Wednesday, October 26, 2016

So, what does Nature Boy Ric Flair have to do with the Pac-12 cross country championships?

During my younger days, I occasionally indulged in watching professional wrestling on TV, as guys like Hulk Hogan, the Iron Sheik, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Jimmy “Super Fly” Snuka, and many others, beat the living crap out of each other, with the usual high drama, illegal moves, and questionable ethics built in so that you’d get roped into watching what happens next week. 

As they got older, viewers were introduced to a new generation of wrestlers that included The Rock (who flipped his wrestling stint into becoming one of the highest paid actors today), Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, et al.

One of those wrestlers that made watching it on TV entertaining was a guy by the name of Nature Boy Ric Flair (left/photo courtesy World Wrestling Entertainment).

The Nature Boy’s schtick on World Championship Wrestling on Superstation WTBS (before they were bought out by the WWE) included prancing around in a big robe and bragging about his private jet, his gold-plated Rolex watch, and the number of women waiting for him in every city.


Once you got past the braggadocio, the one part of his schtick that holds a lot of truth is the line that “if you want to be the man, you have to beat the man”

So what does Ric Flair have to do with Friday’s Pac-12 Cross Country Championships at Randolph North Golf Course in Tucson, hosted by the University of Arizona?

Simple.

To paraphrase his line, if you want to be the champion, you have to beat the champion.

In NCAA cross country circles,
Oregon's Edward Cheserek is the man
(Paul Merca photo)

The University of Washington women’s cross country team, ranked #2 in the latest USTFCCCA Division I coaches’ poll, is on a collision course with Colorado, the nation’s #1 team. The Buffaloes, led by Eugene native Erin Clark, won the ISU Pre-Nationals meet in Terre Haute, Indiana, the site of this year’s NCAA championships, while the Huskies won the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, dispatching previous #1 Providence.

Do not overlook Oregon, who lost to the Huskies at the UW Invitational, and to Colorado at the Pre-Nationals, as they are ranked #5 in the country.  For that matter, don’t overlook #11 Stanford, who should have a healthy Elise Cranny back.  

Number 17 Utah, #23 UCLA, and #25 Cal is also in the mix, but have to run perfect races to have a shot at Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Stanford.  The Buffaloes are attempting to win their second straight team title, with the Huskies the last team to turn the trick in 2008-09.

The women’s individual race is wide open, but it comes down to the UW duo of Amy-Eloise Neale and Charlotte Prouse; Colorado’s Clark & Kaitlyn Benner; Cal’s Bethan Knights; and Stanford’s Elise Cranny and Vanessa Fraser.

While #7 Colorado is still the team to beat on the men’s side, #2 ranked Stanford, #3 Oregon, and #10 UCLA have something to say about that, while #15 Washington State, and #25 Washington needs help from their #3, 4, & 5 runners to have a shot at the top four teams.

One of the most intriguing stories of the Pac-12 cross country championship race is the attempt by Oregon’s Edward Cheserek to win his fourth straight individual title, a feat that even the great Steve Prefontaine of Oregon and Henry Rono of Washington State never accomplished. 

The runners with the most realistic shot of dethroning the King include Sean McGorty of Stanford, and the Huskies’ Colby Gilbert.  Besides McGorty and Gilbert, Colorado’s Ben Saarel and Spokane native John Dressel, along with Stanford’s Sam Wharton and Grant Fisher are the former NCAA All-Americans entered in the field.  If the Washington State duo of John Whelan and Michael Williams run over expectations, they too could find themselves in the mix.

The X factors in this race are a pair of freshmen from Stanford in Alex Ostberg and Thomas Ratcliffe. While they realistically will be hard pressed to challenge King Cheserek, their presence could be the key for the Cardinal to dethrone Colorado, who have won the men’s title every year since entering the conference in 2011.

But no matter how you slice it, this is Cheserek’s race to lose..

The weather, which has approached the low 90s over the last few days, could be a factor, though the projected forecast for Friday morning’s races are for temperatures in the high 70s for the women’s 6k race at 9:30, and low 80s an hour later when the men start their 8k race.

When you look at this meet from a national perspective, it’s pretty apparent that the Pac-12 championship meet is clearly the best conference meet in the country this weekend.

If you want to be the champ, you have to beat the champ. And that’s what the athletes and teams converging upon Tucson for Friday’s Pac-12 cross country championships want to do.

As the Nature Boy would say, “WOOO!”

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