- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2009

With just a few weeks to race day, the USA Cross Country Championships looked quite short on marquee names.

Only one headliner - six-time U.S. World Cross Country team member Katie McGregor - had committed to the Feb. 7 event at the Agriculture History Farm Park in the Derwood section of Montgomery County. Even Jim Estes, associate director of marketing and long distance running programs for USA Track & Field, got a little concerned.

But two-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein ended the worries, entering the meet Thursday and immediately becoming the man to beat over 12 kilometers after a solid runner-up finish to Meb Keflezighi at the USA Half Marathon Championships in Houston last weekend.

The Eugene, Ore., native won USA Cross last year in San Diego, just three months after securing a spot on the Olympic marathon team. He was the top U.S. finisher at last year’s World Cross Country Championships. He also won USA Cross in 2005.

Back from last year’s USA Cross are Beijing Olympian Jorge Torres of Boulder, Colo., (second in 2008), Ed Moran of Williamsburg (fourth), Max King of Eugene (seventh) and Jorge Torres’ brother Edwardo of Boulder. Olympic trials steeplechase titlist Anthony Famiglietti of Knoxville, Tenn., also could be in the mix.

Fans will find some local interest, too. Fernando Cabada (the U.S. 25K record holder), Richard Cochrane (Naval Academy graduate and winner of the 2000 Marine Corps Marathon), Andrew Dumm (2008 Marine Corps champion) and veteran elite athlete Rod Koborsi all have entered the open race.

Emily Brown, like McGregor, a member of Team USA Minnesota, also committed last week, putting the heat on McGregor who finished fourth to Brown by one second at last year’s USA Cross. Brown placed 18th at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, leading the U.S. women to a fourth-place team finish. Amy Yoder-Begley of Portland, Ore., a 2008 Olympian at 10,000 meters, also could figure at the front.

Olympic bronze medalist Shalane Flanagan won’t defend her title, opting instead to come down from the heights of Mexico to race her first indoor 5,000 meters at the Reebok Boston Indoor Games - which added the event - on the same day.

Locally, 2008 Olympic marathon trials qualifier Samia Akbar could be competitive.

The championships will consist of six cross country championship races for men’s and women’s categories, with national titles on the line for junior, masters and open divisions. More importantly, the meet is a qualifier for open and junior men and women to represent Team USA at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships March 28 in Amman, Jordan and the North America, Central American, & Caribbean (NACAC) Cross Country Championships on March 7 in Cocoa Beach, Fla.

Several former elite athletes, now newly minted masters runners (age 40-plus) will see how fast they can still run. Running for the Baltimore/Washington Athletic Club is Ray Pugsley, Steve Kartalia, Mark Gilmore, Doug Mock, Dave Berardi and Chris Chattin.

Pugsley said 1991 world championships marathon bronze medalist Steve Spence is also on the team. Two of Spence’s daughters, Neely and Reynah, are running in the junior race, as is Oklahoma State star German Fernandez.

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