Thursday, December 30, 2010

And now...the 2010 Mercanator Awards!

2010 was yet another banner year for paulmerca.blogspot.com, as the readership continues to expand, thanks to all of you loyal readers who have passed along the word about the blog.

As publisher, editor, and designated gofer for the blog, I must also give thanks to social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter for helping expand the readership. Those of you who are friends/followers on those two outlets are receiving notices every time a new post comes up.

I must also give a special tip of the hat to Martin Rudow, the publisher of Northwest Runner magazine, as he has done a lot through the magazine and nwrunner.com to help expand our readership.

Track & Field News, and various blogs too numerous to name (but you know who you are) also get thanks for linking stories we posted this year.

Once again, I must give my heartfelt thanks to the Track & Field Writers of America for awarding this site its 2010 Adam Jacobs Memorial Award for blogging.  With the number of outstanding blogs about the sport in this country written by people who are just as, or even more passionate about the sport as I am, I am humbled to have received this award for the site.

I also want to give a special shout out to the readers and contributors to the blog who gave us news tips and produced photos during the year.  Your contributions are very valuable to this site, and I thank you.

In 2010, paulmerca.blogspot.com ventured to several places around the country and around the world to give you what I feel is the best coverage of Washingtonians competing at the highest levels of the sport.

The major events covered this year included the USA cross country championships outside of Spokane; the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland; the Nike Prefontaine Classic and the NCAA Track & Field Championships in Eugene; the Harry Jerome Track Classic in Burnaby, British Columbia; the Pacific 10 Conference cross country meet in Seattle; the Nike Spring 2011 running summit and the Bank of America Chicago Marathon; the NCAA West Regional Cross Country Championships from Eugene; and, the NCAA Cross Country Championships from Terre Haute, Indiana.

As we did to end 2009, we'll end 2010 with the presentation of the "Mercanator" awards in recognition of some of the performances and performers that we covered this year.

To some of the athletes receiving this award, winning a “Mercanator” award may not necessarily get you an extra bonus from your shoe company contract, but you will get the recognition from the readers of the mighty blogspot for a job well done this season, and a “BOOM! SHAKA-LAKA!” from yours truly.

For those of you who don’t get an award or feel you’ve been jobbed out of a “Mercanator”—there’s 2011!

Enjoy, and thank you to all the readers for your support of this site!

Here are the disclaimers: Mercanator awards are generally limited to athletes who have affiliations with the state of Washington—either they were born in this state, currently reside in the state, or attend(ed) school in the state. Also, not all categories from previous editions were awarded this year…publisher's decision.

The "Thanks for the Memories" award--This award goes all the way to Bern, Switzerland to former Husky Christian Belz, who announced his retirement from elite running earlier this month.  After a two-and-a-half year period of struggling with injuries that took him out of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, he just made the qualifying standard to run in last summer's European Championships in Barcelona as one of the lowest seeds, but managed to squeak out a sixth place finish.

Media relations award--
Mike Bruscas (University of Washington), Linda Chalich (Washington State University), Megan Saalfeld (Nike), Jesse Williams (Brooks) and Greg Walker (University of Oregon), with Paul Madison (Western Washington) receiving an honorable mention. Many of the stories that were posted this year couldn't happen without the help of these folks.

TOP PERFORMER--Men's Distances:  Washington State alum Bernard Lagat. I almost should retire this award and/or call this the Bernard Lagat award.  What more can you say about a guy who wins the world championship indoors at 3000, and wins a 1500/5000 double at the IAAF Continental Cup, not to mention a national record outdoors in the 3000! Look for him to be a factor again in 2011.

TOP PERFORMER--Men's Throws:  Jarred Rome.  While not having a year that was up to his standards, the Marysville-Pilchuck HS grad finished third in the USA Championships in the discus and was the eleventh best performer world wide at 219-0 (66.75m) on April 29th in Chula Vista.

An honorable mention goes to Washington's Kyle Nielsen in the javelin.

TOP PERFORMER--Men's Vertical Jumps:  Scott Roth (left/photo courtesy University of Washington), pole vault.  You knew the current Husky was going to have a great year when he jumped 18-0.5 (5.50m) in the 2009 Purple/Gold Intrasquad meet! 

Roth won the NCAA indoor title in 2010, jumping 18-8.25 (5.70m), then finished third in the NCAA outdoor meet in a wacky competition filled with a weather delay and a large field of 24 jumpers in Eugene.

TOP PERFORMER--Men's sprints/hurdles:
  Jeshua Anderson, 400 hurdles.  The Washington State senior may have been denied a third straight NCAA title outdoors by Johnny Dutch of South Carolina, but Anderson was solid overall this season, winning the Pac-10s in a season best 48.63 and the NACAC Under-23 meet this year.

TOP PERFORMER--Women's sprints/hurdles:
  Ginnie Powell-Crawford.  The Rainier Beach HS grad was a model of consistency, receiving a #8 world ranking by Track & Field News this season.  She was fifth at the world indoors, and ran a season best of 12.63 in New York at the adidas Grand Prix,  her best time since 2007.

TOP PERFORMER--Women's distances:
  Ingvill Måkestad, 1500 meters.  The former Husky threatened the long standing Norwegian national record of 4:00.55 by Grete Waitz, running 4:02.20 in Rieti on August 29th, after a disappointing run in the European Championships in Barcelona, where she didn't make the finals.  For good measure, she broke the Norwegian national record in the 800 on September 1st in Zagreb, running 1:59.82, after taking it down to 2:00.82 in Goteborg on August 10th.

Honorable mentions go to Katie Follett (UW), Jessica Pixler (Seattle Pacific), and Sarah Porter (Western Washington).

Follett and Pixler get the nod for Race of the Year involving Washington athletes for their battle at the Mt. SAC Relays in April.

TOP PERFORMER--Women's vertical jumps
Carly Dockendorf, pole vault.  The former Husky and current Seattle Pacific assistant coach finished second at the Canadian national championships, tied her personal best of 14-7.25 (4.45m) in winning the Alki Swashbuckler Beach Vault on July 10th, and tied for third at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in October.

TOP PERFORMER--Women's multi-events:
  Diana Pickler.  The Washington State alum only competed once outdoors in a heptathlon, but it was good enough to score 6000 points and win the Drake Relays heptathlon with a final score of 6040.  Pickler also won the USA indoor pentathlon title in March, with a score of 4544 points.

Skyview of Vancouver grad Kara Patterson is the blog's 2010 Washington state track & field athlete of the year (Mike Scott photo)
TOP PERFORMER--Women's throwsKara Patterson.  The Skyview/Vancouver alum broke the American record in the javelin at the USA Championships in Des Moines with a throw of 218-9 (66.67m), and took down world record holder and 2008 Olympic champion Barbora Spotakova of the Czech Republic a week later at the Nike Prefontaine Classic.

