What did we learn at the NCAA Cross Country Championships?
No surprise winners. All four of my picks for team and individual champions, as posted at Spiked Up Psyched Up, came through for the wins. I thought I was making very safe picks and going with the favorites.
Anyone who thought Oklahoma State was anything but the favorite clearly doesn’t know how to add. Much was made all season about Stanford’s 1-2-3 punch at several big meets. On paper this made them look very tough. But if Stanford’s top three were better than OSU’s top three-and going into the meet that had to be considered a very big if-all six were going to be so close to the front of the race that the point difference was going to be very small. At those levels there just aren’t that many runners to come in between them. It was obvious all season that OSU probably had the better fifth runner, and definitely had a much better fourth runner. And at those speeds, there are so many more athletes from other teams that can add points to the inferior runner’s team.
What did happen? Stanford went 5-6, OSU went 7-8-9. Stanford’s Elliot Heath ran poorly, finishing 36th, but even if he’d stayed up with his teammates the point differential among the front three runners would have been only nine points. The difference between the two teams’ fourth runners was 60 points, and between their fifth runners was 79. Game over.
Cross country is like poker in that you need five good cards. And OSU was holding four of a kind while Stanford held three of a kind.
Dave Smith knows his stuff. The Oklahoma State coach usually holds his cards close to his vest, but in interviews leading up to the meet he let it be known that he thought Wisconsin was a title threat. The Badgers were second with 2k to go, but #4 runner Elliot Krause cratered in the last half-mile (possibly due to injury) and Wisconsin