"Exciting Races Mark Foot Locker National Competition"

San Diego's Morley Field portion of Balboa Park
Saturday, December 14, 1996.

After the Girls race it would be tough for the Boys race to create much excitement, but it did happen, with a large group setting up another great finish! Regional winners came in for this competition in interesting style, with a good race seemingly assured off of the experience and successes out of the different areas.

Sharif Karie from Virginia, kicked down by Abdul Alzindani of Michigan last year at the finish, had a great series of runs during the Fall, with an appearingly controlled 20 meter Southern Regional win.

Jonathan Riley from Massachusetts, a 4:10 miler, took interesting Boston area eleventh grader, Somalian (as is Karie) native, Abdirizak (say it ab-deer-ee-zik) Muhamud, in the Northeast race at Van Cortlandt Park by three seconds.

Ryan Andrus from Utah was undefeated from out West, looking controlled at the end of a comfortable Regional win.

Gabe Jennings, a powerful tall runner, the early leader in this Nationals race, was a seven second Midwest area winner.

A huge pack was together through the first half-mile of the Boys' contest, with a 2:15 clocking at that point. Western Regional runner-up, Rhy Reynolds from Oregon, handled the pace- setting as the field snaked down through the lower picnic loop to the mile point, reached in 4:52, the most leisurely early pace in the fourteen consecutive contests that have been held on this facility since 1983.

Up and over the big hill loop the first time did not sort much out, with two or three from each of the nation's four areas within an arm's length of the lead during the second mile, covered in just over five minutes (two miles 9:55). From the Northeast Muhamud and Christopher Dugan, South--Karie and Eric Kweder, Midwest--Mark Thompson, Jesse Barnes, and soph Jorge Torres, and Westerners Andrus and Michael Kasahun rolled along in a huge pack during the second mile, no one seemingly interested in a race-breaking move during that segment.

Interestingly, Michael Kasahun, seventh in the Western Regional from Fresno High, who works for Reuben Reina's brother Roland at a local Wal-Mart, and had the benefit of Reuben's counsel on how to run the course, made the first move, breaking away at two and a quarter miles as the field headed down through the flat "picnic loop." Sharif Karie and Ryan Andrus were quickest in attempting to cover Kasahun's spurts during the next quarter mile.

At the base of the last big hill loop at two and a half miles Abdeerizak Muhamud burst forth from the following pack, with the very thin (5'11" 127 pound) Somalian native effortlessly gliding past the leaders to move to the front during the steep ascent. Ryan Andrus moved up to challenge Mohamud during the run across the crest of the hill, with the undefeated Utah star leading as the contest headed through the steep downhill segment some six hundred meters from the finish.

During a gradual uphill portion of the course back to the starting line area Muhamud battled back to challenge Andrus, with Sharif Karie also building for a strong finish. Muhamud took the lead with some 200 meters to go before he crossed the starting line area, with Andrus and Karie still close enough to make the outcome far from a "done deal."

Down the stretch it was the two Somalian natives battling, with Mohamud, a 1:55 800m runner last spring (Karie has run 1:52), seeming at close to sub-60 second 400 meter pace during the final 150 meter dash into the tape, a pace and distance that Karie could not close down on. Mohamud won at 15:21.0, wth Karie 15:23.6, and Andrus next at 15:30.2.

Mohamud is an amazing story, in the country two years, a very soft spoken lad who was not even on the Boston English High School Cross-Country team at the start of the season. Coach Tony La Rocha had to talk his charge into joining the team part-way through the fall campaign, with Northeastern followers touting him as a pre-race "dark-horse" who was definitely "under-raced" during the season.

After the race the soft-spoken eleventh grader stated that his pre-race goals centered around not a win but a high placing, with no specifics other than trying to be with the lead pack as the contest developed.

The burst up the final hill that put him in the lead and frictionless ease with which he burst down the final stretch during the sprint brought to mind the African Olympic level stars who somehow seem to be blessed with no gravity on their portion of the running course. Abdirizak is the first eleventh grader ever to win in the eighteen years of the series.

It was a very exciting day for the sport, with Foot Locker, Adidas, Novus, American Track & Field Magazine, and the other sponsors deserving the usual world of credit for making Cross- Country the only prep sport with a true national championship. As is often said when good teen-age athletes get together: "The kids never let you down on the course." This was one of those days!

by Doug Speck,


"Exciting Races Mark Foot Locker National Competition"

San Diego's Morley Field portion of Balboa Park
Saturday, December 14, 1996.

Two very exciting races with athletes who won via big finishing kicks marked the 1996 Eighteenth Annual Foot Locker National Championships run under sunny skies in San Diego.

Kristen Gordon (Carondolet HS, Concord, Ca) ran down a staggering Julia Stamps in the final 50 meters to win the Girls race, with Somalian native (in this country for two years) Abdirizak Mohamud (Boston English HS, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts) edging countryman Sharif Karie (West Springfield HS, Virginia) by fifteen meters with a driving sprint finish in the Boys' contest.