Patterson was in contention for most of the season for the Samsung Diamond Race trophy in the javelin against Spotokova, before finishing a disappointing ninth in Zurich. 

Patterson finished the season ranked #6 in the world, according to Track & Field News.

Kara also gets the nod as my Washington state track & field athlete of the year. 

Who will get the "Mercanator" awards for 2011? You'll have to follow the blog for a full year to find out!

PS--Just over two weeks until the start of the 2011 indoor season at the University of Washington!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Quick note on Jessica Pixler...

Thought I'd post this quick note on an article by Seattle Times columnist Jerry Brewer on former Seattle Pacific standout Jessica Pixler (left/photo by Randy Miyazaki, trackandfieldphoto.com) that will publish in Sunday's edition of the paper.

Pixler, who is now in graduate school at the University of Colorado, was one of the many names who made headlines in Seattle sports this past year, as she finished her career at Seattle Pacific with twelve NCAA Division II titles.

But now, she'll find out in her one remaining season of NCAA eligibility whether or not she can mix it up with the big girls.

"I don't think I'd call it a chip on my shoulder," said Pixler, whose parents, Jeff and Nancy, met while running track at Colorado. "I think I'm discounted at times because my success was on the Division II level. There are some valid arguments because the times are slower than Division I times. But I think it's a good opportunity to give some validity to my 12 titles. I just want to show I'm a runner who can compete at any level and have success."

To read the full article, please click here.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Brooks Sports announces Brooks PR Invitational at the Dempsey, plus more on USATF vs Doug Logan...

BROOKS FORMALLY ANNOUNCES THE BROOKS PR INVITATIONAL HIGH SCHOOL MEET AT THE DEMPSEY

Bothell's Brooks Sports, Inc. (www.brooksrunning.com) announced the upcoming Brooks PR Invitational, a unique, indoor track meet for the fastest high school runners in the U.S.

Taking place on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011, at the Dempsey Indoor track on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle, the Brooks PR Invitational will give qualifying high school athletes the chance to run fast, break their own PRs, and compete against the best of the best.

Qualified athletes will test their speeds on one of the fastest indoor tracks in the country in one of the chosen Brooks PR Invitational events: 60m, 60m Hurdles, 400m, 800m, 1600m, and the 2 mile. Each event will feature eight to 12 of the best high school runners nationwide.

The Brooks PR Invitational will occur just weeks after the launch of Brooks' new PR spike collection and a "Name This Spike" promotion anchored on these new competition styles. Throughout 2011, the fastest male and female high school time run in each of three spikes in Brooks' PR collection--the PR LD (pictured above/photo courtesy Brooks), PR MD, and PR Sprint--will become the new name of that respective spike in 2012. For instance, if the fastest time in the mile by a male high school athlete wearing the PR LD is 4:08, the new name in 2012 for the men's PR LD will be the PR 4:08.

"In high school, it's all about running a personal record or a 'PR'. The Brooks PR Invitational is the perfect venue for PRs to be run, and for the PR spike collection's 'Name This Spike' contest to be brought to life," said Jesse Williams, sports marketing manager at Brooks. "We want to give these promising athletes the opportunity to compete against their peers in a one-of-a-kind event at one of the best track facilities in the country."

To give all high school runners and fans the opportunity to experience the Brooks PR Invitational, Brooks will partner with Flotrack to stream the meet live on meet day. From 1 to 4 p.m. PST on Sunday, Feb. 27, viewers can catch all the action at www.flotrack.org.

THE PLOT THICKENS IN THE DOUG LOGAN VS. USA TRACK & FIELD CASE...

Just when you thought things are getting ugly, now comes this revelation, courtesy of our friends at letsrun.com

USA Track & Field late last week filed a counterclaim for declaratory judgment and damages against former CEO Doug Logan, whom the federation fired late this past summer.

To summarize the response, USATF claims that a) it fired Logan with cause, as he's supposed to serve at the direction of their Board of Directors, and he wasn't doing so, and b) after termination, they found some improprieties that would have resulted in his firing with cause, including tax evasion allegations, expense report abuse, and reports of Logan providing improper gifts to a female athlete.

You can read the letsrun.com story here.

Now, I'm not a lawyer, nor did I play one on television, but I once stayed at a Holiday Inn Express!

Having said that, this sounds like some posturing on the federation's side to get out of paying whatever Logan is owed.

If there are any lawyers out there who wish to chime in on this (the letsrun.com article has links to the legal documents filed by both parties in this case), please do so in the comments section.

HOUSEKEEPING NOTE

With the Christmas and New Year's holiday converging upon us, posts between now and the end of 2010 will be sporadic; however, the annual Mercanator awards list will be posted on December 31st!

On that note, I would like to wish each and every one of you a joyous holiday!

NOTE: The media relations department at Brooks Sports, along with letsrun.com contributed material for this piece.

Monday, December 20, 2010

It's Kip vs Mekkonen at the Garden to highlight 2011 Millrose Games...

NEW YORK - Returning for its 104th edition, the 2011 Millrose Games will give one of its greatest stars his biggest challenge, as Washington State University hall of famer Bernard "Kip" Lagat (left/photo by Paul Merca) opens his 2011 campaign in the "Big Apple".

The 104th Millrose Games will be contested Friday, January 28, 2011 at Madison Square Garden. The first event of USA Track & Field's Visa Championship Series, the Millrose Games will be televised live from 8-10 p.m. Eastern Time on ESPN2.

In 2010, American middle-distance ace Bernard Lagat had to beat Asbel Kiprop, the Olympic gold medalist in order to win his record eighth Wanamaker Mile, surpassing Eamonn Coghlan as the "Chairman of the Boards" at Millrose.

Here is video of last year's race, courtesy of letsrun.com.



If he wants to win his ninth title in 2011, Lagat will need to turn back perhaps the world's best indoor miler, Deresse Mekonnen of Ethiopia. At age 36, Lagat owns six American records, two indoor and two outdoor world championship titles and two Olympic medals. A star of the future, Mekonnen is just 23 years old but already has a pair of World Indoor gold medals on his resume from 2008 and 2010, and he won the 2009 World Outdoor silver medal to Lagat's bronze.

NOTE:  USA Track & Field contributed to this report.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

News and notes, December 18th edition...

BROOKS PR INVITATIONAL

In a post on media partner Flotrack, Bothell's Brooks Sports announced plans for the first annual Brooks PR Invitational high school indoor track meet on Sunday February 27th between 1-4 pm at the Dempsey Indoor on the campus of the University of Washington.

