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Joey Lamar | National Sports Journalism Center | November 21, 2013

DI Men's XC celebrates 75 years

Steve Prefontaine

Editor's Note: The NCAA is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Men's Division I Cross Country Championships this year in Terre Haute, Ind. To commemorate this milestone, presents a look back at the history of the championship.

Few teams have dominated a sport in a way that matches the University of Arkansas success in men’s cross country. Led by coach John McDonnell, during a 17-season stretch -- 1984 through 2000 – the Razorbacks captured 11 team national championships and never finished outside of the top 10.

The most impressive victory occurred in 1993, when the Razorbacks scored 31 points, the fifth lowest championship total in NCAA history. Their margin of victory, 122 points, was the largest of the McDonnell era. Three times during those 17 seasons, Arkansas finished second, including a 56-point total in 1997 that was three points behind Stanford.

Arkansas XC celebration 2000
At times, the titles came in bunches. From 1990 to '93, they won four consecutive championships followed by three in a row from 1998 to 2000. The Razorbacks also won national titles in 1984, '86, '87 and '95.

Arkansas is hardly the only team to experience success in men's cross country. Michigan State hosted the first 26 championships. The Spartans won the second national championship, edging Wisconsin by three points in 1939. That championship was the first of eight they won at home. After head coach Lauren Brown’s only championship, new head coach Karl Schlademan won the next five -- 1948, 1949, 1952, 1955 and 1956. Francis Dittrich led the two most recent Spartan championship teams in 1958 and '59. The Spartans rank second with eight titles.

The 1981 University of Texas-El Paso team owns the lowest score of 17, two points off a perfect score of 15. Coach Ted Banks had one more reason to celebrate that year. He coached Mathews Motshwarateu to an individual title. The ‘81 title was the fourth in a row and sixth in seven seasons. Banks’ teams also earned the top spot in 1975 and '76. Wayne Vandenburg won the school’s first championship in 1969. UTEP ranks third all-time.

During the glory days for UTEP, its biggest national rivals was Oregon. From 1973 through '79, the two schools finished one-two in the team competition five times. Oregon, under head coach Bill Dellinger, won three titles -- 1973, '74 and '77 -- during the stretch, including two against the Miners in ‘73 and ‘79. Overall, the Ducks are fourth all time with six titles. Their first championship came in 1971 against Washington State. Vin Lananna coached the last two in '07 and '08.

The only co-championship occurred in 1942, when Indiana and Penn State tied for the lowest score at 57 points. The Nittany Lions were runners-up the previous year. For the Hoosiers, it was their third title in three years, including the inaugural championship in 1938.

Oklahoma State has reeled off three of the last four national titles. The Dave Smith-led Cowboys won back-to-back titles in 2009 and '10. In 2011, they finished second to Wisconsin. They responded in 2012 by defeating the Badgers to win the national championship. The Badgers still lead the Cowboys in the all-time team championship category, five to four. Those totals rank fifth and sixth, respectively.

Individual achievements

On the individual side, Washington State’s Gerry Lindgren, Oregon’s Steve Prefontaine and Washington State’s Henry Rono share the record for career individual titles with three.

After Lindgren’s three -- in 1966, '67 and '69 -- two others accomplished the same feat. Prefontaine’s trifecta in 1970, '71 and '73 propelled Oregon to its first two national championships. Prefontaine also set the six-mile course record in ‘70, finishing in 28:00.2.

4 miles19:12.3Max TruexUSC1957
6 miles28:00.2Steve PrefontaineOregon1970
10,000 m28:06.6Henry RonoWash. St.1976

Washington’s State’s Henry Rono is the last individual to win three titles in four years. Rono’s titles came in 1976, 1977 and 1979. During his first championship, he set the 10,000-meter course record in 28:06.6, the first year for that distance.

The first 25 years of the race were run on a four-mile course. Max Truex finished the course in 19:12.3, the fastest time for the course. In 1965, the championship changed from a four-mile course to a six-mile course. This course lasted until 1976 when the championships implemented a 10,000-meter course, which is the current distance.

Lindgren and Rono combined to win six individual national championships for Washington State. The Cougars hold the all-time record with seven individual champions. Josephat Kapkory was the last Cougar to claim the individual crown in 1993.

Prefontaine’s three victories lifted Oregon into a tie with Kansas for second with five individual championships. Alberto Salazar won in 1978 and Galen Rupp, most recently, in 2008. Prefontaine won gold at the 1971 Pan American Games in Cali, Columbia.

Individually, Kansas dominated the first half of the 1950s. Herb Semper won consecutive titles in 1950 and 1951, followed two years later by consecutive titles in 1953 and 1954 by Wes Santee and Allen Frame. John Lawson won the last individual title in 1965, the first year of the six-mile race.

Galen Rupp, Oregon’s 2008 individual champion, is just one of many athletes to experience success at the collegiate and Olympic level. On London’s big stage at the 2012 Olympic Games, Rupp won the silver medal in the 10,000-meter run, the first podium finish for the U.S. in the event in 48 years.

Mebrahtom Keflezighi, UCLA’s only individual champion in 1997, finished second at the 2004 Athens Olympic games in the Marathon. Keflezighi’s silver marked the first time since Frank Shorter won gold in 1972 that U.S. finished in the top three.

Craig Virgin, individual champion in 1975, was a repeat champion at the 1980 and '81 IAAF World Cross-Country Championships in Paris and Madrid, the only American man to win a cross country world championship. In 1981, he placed second in the Boston Marathon. After his career ended, the National USA Track & Field Hall of Fame inducted him in 2010.