption that read simply, “redemption.”
Let’s just say, mission accomplished.
In the first few kilometers, Teare settled into a lead pack of about 13 men, coming through the 3k split just outside the six-spot qualifying window. He said his goal at this point in the race was to do “as little as possible.” As the race went on, though, he gained confidence – and ground with it – moving into the top five by the 7k mark and moving into second place at 8k. Morgan Pearson, better known as a triathlete than a runner, made a strong move to take the lead with one 2k loop left to run, and in the waning minutes, it became clear that the race was between him and Teare.
With a kilometer left, Teare blasted ahead, drawing some visceral reactions from the crowd at Pole Green Park. His conservative strategy paid off, as he never relinquished his lead, winning his second national championship in 29:06.
“I think this is the best way this could have gone,” Teare said. “It’s amazing to come away with the title, and it’s great to be back on the [cross country] course feeling strong. I felt like I was always in a good place.”
Behind Teare, Anthony Rotich and Ahmed Muhumed secured silver and bronze, respectively, while Pearson faded all the way to fourth place. Defending champion Emmanuel Bor finished fifth, Christian Allen took sixth, and the remaining spots in the top ten went to Reid Buchanan, Anthony Camerieri, Drew Hunter, and Ryan Ford. The other Bor twin, Hillary, finished just outside the top ten.
Under normal circumstances, the top six would represent the US at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships this March in Belgrade, Serbia, but it remains to be seen whether the qualifiers will accept their spots. Teare said he was “on the fence” about it, as he is heavily focusing on the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Glasgow, which are four weeks before the XC Championships.
Bor’s presence could also be in question; in 2022, he did not compete at World Indoors in Serbia because of the US Department of State’s Level 4 Travel Advisory (Do Not Travel) for the country. The current advisory for Serbia sits at Level 2 (Exercise Increased Caution), but the decision lies at the hands of Bor and the US Army. We will likely get a more complete picture of America’s roster in the coming days.
From the women’s race, one takeaway was clear: no earthly form of fatigue can stop Weini Kelati. Just six days after breaking Keira D’amato’s American record in the half marathon with a 66:52 mark in Houston, Kelati was back in action despite falling ill and taking two days completely off between the races.
“Back in action,” mind you, means exercising complete domination.
Early on, it seemed as if no one was interested in taking the lead, and the relatively comfortable pace allowed Kelati to get comfortable. After four kilometers, she must have been disinterested in such comfort, and she used her legs to send that message, laying down a blistering 3:05 fifth kilometer. From that point on, her lead only grew, ballooning to nearly 40 seconds by the time she crossed the finish line in 32:58.
“I was making sure that I had a lot left until the end,” Kelati said after the race. “Every lap, I had to keep pushing myself, which helped.”
Emma Hurley and Katie Camarena held second and third for most of the race and finished that way.
Behind them, the race for the remaining qualifying spots was much more interesting. At the halfway point, a pack of six runners led by Abby Nichols and Callie Logue occupied the fifth through 10th spots, all separated by less than two seconds. Katie Izzo, a qualifier for last year’s World Championships and one of the pre-race favorites, held fourth at this point, but she faded over the last few loops, eventually finishing in eighth place.
The story of the day perhaps belonged to Allie Ostrander, who brought up the rear of the lead pack for most of the beginning of the race. A few times, it looked as if she might drop off, but she held on and eventually started moving up, gradually picking off her competitors until it came down to a sprint versus Logue for fourth place. Several gasps emerged as she dove, or maybe fell, across the finish line, but it was worth it – she beat Logue by two tenths of a second. Nichols came in sixth, followed by Spratford-Sterling in seventh.
Ostrander has overcome tremendous struggle over the past few years, and this was her first significant race since last March. She has heavily documented her journey on her Youtube channel, and her performance today means more because of her outreach.
“A lot of the time, people don’t see all of the struggle that comes before success,” Ostrander said. “There’s so much behind the scenes, and for everyone that follows my YouTube, that follows my Instagram, they know what’s behind the scenes, they know the struggle, they know how difficult this buildup was… that just makes this moment all the more special.”
As with the men’s race, we don’t yet have a clear picture of what Team USA will look like in Serbia. Last year, Emily Durgin finished third at this meet but suffered an injury that forced her to forfeit her spot.
Regardless of any particulars, though, the stars and stripes should be represented well. This was one of the deepest fields in recent memory for this event, and today’s conditions served as quality preparation for gritty, European cross country. The high in Mechanicsville was 31 degrees F with 17 mph winds, and for the first time, the course at Pole Green Park featured logs and hay bales as obstacles, giving it a similar look to the World Championships course last February in Bathurst.
“[The obstacles weren’t] necessarily too hard of barriers,” Ryan Cash, an event manager for USATF, said about the course. “[That being said], we’re looking to have more of what they’re going to see when we send a team over to the World Championships.”
Last year, the women’s senior team finished fifth at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships, while the men’s team finished sixth. This year’s meet will take place in Belgrade, Serbia on March 30.