This event, which will be webcast live on Flotrack, is designed to bring in many of the country's top high school track and field athletes in what appears to be a fast, fan-friendly format.

Athletes who meet the following standards are urged to contact Brooks at prinvite@brooksrunning.com.

EVENT (boys/girls)

2 mile:  9:10/10:30
1600m: 4:12/4:50
800m: 1:52/2:10
400m: 48.00/54.00
200m: 21.30/24.00
110h/100h: 13.90/13.95
100m: 10.50/11.70
60H: 8.00/8.60
60m: 7.00/7.55

Curiously enough, there are no field events listed…stay tuned.


NCAA CROSS COUNTRY BACK TO THE 'HAUTE IN 2011

In a post we missed, the NCAA announced that the 2011 NCAA cross country championships will be back in Terre Haute.

It originally was scheduled to be held at Portland Meadows, but apparently the NCAA felt uncomfortable with the meet being hosted in a facility that has gambling and off-track betting (really? I didn't know that!).

According to Track Focus, Oregon coach Vin Lananna is reported to have envisioned 10,000 people at Portland Meadows watching the entire race unfold from the grandstand.


JORDAN BOASE RETURNS TO NORTHWEST TRAINING BASE

Finally, our friends at Track Focus reports that former Husky sprinter Jordan Boase will spend the 2011 season training in Beaverton under Ryan Bailey's coach John Parks.

Boase, who made it to the semifinals of the 2008 Olympic Trials 400 meters as a UW junior, spent the past year training in Tallahassee, Florida.

Boase considered a move to Los Angeles, but it proved too expensive. In fact, Boase's former coach and current UCLA sprint coach LaMonte Vaughn hinted to paulmerca.blogspot.com earlier this fall that he was willing to work with Boase again if the situation presented itself.

In Beaverton, Bailey and Boase have access to Nike training facilities, especially crucial during the rainy winter.

You can read the full story here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A conversation with Christian Belz--"I'd rather retire from track than have track retire me."

Former University of Washington runner Christian Belz (left/photo courtesy www.silvesterlauf.ch) posted that quote on his Twitter page a few days after he announced his retirement from the sport after a seventh place finish in the elite men's race of the Silvesterlauf Zürich on Sunday.

To mark his final race, Belz wore a retro ST Bern (his track club in Bern) jersey, commemorating the fact that he began his running career with that club.

The 36-year old Belz, who graduated from the UW in 1998, was a part of the international running scene for more than a decade, having competed in four IAAF world track & field championships, two Olympic Games, and two IAAF world cross country championships, not to mention four appearances representing Switzerland at the European Athletics Championships.

To give folks here in the United States some perspective of how big a story Christian's decision to retire from international competition is in Switzerland, it's almost similar to say, Nate McMillan's retirement from the Seattle Sonics, or Edgar Martinez from the Seattle Mariners.

Here is some video of Belz (it's in Swiss German) on his decision to retire:



Here's a link to a rough translation of this video:

Belz, who retires as the Swiss national record holder in the steeplechase (8:22.24 in 2001 in Hengelo), and the 10000 (27:53.16 in 2005 at the IAAF World Championships in Helsinki), talked to me Tuesday through the magic of Skype, near midnight, local time at his home in Bern.

When asked about his decision to retire from international competition, he said, "It basically came down to three factors: I wanted to spend more time with my family; I wanted put more time into my work as a sport economist at the Federal Institute of Sport here in Switzerland; and, being realistic about my chances for a high placing and/or a medal at the 2012 Olympics, where I would be 38 years old."

"I'm not afraid of the work necessary to compete at that level; it's that I would need to be away from my family for an extended period of time (he has two girls, age 4 and 2, and is married to Anita Braegger, a 1:59.66 800 meter runner who ran in the 2004 Athens Olympics) to continue training."

"As there is no true training group here in Bern, I pretty much have to train by myself, and go overseas to get the work done. It's pretty hard on the kids, not being able to see daddy."

"When you're 36-year old, the probability of staying healthy for another two years goes down the older you get. The body just doesn't respond as quickly to the stress as it would when I was younger."

In terms of his professional career at the Federal Institute of Sport, he's worked there on a part-time basis for almost 2 1/2 years, while trying to compete at the world-class level. Belz, who earned his master's degree (MBA) in Financial Management & Marketing from the University of Bern, expressed some concerns that continuing to compete might hinder any possible professional opportunities, noting that "I have very high expectations from myself".

After the 2006 season, where he finished a disappointing fourth in the European Championships in the 10000, Belz took the next logical progression, and moved up to the marathon.

In his debut at the marathon, Belz ran 2:15:08 on October 7, 2007, in Cologne, Germany. Unfortunately, he missed the Olympic standard and was not selected by the Swiss federation to go to Beijing.

From 2007 to 2009, he suffered a variety of injury problems, and underwent knee surgery.

He had considered retiring after 2008 before the series of injuries, but he felt like he wanted to be the one calling the shots, thus inspiring the tweet he posted a few days ago of "I'd rather retire from track than have track retire me."

After some thought, he decided to compete this past season, with the goal of running the 10000 in the European Championships in Barcelona.

The 2010 season did not start off well for Belz, who traveled to Kenya in January for a training camp. Shortly after arriving in Kenya, he was injured in what can be best described as a freak accident, and couldn't run for almost two months.

"I was injured by a physio while getting a massage. All I wanted was a simple massage, and instead, I got injured."

Belz went back home to Bern from Kenya to contemplate his next move. His next move took him first to Portland, where he stayed and tried to train for about 10 days with several members of the Nike Oregon Project, before heading out to Boulder, Colorado, where he trained with former University of Oregon standout Jason Hartmann, and 2008 US Olympian Jorge Torres.

Belz ducked under the 29:00 time barrier required by the Swiss federation to go to Barcelona in the B section of the 10000 at the Payton Jordan Invitational in Palo Alto on May 1st, running 28:56.05 to finish eleventh.

Before heading to Barcelona, Belz won the Swiss national title over 5000 meters on July 17th, running a modest 14:01.85.

The former Husky went into Barcelona as one of the lowest seeded runners in the field, but took advantage of the moderate pace, closing the gaps on the field and picking off runners to earn a sixth place finish in 28:54.01.

Though he was behind in his training this season, Belz felt that he was close to the level that he was at before the nearly three years of fighting injuries, and that it was time to bow out of competitive racing, after achieving a personal goal of not letting injuries dictate the end of his international career.

As he reinforced to me, he is leaving the sport in good health, and most importantly, he's leaving on his own terms.

