(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Over the weekend I took my traditional trip out to the NCAA Cross Country Championships. This is the ninth time it’s been at Indiana State’s Laverne Gibson Championship Cross Country Course, and I’ve been to every one of them.
I’m not going to summarize or report on the race – there are other websites that do a much better job than I can. As usual, the best and most complete summaries are by Let’s Run. Men here, women here.
If you want some video of the race, go to NCAA.com (it’s not yet embeddable…jerks), but I warn you, it’s quite incomplete.
I’m not really a writer and definitely not a reporter, I’m a fan. What I want to express, then, is my experience as a fan.
Late Sunday morning I headed out of Superfan HQ on the Ohio-Michigan border and drove straight down I-75 to Dayton to meet up with an old college teammate. John and I have been traveling to the NCAA Championships ever since the first time they were in Terre Haute, when we thought it would be a one-shot deal. It keeps on coming back to Indiana State, though, and so do we. This was our ninth time.
One of the few downsides to the meet being in Terre Haute is lack of hotel space. The first few years that John and I went we stayed in hotels in Terre Haute, but what rooms are left in that town the week before the NCAAs gave us the creeps—and we were on a college team whose notoriously tightfisted coach booked road trips in the cheapest places he could find. We’re not easily freaked out, but these places looked like prime spots for crystal meth deals gone bad. So we started looking elsewhere.
One year we stayed in a cabin at a KOA campground, and that was okay but a bit less cool than it sounds. The next year we lucked into some great digs at DePauw University, only about a 40 minute drive from the course. My wife stayed there while doing research at DePauw for her Ph.D. and suggested it to us, and we’ve been coming back to it ever since. It’s no longer our little secret, as several teams usually stay there and it was close to fully booked this year.
After an evening of gabbing about the old times and consuming mass quantities, we got up and headed out for the course. We got there a little after 9:00 AM, and the Flotrack crew was already there setting up their tailgate party and prepping for their live pre-meet show. This is where the party starts.
Attending any live sporting event is, in essence, joining a party. They’re all different kinds of parties; for example, baseball is sedate and football is not. Part of the celebration is the athletic event itself, part of it is the other crap that you do, and part of it is the shared experience of being at the event. Whether they’d describe it in these exact terms, the guys at Flotrack understand this.
Case in Point
The NCAA Championships were a party and a celebration from the first time I went, before Flotrack was even in existence. They have taken it to another level, though, with their tailgate and pre-meet show. This year they added a live band to the festivities, and it fit in so well that I wondered why it sounded like a novelty.
The pre-meet show was great. It was like College GameDay, but with a much-better looking guest right at 20:00 into the show. Check it out.
And then we get into the races, the reason we were there. If you’ve never been there, it’s difficult to describe the alley of screaming people that constantly assemble, disassemble and reassemble themselves around the course. I did find a pair of Youtube videos that summarized both the race and the atmosphere for the men’s race.
The races were great. Lawi Lalang won the men’s race as expected, and Wisconsin won the team title, but it at least appeared that Oklahoma State might make a race of it.
The women’s race was the exciting one. SMU’s Silje Fjortoft got out to a big lead, and I saw it slowly dwindle before she got swallowed by the pack. Coming around the last turn to the last straightaway there were a dozen women still in contention, making it look more like a 1500 meter race than cross country. Sheila Reid outkicked Jordan Hasay, just like last year. The women’s team competition was wild–four teams very close together, with Georgetown coming out the victor, and favorite Florida State bombing in fourth.
After the race, I was part of Flotrack’s crew doing post-race interviews. I don’t feel like I did much. First off, this meet has no mixed zone. Rather it’s just sort of a mosh pit at the back gate of the finish area. But secondly, and almost more importantly, I realized that I don’t know what most college runners look like, and even for the ones I do, they look a lot different while standing around than while running. I was pretty much clueless as to whether the guys walking past were All-Americans or way at the back.