At the USATF Cross-Country Championships on January 8 in Mission Bay Park in San Diego, Alicia Monson won the women’s race in dominant fashion, while Shadrack Kipchirchir needed a sprint to the finish to win the men’s crown.
Monson, 23, broke the tape in 34:01, finishing 17 seconds ahead of runner-up Weini Kelati in the 10K race. It was Monson’s first national title. Kipchirchir added a second cross-country crown to his collection, winning in 30:32 for 10K.
In the women’s race, a group of five—which included Monson, Kelati, Natosha Rogers, Emily Infeld, and Emily Durgin—established themselves up front in the first of five 2K loops.
Rogers fell back on the second loop, as Monson, Kelati, Infeld, and Durgin hit the 4K mark in 13:21. On the third loop, Kelati and Monson pulled ahead of Durgin and Infeld and came through 6K in 20:05.
Monson, a 2021 Olympian in the 10,000 meters who runs for On Athletics Club (OAC) in Boulder, Colorado, put in a definitive surge on the fourth lap. Her lead continued to grow over the final two kilometers, and she cruised through the finish line all alone.
It was her first cross-country title. Kelati, the runner-up, finished in 34:18, and Infeld was third in 34:36 to claim the final podium spot. It was Infeld’s first race since leaving the Bowerman Track Club. Durgin was fourth in 34:50, outsprinting Steph Bruce, and Rogers finished sixth.
“This was my first win as a pro actually and also my first national title,” Monson said during the USATF.TV broadcast. “It was a pretty big day for me.”
Monson’s victory followed a breakthrough 2021 season, which included a gritty third-place finish in the 10,000 meters at the U.S. Olympic Trials. She went on to place 13th in the 10,000 meters at the Tokyo Games last summer.
“It was a big growing year for me,” Monson said. “I wasn’t quite sure how going pro would go out of college and it was my first full year as a pro, new coach. I really just put my faith in Dathan [Ritzenhein]and the OAC, and I’m just grateful for everything that came because we’re just working hard every day.”
A Tight Finish
The men’s race came down to the wire with a thrilling battle on the homestretch.
In the early going, a pack of eight led the way, including Olympians Benard Keter, Kipchirchir, and Ben Blankenship.
During the third lap, the top pack started to shrink, and by 6K, which they reached in 18:12, only five men remained: Keter, Kipchirchir, Leonard Korir, Sam Chelanga, and Dillon Maggard.
That group of five remained intact until the final kilometer when Maggard, Chelanga, and Kipchirchir broke away slightly.
With 100 meters to go, the three were in an all-out sprint. Kipchirchir, a 2016 Olympian in the 10,000 meters, was the fastest to the finish.
He broke the tape in 30:32, two seconds ahead of Maggard, who ran 30:34. Chelanga finished third, also in 30:34. Korir was fourth in 30:37.
During a post-race interview with USATF.TV, Kipchirchir, 32, explained he has had a long comeback to health after suffering an injury right before the Olympic Trials last year. His instagram shows he tore his left calf muscle.
“I was really frustrated but I held onto a lot of hope, like I’m going to come back,” Kipchirchir said. “When I got better in November, I believed in my training, and I’m really excited just to be at the start line. My goal today was just to be racing more again and it was nice. I love this course, and I’m glad I won.”
He also shared that he and his wife are expecting a baby boy in April. He dedicated his performance to his family. “I got hurt and I’m back stronger than before, not just for the joy of running but I’m doing this for my family,” he said. “I’m running for them.”
Monson and Kipchirchir each take home $2,000 for the win. The second-place finishers earned $1,000, and the third-place finishers earned $800.