In our one-hour conversation, we talked about his three years at the University of Washington between 1996 and 1998, where he earned his undergraduate degree in business, and ran three seasons of cross country, along with two seasons of track.

Not knowing much about the American collegiate system, Belz wrote to about 20 schools in the US. Only five answered seriously, with the UW, under coach Mike Johnson, convincing Christian to travel across the Atlantic Ocean to study and run in Seattle.

Johnson, who only coached Belz for one season, before taking the coaching position at Boise State, said, "Christian was always so much a part of the sport and the sport a part of him. Elite Europeans have such an appreciation for  the greatness of human potential and a commitment to extract the best from themselves. Christian gave no indication that anything other than his best was acceptable.  He was focused on great mechanics, a good diet, and running fast. From the moment he arrived I knew he wanted to run very well."

Johnson, who is now the head track and cross country coach at Western Oregon University, fondly recalled a visit by Belz' family to Seattle.

He said, "They came with a graciousness and intelligence that was a pleasure to be around. And despite the fact that they were visitors, it was they who came bearing gifts. Christian reflects those values, and I believe it was that well grounded rearing, and a very good Swiss education, that gave him the confidence to become the truly great athlete he has been over the last several years."

In his three years as a Husky, he competed in the Pac 10 against the likes of Olympic medalists Meb Keflezighi and Bernard Lagat on a regular basis while they were at UCLA and Washington State, respectively. Belz finished second in the Pac-10 in the steeplechase twice at the UW.

In his final season as a Husky, Belz earned an All-American certificate, as he finished 17th in the 1998 NCAA Championships in Lawrence, Kansas, running 30:49.

Looking back at that race, he recalled that second-year UW cross country coach Greg Metcalf "must have run nearly the whole last lap of that course alongside me--that's how excited he was that I was up there!"

While Belz may be stepping away from the international running scene, he will continue to remain active in the sport.

Along with current national marathon record holder Viktor Röthlin, and 1984 Olympic 5000m silver medalist Markus Ryffel, the trio have started an interactive running web site, www.runningcoach.ch.

Runners of all abilities will be able to get individualized training programs from the trio, and will have access to videos on core work, strength training, nutrition, stretching, along with analysis of their workouts.

I've been privileged to have followed Christian's running feats from his days at the University of Washington, and honored to witness in person his four world championships appearances, including his Swiss national record in the 10000 in the rain at Olympic Stadium in Helsinki in 2005, and his 18th place finish in the 4k race at the 2003 world cross country championships in his home country.

I echo his sentiments, and applaud the fact that he gets to leave the sport on his terms, a reality that  few elite athletes in any sport get to decide, as more often than not, the decision is made for them.

Chrigu, I'm glad that you're at peace with your decision. Danke!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ashton Eaton and Queen Harrison named 2010 Bowerman Award winners...

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – In a night full of pomp and circumstance, elegance and entertainment, Virginia Tech’s Queen Harrison and Oregon’s Ashton Eaton (left/photo by Paul Merca) were crowned as the 2010 recipients of The Bowerman.

Awarded by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA), The Bowerman is awarded to the year’s best collegiate track & field athletes.

In 2010, Eaton, a native of Bend, Ore., netted a second-straight NCAA heptathlon title during the indoor season and a third-consecutive NCAA decathlon crown outdoors. Scoring 6,499 points at the NCAA Indoor Championships, Eaton topped the 17-year-old world record held by Dan O’Brien. Twice during the indoor season, Eaton bettered the heptathlon collegiate record.

Outdoors, Eaton scored over 8150 points in each of his three decathlons, and beat the NCAA Championships meet record in the event. Eaton was the USTFCCCA National Field Athlete of the Year during the indoor season and shared the award with Ryan Whiting outdoors.

“I was getting kind of nervous until they announced my name, and then I just started thinking about 2010 and all the people who helped me get here,” said Eaton. “I think this year really embodied my entire career."

“When I’m 60 years old and they are still giving out Bowerman Awards, and my name will be there with all the future greats of track and field - just to be a part of that is really big,” said Eaton.

Courtesy of media partner Flotrack, here is video of Eaton after winning the Bowerman.



Harrision, a native of Richmond, Va., became the first female in NCAA history to win both 100- and 400-meter hurdle national titles. In addition, Harrison won the NCAA indoor crown in the 60-meter hurdles. Harrison recorded the 2010 collegiate-best times in all three hurdle events spanning the indoor and outdoor seasons and went undefeated in every final of those events.

Harrison notched the fourth-best, all-time collegiate best 100-meter hurdle time in winning the Penn Relays title (12.61). Harrison was named the USTFCCCA Southeast Region Track Athlete of the Year for both the indoor and outdoor campaigns.

NOTE: The USTFCCCA contributed to this report.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How I voted for The Bowerman, and why...

As some of you who read the blog regularly know, I was selected by the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association as a voting member of The Bowerman, the award that will be presented Wednesday in San Antonio, Texas to the outstanding collegiate male & female track & field athlete of 2010.

As a media member who covers the sport at the regional, national, and international levels for among others, this blog, Northwest Runner magazine, and the various television outlets I freelance for (this year, I worked meets for NBC Sports, CBS Sports, and Fox Sports Net), I do take these opportunities to help select the winners of awards such as the Bowerman and the Jesse Owens (the USA Track & Field athlete of the year) seriously, and try not to have fan popularity sway my decision making.

I can say that I saw all six finalists—Ashton Eaton (left/photo by Paul Merca) and Andrew Wheating of Oregon, Ryan Whiting of Arizona State, Queen Harrison of Virginia Tech, Lisa Koll of Iowa State, and Blessing Okagbare of UTEP compete in person this season, with obviously seeing all three male finalists numerous times, primarily during the indoor season in my role as an announcer at University of Washington home track meets.

MEN

This was actually pretty easy, as I gave Ashton Eaton of Oregon my first place vote. Setting the world record in the heptathlon at the NCAA championships on the same weekend as the IAAF world indoors in Doha in my mind pretty much sealed the deal.

Eaton scored 6499 points in Fayetteville, Arkansas on March 12-13 to eclipse Dan O’Brien’s 1993 world record set at the world indoor championships.

Eaton’s decathlon score of 8457 points at the NCAA outdoor championships shattered the old NCAA championship meet mark of 8276 set by Tennessee’s Brian Brophy from 1992, and is the second best mark in the world this season, behind Bryan Clay’s 8483 in Gotzis.

