KAMPALA, Uganda — Sam Chelanga’s 11th place finish in the senior men’s race was the top individual showing by Team USA at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships at the Kololo Independence Grounds Sunday.
Chelanga finished in a time of 29:13, as Kenya’s Geoffrey Kamwowor took home his second world cross country title in a time of 28:24. Leonard Barsoton of Kenya was second in 28:36, and Abadi Hadis of Ethiopia was third in 28:43.
For finishing inside the top 15, Chelanga earned an automatic IAAF qualifying standard in the 10,000m for this summer’s IAAF World Championships, provided he makes the U.S. team in that event.
In a close battle for the medals, Team USA’s senior men finished fifth with a final team score of 78 points, as Ethiopia won with a low score of 21, followed by Kenya’s 22, and host Uganda’s 72 points. Eritrea was fourth with 75, followed by Team USA’s 78 points.
Sunday’s racing began with mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80s and 65% humidity, and stayed constant throughout the nearly four hours of racing.
Early in the senior men’s 10 km race, Team USA had four runners positioned in the top 26, but several struggled with the heat.
Reigning USATF cross country champion Leonard Korir was among those running up front early, running in sixth at the end of the first lap, before he finished in 20th in a time of 29:36. Likewise, Stanley Kebenei was third at the end of the first lap, before he faded to 26th in 30:03. 2016 U.S. Olympian Shadrack Kipchirchir stayed relatively in the same position for most of the race, finishing 21st in 29:44.
On the other hand, Chelanga worked his way from 26th to 22nd at the end of the second lap, then to 18th and 14th, before picking off three more runners in the final lap to take 11th. Scott Fauble rounded out Team USA’s finishers, crossing the line in 36th in 30:20. Trevor Dunbar did not start due to an illness shortly before the race.
In the senior women’s 10 km, USATF champion Aliphine Tuliamuk finished 15th to earn an automatic qualifying standard to this summer’s IAAF World Championships in London, finishing in 33:43.
Like Chelanga, she also must make the U.S. team in the 10,000m at the USATF Outdoor Championships in Sacramento.
Her finish led Team USA to a surprising fifth place team finish, as they scored 90 points.
Irene Cheptai (31:57), Alice Nawowuna (32:01) and Lilian Rengeruk (32:11) took all three individual podium spots for Kenya.
Kenya scored a perfect 10 points to win yet another world championship, followed by Ethiopia’s 45 and Bahrain’s 59. Host Uganda was fourth with 68, comfortably ahead of Team USA’s 90 points.
Tuliamuk started the first of five laps in 19th place, then slowly worked her way up as the race progressed.
Behind Tuliamuk, Stephanie Bruce finished 22nd in 34:42, with Natosha Rogers one place back in 34:47. Sarah Pagano was 30th in 35:18. Rounding out Team USA’s finishers were Pagano’s Team B.A.A. teammate Elaina Balouris in 48th in 36:26, and Nike Bowerman Track Club’s Emily Pritt, who was 74th in 37:58.
Bruce, who was just as surprised at her own finish, said in the mixed zone afterwards, “It was awesome! That was the most amazing, tough, and incredible race I’ve ever been a part of. The U.S. team came out as wild cards and surprised some people. I wanted to get out and establish good position. The heat was oppressive, but there was a lot of energy from the crowd.”
The day of racing opened with the first ever 4 x 2k mixed relay, as the team of Cory Leslie, Eleanor Fulton, Marisa Howard, and Olympic 5000m silver medalist Paul Chelimo finished sixth in a time of 24:08.
With two-time Olympic 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop running an opening leg of 5:19 for Kenya, Team USA was put in a hole they could not dig themselves out of, as Leslie ran 5:44 on his leg.
Team USA dropped one place to ninth on the second leg, run by Fulton, who split 6:46. Howard kept Team USA in ninth with a split of 6:31, before handing the wristband to Chelimo, who split 4:56 on the last lap to overtake three teams.
Kenya won in 22:22, with Ethiopia second at 22:30, and Turkey third in 22:37.
Team USA’s under-20 men’s squad finished ninth over the 8k distance with 189 points, led by Paul Roberts’ 33rd place finish in 25:31. Aidan Reed was 46th in 25:55 , followed by Hamza Ali in 52nd in 26:14. Alex Haines was 58th in 26:28 to round out the scorers. Isaac Harding was 61st in 26:37, while Gavin Parpart was 86th in 27:55.
Jacob Kiplimo of host Uganda won in 22:40, followed by Amdework Walelegn of Ethiopia in 22:43. Richard Kimunyan of Kenya rounded out the individual medalists with his third place finishing time of 22:52.
Ethiopia (17), Kenya (28), and Eritrea (55) took the top three spots in the team competition.
Team USA’s under-20 women’s squad finished 12th with a final score of 212 points. USATF champion Michelle Magnani led the team with her 37th place finish over the 6k course in a time of 21:32. She was followed by Logan Morris in 45th place in 21:58. Aubrey Roberts was 56th in 22:18, followed by Madison Fruchey in 74th in a time of 22:54 to round out the scorers.
Kristen Garcia in 78th (23:04) and Megan Murray in 83rd (23:35) were Team USA’s final two runners across the line.
Letesenbet Gedey led an Ethiopia 1-2 finish in a time of 18:34, followed by teammate Hawi Feysa in 18:57. Celliphine Chespol of Kenya was third in 19:02.
In a close team race, Ethiopia edged Kenya by one point, 19-20, with Uganda third with 63 points.
Sunday’s championship closes out cross country action for Team USA in 2017. The next IAAF event for Team USA will be the IAAF World Relays, April 22-23, in Nassau, Bahamas.