Originally posted January of 2010 in the Daily Camera
New Year’s Day was an auspicious one, with a blue moon heralding the start of a new decade.
With that new beginning in mind, I want to take a look back at highlights of the past decade. Several involve University of Colorado runners winning NCAA cross country championships, showing the kind of determination — coupled with years of Mark Wetmore’s training — that has propelled them to successful professional post-collegiate careers.
CU Buffs Highlights
Cross Country Nationals
The 2000 NCAA cross country meet was in Ames, Iowa, in a bitter, Midwestern cold, the kind that chills you to the bones no matter how many layers you have on. I arrived late the night before, on the bus from Omaha.
Race morning dawned so cold that ink in pens froze. Nearly all the journalists and officials stayed in the press trailer; fortunately, I had a pencil, remembering Chicago winters that also froze ink, and ran along the course to get splits.
There remains an image of CU’s Kara Goucher doing strides, the team getting last-minute instructions from Wetmore, while behind the start line some of the foreign runners huddled around heaters beneath a tent, too cold to even warm up. When the race started, there came the Buffs, rolling through the cold, breath coming out like their namesakes on the high plains, in big clouds of steam; Goucher won the individual race, leading the CU women to their first team title ever.
The next year, the NCAA championships moved to Greenville, S.C., and Jorge Torres and Dathan Ritzenhein led the CU men to an unexpected team title. What sticks in my mind are the Colorado runners, fans and family waiting for the team scores; at first, favored Stanford was thought to be the winner. And then, no, here comes the announcement — it was CU winning with 90 points, to the Cardinals’ 91.
Torres won the individual title in 2002 in what Wetmore called a “titantic” race against several past collegiate champions, with Ritzenhein taking it in 2003. In that race, Ritzenhein showed that same ineffable will to win that only the champions have when he dueled with Ryan Hall. “Ritz” had been injured and was not at full strength. Hall was the California golden boy — fit, fast and confident.
The NCAA course in Waterloo, Iowa, finished down a long straightway, with a slight uphill and thick grass. I was up high in the finishing chute and could see the leaders as they turned the corner, first Hall, and then Ritz a step behind. Ritzenhein caught and then passed Hall before collapsing at the finish. Both, of course, have gone on to the Olympics and top professional careers.
I did not cover the 2004 meet, where CU took both the men’s and women’s team titles. To cap off that meet, legendary New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard — the key influence on CU head coach Wetmore — was there cheering on the Buffs, along with Wetmore’s great friend and mentor Larry Sullivan.
CU Buffs on the Track
Turning to the track, fans were thrilled when, on a perfect Colorado evening, CU swept the Big 12 10,000 meters in front of packed stands, helping the Colorado men take the 2008 conference outdoor track title, surely a once-in-a blue-moon occurrence.
Of course, there was Jenny Barringer‘s amazing streak of NCAA wins, records and titles, capped by making the 2008 Olympic team, as did fellow CU steeplechaser Billy Nelson. For Wetmore, Barringer’s epic 1,500 meter race at the 2009 Prefontaine Classic was special; there Barringer beat a world-class field with a great kick, and was just nipped at the tape by the Olympic champion. She broke 4 minutes, becoming the third-fastest U.S. 1,500 meter runner ever.
Barringer’s collegiate career ended when she collapsed while leading the NCAA cross country meet in November. I was watching it live on TV, and it was a highlight. How so? Because of the way she handled the outcome. Barringer accepted it graciously, as runners must do when the inevitable setbacks come. Two weeks later, Barringer was at the Boulder Road Runners monthly social with her fiancé, smiling, chatting and talking with various Road Runners about their training. A real champion.
Said Wetmore, “I was proud of Jenny that she got up and kept going (in the NCAA meet), still trying to help the team.”
Bolder Boulder Highlights
On the roads, another image springs to mind; that of Sara Slattery, sporting a Buff temporary tattoo on her cheek, winning the 2006 Bolder Boulder with a Folsom Field sprint that thrilled the crowd of thousands. That remains a highlight for race director Cliff Bosley, as does Bolder favorite Deena Kastor winning the 2001 and 2002 races, leading Team USA to the women’s title in 2002.
Then came the 2004 International Team Challenge, and the all-star U.S. squad of Meb Keflezighi, Alan Culpepper and Abdi Abdirahman edging Team Kenya to take the men’s crown. In 2008, an all-Boulder County team comprising Olympic marathoners Constantina Dita, Lida Simon and Luminita Talpos won the team title for Romania.
Other Bolder Boulder highlights of the past decade?
The 30th running in 2008, with a record 54,040 entrants, and then a record 48,757 finishers last year, and the one millionth entrant. Those are some of the reasons Bolder Boulder was earlier this year named the all-time Best 10K by Runner’s World.
Looking back, how about two women’s Olympic gold medalists, Naoko Takahashi (2000) and Dita, in 2008, living and training in Boulder before their Olympic wins? Dita still lives in Erie. In addition, Simon took the silver behind Takahashi in 2000. They were helped by Boulder Wave, which also brought Japanese World Championship marathon medalists Reiko Tosa (2001), Masako Chiba (2003), and Yoshimi Ozaki (2009) to Boulder to train.
Local Running Shoe Companies
On the business side, we had Newton Running Co. starting in Boulder and opening up the Newton Running Laboratory on 14th Street, while Pearl Izumi, now based in Louisville, added running shoes to its product mix. Both firms are making their mark against the giants of the running shoe industry.
Trail Running Highlights
On the trails, Rickey Gates became one of the top mountain runners in the world, leading the United States to the bronze medal at the 2008 world race. Finally, Phil Mislinski, Buzz Burrell and Peter Bakwin founded Boulder Trail Runners in 2001, a group that has grown to more than 1,000 members, joining the Road Runners as a local clearinghouse.
Bakwin, who has run trails all over the world, sent a nice New Year’s message to all of us when he wrote: “I still find every day running on the terrific trails around Boulder is a highlight. We are so lucky to live here and be healthy and be able to enjoy the outdoors.”
Apt words to remember as we run into the new decade.