I struggled between Whiting and Wheating over who should be ranked 2 and 3 on my ballot (voters had to rank them 1-2-3). I gave it to Whiting based on his dominance over the field all season long in the shot put, as he went undefeated against collegians, winning both the indoor and outdoor NCAA titles, the latter in a mark of 72-1 (21.97m), the #2 performance in collegiate history, and the fifth best performer in the world this season.

I did not take Whiting’s NCAA championship in the discus into consideration, quite honestly when making the choice for 2-3.

Wheating’s loss to Robby Andrews in the NCAA 800 indoors was the only major blemish on Wheating’s resume. Having said that, if marks made after the NCAA championships could be considered, then I would most likely flip Wheating to #2 based on his 3:30.90 in Monaco…but remember, we are talking about who the best collegiate track and field athlete of 2010 is.

WOMEN

While the women’s voting was a bit tougher, I went ahead and voted for Queen Harrison of Virginia Tech as my Bowerman Award winner.

I thought that she was the most dominant athlete in her events—the 60m hurdles indoors, and the 100 and 400 hurdles outdoors, going undefeated in all finals this season.

Her 7.94 at the ACC Championships indoors was the #8 performance in collegiate history and made her the #5 collegiate performer all time.

Harrison became the first woman to win both hurdle races at the NCAA outdoors, winning the 100 hurdles in 12.67, and the 400 hurdles in 54.55, making her the #9 collegiate performer all-time.

Additionally, her 12.61 at the Penn Relays tied her for third best performer on the all-time collegiate list, and was the sixth best performer in the world this season.

Once again I struggled between Okagbare and Koll for positions 2-3. Like the Whiting/Wheating vote, it came down to what happened in the NCAA indoor meet, when Koll was beaten in the 3000 by Illinois’ Angela Bizzarri.

Though the argument can be made that she was beaten at a shorter distance, my counterpoint is that you need to be dominant over all collegiate competitors, particularly in the finals.

Okagbare in the 60 indoors, the 100 outdoors, and the long jump both indoors and outdoors was just that in finals--dominant. You can say Koll was dominant at the 5000 and 10000 outdoors, and has better marks on the collegiate, and world lists (particularly in the 10000, where she is #5 worldwide this year at 31:18.07, a collegiate record, which she set at Stanford), and I’ll give folks that.

I go with what many of the long-time folks who cover this sport say: if there’s any doubts, go with head to head competitive records.

In voting on thebowerman.org, the fans disagreed with me. Over 27,000 votes were cast this year and Lisa Koll (53 percent) was the women’s top vote getter while Queen Harrison (43 percent) and Blessing Okagbare (4 percent) followed. The men’s voting was incredibly tight as Ryan Whiting (39 percent) earned the fan vote nod, followed by Ashton Eaton (35 percent) and Andrew Wheating (26 percent).

America will find out Wednesday who gets The Bowerman Award.

Media partner flotrack.org will stream video coverage of The Bowerman Award beginning at 7pm central time (5 pm pacific).  The awards show, emceed by ESPN’s John Anderson, will feature each of the six finalists and include one-on-one interviews with each of the athletes.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Washington alum & Swiss national record holder Christian Belz announces retirement...

ZURICH, Switzerland--Two time Swiss Olympian Christian Belz (#865/photo by Paul Merca) announced his retirement from competitive running Sunday in Zurich after a seventh place finish in the Zurich New Year's Run, the final race of the Post Cup road running series in Switzerland.

After graduating from the University of Washington in 1998, Belz competed in two Olympics--Sydney in 2000, where he finished eighth in his heat in the 3000 meter steeplechase in 8:29.19, and in Athens four years later, where he was 12th in his heat of the 5000 meters in 13:29.59.

He also participated in four IAAF World Track & Field Championships during his career, finishing eighth in his heat in the 1999 championships in Seville in the steeple (8:29.19); 13th in the finals two years later in Edmonton (8:31.43); 13th in the finals of the 5000 in Paris/St. Denis in 2003 (13:26.02); and 14th in the 10000 in Helsinki in 2005, where he set a Swiss national record of 27:53.16 in the rain at Olympic Stadium.

Belz also appeared twice for his native country at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, finishing 18th in the short race in 2003 in Lausanne as the Swiss hosted the meet; and 28th in the short race in St. Etienne, France.

Belz (photo courtesy www.silvesterlauf.ch) is the Swiss national record holder in both the steeple (8:22.24 in 2001 in Hengelo), and the 10000. However, he recently stated that he is most proud of his 5000m PR of 13:12.16, set in 2003 in Heusden, nearly five seconds off the national record set in 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympics by silver medalist Markus Ryffel.

This past summer, Belz finished sixth in the 10000 at the European Championships in Barcelona

In the press release from the Swiss Athletics Federation, Belz said, "I will devote myself more to my family and my job as a sports economist...I am leaving in good health. My decision to retire was not forced upon me."  He expressed concerns that to continue competing at the international level, Belz, who has two children, would have to train away from home for an extended period of time, a sacrifice that was not an option.

In a post Sunday on his Twitter account, he wrote, "Felt good to lead the pack one more time. I'll sure miss it. Thanks for all the support."

At the University of Washington, he was a two-year letter winner in track, competed in three Pac-10 cross country championship meets for the Huskies, and made two appearances for the Dawgs at the NCAA cross country championships, earning All-America honors in 1998 with a 17th place finish in Lawrence, Kansas.

Belz is 10th on the all-time UW list in the 3000 steeplechase, with a 8:48.34h mark set in 1997.

On Saturday, Club Northwest's women's team finished sixth in the 6k race at the USATF National Club Cross Country Championships Saturday at McAlpine Greenway Park, scoring 159 points, as McMillan Elite out of Flagstaff, Arizona swept both team titles with a low score of 69 points.

Sarah Porter, who recently finished second at last week's NCAA Division II championships for Western Washington, finished seventh in a time of 20:17.

Former Georgetown runner Rose Wetzel was 27th in 20:46, followed by Claudia Copeland in 20:56.

Rounding out the scoring for Club Northwest were former Stanford runner Sarna Becker in 48th place in 21:13, and Lois Ricardi Keller in 75th at 21:34.

Renee Metivier Baillie of Boulder, who was a member of the bronze medal winning USA squad at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland this spring, won the individual title in 19:51.

Club Northwest's open men's team finished twelfth in a field of 45 teams with 351 points.

The team was led by former Washington Husky and current Northwest University coach Mark Mandi, who finished 59th over the 10k course in 31:07.

Also scoring for the Seattle based club were former Eastern Washington runner Paul Limpf, who was 69th in 31:21, followed by Kevin Murphy in 96th in 31:43.

Former Gonzaga runner Brett Winegar was 101st in 31:48, and former Husky Mike Sayenko was one place behind Winegar in the same time.

