Nov. 25, 2008

By Brett Hess
Special to

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - Who says it’s harder to win when you’re supposed to? Monday at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, the favorites swept to team and individual victories.

Behind Galen Rupp’s dramatic sprint to victory, the No. 1 ranked Oregon men won their second straight championship, 93-147 over runner-up Iona.

In the women’s race, Sally Kipyego of Texas Tech won her third straight title to finish an undefeated collegiate career and the top-ranked Washington women, as expected, stormed to victory. The Huskies finished with 79 points to runner-up and No. 2 ranked Oregon’s 131 points.

“Yes, I would say that Oregon distance is back,” Oregon coach Vin Lananna said in response to the obvious question. “But maybe the guys should answer that question.”

To which the Oregon men answered in unison, “Oregon distance is back!”

Rupp finished second last year, getting out-kicked in the final meters by Liberty’s Josh McDougal. It looked like déjà vu as Rupp found himself locked in a duel with another Liberty runner, Samuel Chelanga. The two were nearly side-by-side the last six kilometers of the 10-kilometer race before Rupp pulled away the final 200 meters for a five second victory. Rupp finished in 29 minutes, 4 seconds.

“I wasn’t really thinking about last year; I’ve moved on,” said Rupp, a 2008 U.S. Olympian. “But with about 800 meters I heard someone yell ‘Don’t forget last year.’”

It may have been the reminder Rupp needed.

“Last year I started kicking too early,” Rupp said. “So I kept thinking relax, relax, relax.”

While Rupp stayed patient, his teammates did not. They started strong and led the meet comfortably at the 3-kilometer mark. No. 2-ranked Oklahoma State’s chances went down with German Fernandez when the freshman fell at the seven kilometer mark and dropped out. He apparently suffered an ankle injury. At that point, the Cowboys were moving up through the field, a close finish for second with Iona would have likely been their best bet. Fernandez, the nation's top freshman, was surging to the front of a large pack of runners for third place.

“Whether I get first or fifth, it really doesn’t make much difference,” Rupp said of the team score. “It’s the guys behind me…in the trenches… around 30th place, that’s why we won. That’s why I came back (to Oregon), to win again with these guys.”

Behind Rupp were true freshman Luke Puskedra (fifth overall), Shadrack Kiptoo-Biwott (ninth), Matt Centrowitz (45th) and Diego Mercado (54th).

In the women’s race, Washington was even more dominating, placing its five scorers in the top 34 overall. As expected, the Huskies were led by their talented freshmen: Christine Babcock (seventh) and Kendra Schaaf (12th).

“Kendra didn’t have her best day and I think Christine had a rough start but they really stuck it out,” Washington coach Greg Metcalf said.

 Metcalf said he was a little concerned early on.

“For about five minutes, I wasn’t sure,” Metcalf said. “At 1200 meters (of the 6,000-meter race) we were not where we were supposed to be. I bet we halved our score from the 3K mark to the finish. But in the end, it was a near perfect day. We had five all-Americans (top 40 overall) and our sixth runner was 41st.”

Kipyego, on the other hand, didn’t need to improve her position as she raced to the lead immediately. But unlike her first two championship runs, Kipyego had company this time.

Florida State’s Susan Kuijken stayed within 10 meters of Kipyego until the final 400 meters. The result was the closest race of Kipyego’s undefeated cross country career: six seconds.
“I was glad she was there,” Kipyego said of Kuijken. “It helped me run faster and stay (alert).”

Kipyego finished in 19:28; Kuijken in 19:34.