Stamps, for the second year in a row collapsed, this time dishearteningly close to the finish line, landing near the edge of a decorative painted area that extends out about fifteen yards from the actual finish line. Last year she collapsed heavily after two and a quarter miles, with Kim Mortensen racing away to a win from there.

The Girls race took off at 10:00 a.m., with the Western trio of Julia Stamps, precocious ninth grader Abby Miller (Nevada), and Kristen Gordon taking the early lead, and Ohio's Katy Radkewich, a four-time finalist, moving up closest as Stamps took the field through the relatively flat first 880 yards in 2:30. Stamps continued to lead by 10 meters through the mile at just over 5:20.

In what appeared to a "picture-story" ending to Julia's career in this competition--she missed with an appendectomy her frosh year and won her soph year with a time two seconds outside the course record before her collapse last December here, the Santa Rosa HS senior rolled up over the course's steep hill right after the mile, coming down and past the starting line (1 1/2 miles) at 8:10, holding a 70 yard lead through two miles at 10:56.

However, there was a little history to the Stamps-Gordon rivalry, with one needing to go back a couple of weekends to set up what would happen from here. Two weeks previous at the much- used Foot Locker Western Regional course in Fresno, Woodward Park, at the California State Meet, Stamps and Gordon had each won their respective divisions, with Julia racing a new Course Record 16:43 and Gordon winning her division at 17:17. Interestingly, while the duo lived within an hour of each other in the San Francisco Bay area (Stamps in Santa Rosa, Gordon in Alamo), they had never met during the regular Fall season, with Stamps' Santa Rosa school Division I (large schools) in the state qualification process and Gordon's Carondolet Division III. Julia looked invincible at the state meet.

One week previous to this National Finals, the Western Regional was held at the same Woodward Park course, with Julia racing out at 4:58 for the flat first mile before running into serious trouble near the end and Gordon eventually coming from way, way back to win there at 17:01 with Julia 80 meters behind in third. Stamps had definite problems over the final part of the race and collapsed in the chute. Most observers at the Regional indicated that Stamps recovered quickly from the problems there, with her confidence not appearing to be shaken from the experience.

Gordon, introduced for the State meet awards as "probably the second best runner in the nation," indicated she used the phrase as motivation since that time, including having it run through her head during the event this day. So, there was some serious history backing up the National Finals race!

However, Julia just looked so good here with her huge lead through two miles that it did not seem possible for anyone to catch her! With a relaxed gaze of concentration on Stamps' face as she raced past, one sensed that nothing could go wrong.

Kristen Gordon, Katy Radkewich, and Abby Miller continued closest a ways back of Julia's through the first two-thirds of the contest here. Big Northeastern Regional winner, Erin Davis, the 1993 champion way back as a frosh, was surprisingly never a factor in the contest, later commenting that she just never really felt "in it." Gordon moved up to second just before the two mile point, with Stamps coming through the two and a half mile point at the base of the course's steep hill with a huge lead.

Continuing to drive, tantalizingly close to the finish and victory, Stamps had a twelve second lead at the top of the hill, with Gordon interestingly stating later that she clearly heard the announcement made at that time and thought back to the Regional where she ran Julia down near the end. The Woodward course does not have nearly so many turns as San Diego, with Gordon indicating that it was a bit tough to keep track of Julia as she ducked around corners during the final couple of small loops within the course.

Comments from those who viewed Stamps during the steep down-hill about 600 meters from the finish was that she appeared to be in trouble, concentrating on putting her legs ahead of her for each and every stride during the final part of the race. The effort was still there, with a small burst at the base of the hill slightly edging her away from Gordon, who had moved within 40 meters at that point.

With 250 meters to go and Julia in view of spectators near the finish line area it was clear that the very heavy-legged star was in deep trouble. Gordon, a very spirited young lady who you would want with you in a foxhole in any conflict, edged close with every stride, the sense of victory driving her ever-closer to her area rival. As the duo made the turn for the 200 meter straightaway to the finish, Julia continued to stagger, finally just giving out after Gordon had burst past right near the end, with the Santa Rosa star collapsing in the painted area near the finish while Gordon went on to break the finish line tape in glorious victory.

If ever there was a shot of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat it was there at the finish between these two. Julia needed assistance from the meet staff as she was carried off the course to the side to the First Aid area near the finish line.

An interesting later theory said that Stamps, who had problems right at the finish line at Fresno in the Regional, in her very affected physical/mental state here, collapsed at what she thought what was the finish line (the first line, a change in color from grass to a painted area she crossed), not realizing that the real finish and chute entry was fifteen meters or so down the course.

Gordon's winning time was 17:34.7, with Radkewich eventually finishing some twenty meters back at 17:37.7, and Abby Miller 17:39.4 in third the first underclass athlete. Fourth place was nearly thirty seconds back.

Gordon's Coach, Helen Lehman, later indicated that she had planned a race with her charge that had Kristen concentrating on her own race, with the experience the previous week in Fresno obviously teaching the twelfth grader that one should never lose heart.

by Doug Speck,