Aaron Braun of McMillan Elite won the race in 29:36, leading his club to the team title with 29 points.

Former Washington State runner Drew Polley, now running for the Hansons/Brooks Distance Project, finished 47th in 30:52.

The 2011 edition of the USATF National Club Cross Country Championships will be held at Seattle's Jefferson Park Golf Course.

Complete results from the USATF National Club Cross Country Championships can be accessed here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Taiwo, Covington, Roth & Babcock highlight Purple/Gold intrasquad meet...

SEATTLE--Just when you thought you'd seen everything at a track meet, you quickly find out that you haven't.

To conclude the fall training session, the University of Washington held its second annual Purple/Gold intrasquad meet Thursday night at the Dempsey Indoor facility.

The scaled-down track meet was an opportunity for members of the team to gauge their fitness after going through an entire fall of training.

Jeremy Taiwo had solid performances, winning the 60 hurdles in 8.03, finishing second in the long jump at 20-11.5 (6.38m) and second in the high jump at 6-8 (2.03m), as well as anchoring the winning Gold team in the All x 307m relay.

In his debut performance as a Husky, freshman Kasen Covington, the Track & Field News All-American from Boise took home two victories for the Purple squad, winning the long jump on his final attempt from a five-step approach at 21-10 (6.65m), and winning the triple jump at 48-4 1/2 (14.74m).

Scott Roth, the 2010 NCAA indoor pole vault champ won an exciting pole competition over Ryan Vu, the reigning Pac-10 pole vault champ, clearing 17-4 1/2 (5.30m) to Vu's 16-10 3/4 (5.15m).

NCAA All-American and reigning Canadian national champ Kyle Nielsen won the turbo javelin competition over World Junior championships competitor Joe Zimmerman 178-2 (54.30m) to 171-7 (52.30m).

Colton Dunn (above/photo by Paul Merca) won the 300 meter dash over NCAA competitor James Alaka, 34.84 to 34.93. Alaka won the rarely contested 88.11m dash (the length of the Dempsey Indoor straightaway), running 9.55 to beat Dunn, who ran 9.72.

On the women's side, high jumper Kelly McNamee appears to be on the rebound, winning her event at 5-5 3/4 (1.67m). Other noteworthy performances included a victory by Eastern Washington University transfer Amanda Peterson in the turbo javelin for the Purple team in 121-6 (37.04m), Logan Miller in the pole vault for the Gold team (12-0.5/3.67m), freshman Michelle Fero in the 300 (40.69) for the Purple; Elisa Bryant in the women's weight throw (58-10.75/17.95m), and Laura Schmitt in the 600m run (1:35.93).

One of the most entertaining events of the intrasquad meet was the first "Distance Runners Grudge Match" between All-American middle distance runners Christine Babcock of the Gold team and Kailey Campbell of the Purple team.

Babcock won the match 3-2 for the Gold squad (yes, this was a scoring event!) as the two donned sumo wrestling suits and dueled it out on the Dempsey FieldTurf surface with athletes from both teams rooting lustily for their wrestler.

Here are video highlights of the meet, including the All x 307m relay, won by the Gold in 19:18 to 19:34, and the Distance Runners Grudge Match.



The Huskies prepare for fall quarter finals, then go home for the holidays. Washington opens up its indoor season on January 15th with the Husky Preview meet.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Brie Felnagle on cover of January 2011 Runner's World, more on UW intrasquad meet, and other notes...

Former Bellarmine Prep and University of North Carolina All-American Brie Felnagle (left/cover courtesy Runner's World), who returned to the area to train under old high school coach Matt Ellis, is on the cover of the January 2011 issue of Runner's World magazine.

In this issue, which was available on the newsstands Monday, it talks about the 10 best marathons for first-timers (and a new take on 26.2 training; and, tips for running in the dark.

It also discusses how to break bad nutrition habits and what to wear when it’s cold—no matter where you live, along with a feature with "The View" co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck, who is the sister-in-law of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, and is married to ESPN analyst Tim Hasselbeck...

Courtesy of UW media relations, here is their release on Thursday night's UW Purple/Gold intrasquad meet:

Track and field action returns to the Dempsey Indoor on Thursday evening with one of the most fun and unique events on the calendar, the Purple and Gold Intrasquad meet. Action begins at 5:30 p.m. with events including the sprints, jumps, vault, throws, and some interesting twists to the javelin throw and relay races.

With approximately 35 athletes on each team, bragging rights will be on the line, as returning All-Americans will mix with freshmen looking to impress early in their Husky careers.

The pole vault and long jump kick things off at 5:30, and the first running event will be the 60-meter hurdles at 6 p.m. Additional field events will include the weight throw, high jump, triple jump, shot put, and the "turbo jav", using a javelin training implement that rewards excellent throwing form but punishes those that are a bit off.

Running events will be highlighted by the second-ever World Championship at 88.11-meters, or the exact distance of the Dempsey straightaway which reaches back past the usual starting line for 60-meter sprints. Well-rounded distances (300-meters and 600-meters) will also be contested.

The night will conclude with the Allx307-relay, where every member from each team will line up to go once around the Dempsey oval on a marathon relay. Last year the Gold team got the relay win to secure its overall victory, edging Purple in the final relay in a time of 22:25.60 to 22:46.30, an impressively close race for the number of laps. Large leads can come and go quickly if, for example, a fleet-footed sprinter gets a burly thrower in their sights.

Returning Husky All-Americans expected to compete in some form include Jeremy Taiwo, Elisa Bryant, Scott Roth, Kyle Nielsen, and Joe Zimmerman.

MEET SCHEDULE

Running Events
6:00 60m Hurdles Men followed by Women
6:20 300m Dash Men followed by Women
6:45 Distance Event Grudge Match
7:30 600m Run Men followed by Women
7:45 88.11m Dash Men followed by Women
8:15 All x 307 Relay Men and Women Together

Field Events
5:30 Pole Vault Women followed by Men
5:30 Long Jump (4 jumps) Men and Women Together
6:00 Weight Throw (4 throws) Men and Women Together
6:15 High Jump Men followed by Women
6:45 Shot Put (4 throws) Men and Women Together
7:00 Triple Jump (4 jumps) Men and Women Together
7:15 Turbo Jav (4 throws) Men and Women Together

paulmerca.blogspot.com will cover the opening meet of the 2011 indoor season.

Club Northwest will send several teams to the USA National Club Cross Country Championships Saturday in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Among those competing for Club Northwest include former Eastern Washington standout Paul Limpf, and former Husky Mike Sayenko on the men's side, and recent NCAA D2 runner-up Sarah Porter of Western Washington.


The USATF release can be read here.

Finally, friend of the blog and former Husky hammer thrower Martin Bingisser reviewed Dr. Ken Foreman's book, "A Coach's Journey".

Bingisser writes, "Foreman’s stories tell of success in many forms. If there is one underlying theme, it is that coaching is a tool to unlock an athlete’s potential in both sport and life. As with life, there are few absolutes in coaching. No one secret unlocks the success of all athletes. Each athlete is different and it is the coach’s first task to learn about the athlete. Foreman has seen too many blue chip recruits fail and too many walk ons succeed to say that success is mainly a matter of genetics. But while the athlete’s background does not predetermine their success or failure, Foreman finds that it does lay a blueprint for how to approach training and how coaches should assist. Athletes vary in their physiology, psychology, motivations, and baggage. What may help or encourage one athlete could hurt another. That is the challenge of coaching."


To read his review, please click here.

In the "oops, I completely blew this one!" category,  the Eastern Washington University indoor track and field teams beat the Grizzlies of Montana at the Third Annual Candy Cane Invitational, hosted by Eastern last Friday and Saturday (3-4).

The Eagle men defeated Montana 52-38 and the women won 50-41.

The complete recap, and results from the meet can be accessed here.

NOTE:  USA Track & Field, the University of Washington, and Runner's World all contributed to this report.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It's been quiet on the front, but we've got some news...

It's been a rather quiet last few days in the world of track & field involving athletes with ties to the state of Washington, but several news items have crossed the desk over the last few days, so we will consolidate what we have!

To end the fall training block for its track and field team that wasn't involved in cross country, the University of Washington will hold its second annual Purple/Gold intrasquad meet Thursday night at the Dempsey Indoor facility, starting at 6 pm.

The meet features the full Husky squad split into Purple and Gold teams, with a limited number of running and field events, ending with a X x 307m relay (X is the number of members of each squad), which means that throwers and jumpers who wouldn't run that far are forced to run one lap of the Dempsey oval.

Here are highlights from last year's fun and festivities, including the relay:



Track & Field News named the incoming University of Washington men's track & field recruiting class, led by Idaho's Kasen Covington, a 24-5 1/4 long jumper and 52-4w triple jumper, and California state 800m champ Sean Krinik, a 1:48.20 performer as the eighth best class in the nation.

The University of Oregon took top honors from the magazine for both its mens' and womens' recruiting classes.

You can read about it here, or in its January 2011 issue, which was just released.

Also in the magazine's centerfold is a poster of Vancouver's Kara Patterson, and a Nike sponsored inside front cover two-page poster of WSU grad Bernard Lagat, along with hurdler David Oliver, distance runner Chris Solinsky, and high jumper Chaunte Howard.

Former Husky Ingvill Måkestad was named Norway's female track & field athlete of 2010 by the Norwegian federation last week.

She improved the national 800m race twice during the summer and became the first Norwegian to run under two minutes when she clocked 1:59.82 at the Zagreb IAAF World Challenge meeting on September 1.

She also set Norwegian records indoors at 1500m and the mile as well as improving to 4:02.20 over 1500m outdoors.

You can read about it here.

Both Katie Follett of the University of Washington and Jessica Pixler from Seattle Pacific (left/photo by Randy Miyazaki, trackandfieldphoto.com) were nominated as finalists for the 2010 Seattle Sports Commission's Female Sports Star of the Year, which will be awarded on January 26th at Seattle's Benaroya Hall.

You can see the list of nominees here.

Finally, one of my favorite guys on Twitter, Seattle Times sports columnist Jerry Brewer's latest podcast with Times NFL writer Danny O'Neil opens with guest and former Husky track & field standout Norris Frederick, who apparently embarrassed Brewer in a pick-up basketball game about a week ago at Ravenna Community Center.

Brewer also interviews Frederick on the podcast as he gives an update on what he's been up to.


You can listen to it here.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sarah Porter gets second again at NCAA D2 cross country championships...

LOUISVILLE, KY--Western Washington University senior Sarah Porter (left/file photo by Randy Miyazaki, trackandfieldphoto.com) completed a magnificent cross country career as she was runner-up for the second straight year at the 2010 NCAA Division II National Championships held Saturday on a snow covered course at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park.

Both Viking teams placed among the top 10 for the third straight year, the men finishing ninth and the women 10th. Leading the Western men were seniors Jordan Welling and Bennett Grimes, who were eighth and 13th, respectively.

Grimes, Porter and Welling all earned All-America honors for the third time by placing among the top 40 runners.

"We beat our rankings, which was our goal," said Western coach Pee Wee Halsell, whose squads entered the meet with the men ranked 10th and the women 12th in their respective United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Top 25s. "I'm very pleased with our showing."

Porter completed the 6-kilometer women's course in 20:57. That was 15 seconds behind Shippensburg junior Neely Spence, who placed second at nationals in 2008, also in the snow.

"She ran well," Halsell said of Porter. "I'm very happy for her. They (Porter and Spence) ran together the entire race with Spence making a move while running through a gulley with 1,400 meters to go that surprised Sarah. At that point, it's hard to make that up."

Welling toured the 10-kilometer men's course in 31:07 and Grimes was timed in 31:12.

Adams State CO took the men's team title with 57 points, 45 ahead of second-place Western State CO (102) in the 24-team field. Western was ninth with 269 points. Two other West Region schools in the top 10 were Chico State fifth (181) and Alaska Anchorage eighth (262).

Western State (95) also was second in the women's standings, finishing 29 points behind champion Grand Valley State MI (66). The Vikings were 10th with 300 points. Chico State was fifth (164) and Alaska Anchorage sixth (185).

Western senior Blake Medhaug placed 66th (32:06) in the men's run, followed by Eric Brill, 80th in 32:24; Nick Abraham, 131st in 33:45; Chip Jackson, 138th in 34:01; and Kyle Johnson, 173rd in 35:34.

St. Martin's Spencer Hunt (left/photo courtesy St. Martin's Sports Information), a junior from Onalaska HS, who was the last individual qualifier not on a team out of the West Region, finished 85th in 32:30.

In the women's division, the Vikings' Lauren Breihof was 49th in 22:33. Western's Rachael Johnson was 89th in 23:18, Jessica Boyer 108th in 23:39, Phoebe Hartnett 111th in 23:43, Lacey Nation 146th in 24:22 and Sierra Brisky 146th in 24:22.

"They've anchored our program and hopefully their legacy will be passed down to our younger runners," said Halsell.

Courtesy of media partner Flotrack, here's a post-race interview with Porter.





Welling finished 13th at nationals in 2009 as the Vikings placed fourth, and he was 29th in 2008 when Western finished 10th.

The men's results can be accesssed here, while the women's results are available here.

NOTE: The sports information office of Western Washington University, Saint Martin's University, and the NCAA contributed to this report.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Katie Flood named Pac 10 women's cross country newcomer of the year...

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. - University of Washington freshman Katie Flood (left/photo by Paul Merca) was named the Pac-10 Women's Cross Country Newcomer of the Year, it was announced Wednesday by conference commissioner Larry Scott.

Flood also earned All-Pac-10 First Team honors with her top-seven finish at the Pac-10 Championships.

A native of Des Moines, Iowa, Flood was one of the nation's top recruits after winning the 2009 Nike Team Nationals individual cross country title. But after an illustrious senior track season, Flood developed a stress fracture over the summer. Heading into the fall, she was initially expected to redshirt, but her recovery went faster than expected, and Flood made her UW debut at the Pre-National Meet on October 16, a month into Washington's season. She placed 23rd in that first race, second on the team.

Two weeks later, Flood stepped up huge with a sixth-place finish at the Pac-10 Championships that the Huskies hosted at Jefferson Park Golf Course. She was the top finishing freshman, leading UW to a tie for third. At the NCAA West Regionals, Flood duplicated her sixth-place finish, again as the top freshman in the West, to lead the Huskies to the Regional victory and a spot at Nationals.

In her first NCAA Championships, Flood led the Huskies once again, placing 78th overall and was again the sixth-highest finisher out of the Pac-10.

Flood is the third Husky to earn the Newcomer of the Year honors, which were first awarded in 1999. Tori Tyler first earned the honor in 2005, and current UW junior Christine Babcock was named the conference's top newcomer in 2008.

In other news, former University of Washington head women's track & field coach Clyde Duncan was named to the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) hall of fame.

A 1969 grad of Texas Southern University in Houston, he was a national champion in the 60 meters, an All-America sprinter all four years at TSU, and at one time a member of three world record holding relay teams. It's difficult to decide whether Duncan’s Hall of Fame resume is more impressive as an athlete or as a coach.

After several coaching stops, including recruiting Carl Lewis to the University of Houston, the Des Moines, Iowa native returned to his alma mater in 1995 and has been at TSU ever since. An instructor in the Department of Health and Kinesiology as well as track and field coach, Duncan has mentored numerous All-America student-athletes.

At the UW, he coached the school-record setting 4 x 100 meter relay squad of Dennis Brown, Sterling Hinds, Byron Howell, and LaNoris Marshall to a second place finish at the NCAA championships in 1983. That group, nicknamed the "Atomic Dawgs", ran 39.24 that season, and Hinds competed the following year in the Olympics in Los Angeles on Canada's 4 x 100 relay squad that earned a bronze medal.

On the women's side, the Huskies had perhaps its strongest sprint/hurdles/horizontal jumps squad under Duncan, as the 1985 4 x 100 relay squad of Meledy Smith, Shirley Walker, Zelda Johnson, and Donna Dennis set a school record of 44.74h. All four women are still in the UW top-10 lists in various sprint events.

Duncan was the sprint coach for the Huskies beginning in 1983, after coming to the UW from the University of Houston, where he worked with Lewis. He was the head coach of the women's squad in 1985 and left the UW after that season.

NOTE:  The University of Washington, the Southwest Athletic Conference, the Pacific 10 Conference, and Texas Southern University contributed to this report.

Western's Sarah Porter targets national D2 harrier title Saturday in Louisville...

Western Washington University senior Sarah Porter (left/photo courtesy Western Washington University) seeks to become the school's first cross country national champion and both the Viking men's and women's teams are looking for their third straight top 10 finishes Saturday at the 2010 NCAA Division II National Championships at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Kentucky.

"Our goal is for both squads to finish in the top 10, and the men would like to get back on the podium (place among top four)," said Western coach Pee Wee Halsell, whose men are currently 10th and women 12th in their respective United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association national rankings.

"But you're only as good as your fifth runner (top five are counters), so our 4-5-6-7 runners have to move up for the men and our 3-4-5-6-7 runners for the women."

Porter, who was named the West Region women's cross country athlete of the year last week by the USTFCCCA, placed second at nationals in 2009, crossing the finish line less than seven seconds behind Seattle Pacific's Jessica Pixler, who is now a grad student at Colorado.

Porter's toughest competition this year is Shippensburg junior Neely Spence, who was the national runner-up in 2008. She placed 43rd at nationals in 2009 while battling an intestinal virus. Spence recently won the Atlantic Region title for the third consecutive year.

Porter and Spence faced each other earlier this season at the Greater Louisville Classic, a preview for the national meet. Porter placed third among the 302 runners, running the 5-kilometer course in 16:58. Spence won in a course record time of 16:33. However, the national distance will be 6-kilometers, which should help Porter.

"Sarah has her work cut out for her, but if she goes into it with the same mindset she did at regionals, a national title is within her grasp," Halsell said. "If it comes down to a sprint at the end, it's going to be one heckuva race to watch."

Another All-American back for the Vikings is junior Lauren Breihof, who placed seventh at the GNAC championships and sixth at regionals. She finished 31st at nationals last year.

The Western men are led by three senior All-Americans, Jordan Welling, Bennett Grimes and Blake Medhaug. All three are four-time GNAC all-stars and Grimes is a four-time region all-star. Welling and Grimes, both two-time All-Americans, placed 2-3 at regionals two weeks ago.

Welling finished 13th at nationals in 2009 as the Vikings placed fourth, and he was 29th in 2008 when Western finished 10th. Grimes was 41st in 2008 and 43rd in 2007 when the Vikings were 11th. Medhaug placed 36th in 2008.

Completing the men's squad for Western are Nick Abraham, Eric Brill, Chip Jackson and Kyle Johnson.

"Brill is the real deal, and we need one or more of the other three to step up," Halsell said. "It's just a matter of believing in themselves because they all have the ability. They're all capable of running better than they have, and they're going to have to."

Making up the balance of the Viking women's team are Sierra Brisky, Jessica Boyer, Lacey Nation, Phoebe Hartnett, and Rachael Johnson.

Western placed third in both the men's and women's divisions at the West Regionals, which was run in three inches of snow, and each Viking squad was second at the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships.

St. Martin's Spencer Hunt will also compete in the men's 10k championship race, as he was the second runner across the line whose team didn't qualify, finishing ninth in the West Regionals.

Action gets underway Saturday at 8 am pacific with the men's 10k, and the women's 6k starting at 9 am pacific.

NOTE: The NCAA, the USTFCCCA, and Western Washington University contributed to this report.

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