Air Force Rules at 2000 Armed Forces X-C Meet
By Maj. Gus Schalkham
Special to American Forces Press Service
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla., Feb. 11, 2000 Air Force runners nailed three individual cross-country titles here Feb. 6 on their way to their second consecutive team crown in the Armed Forces Cross Country Championships.
Running conditions were challenging for the 52 competitors who competed at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Winds and temperatures in the 40-degree range made the elite field cautious before they challenged the men's 12-kilometer and men's and women's five-kilometer individual events. Team event awards were given based on the top three finishers of each service in each race, while the combined team event times determined the overall champs.
The Air Force team's combined time of 3:21.20 provided a 28-second margin of victory over second-place Army. Navy and Marine Corps finished third and fourth, respectively.
The winners of last year's events defended their titles, but only Maj. Kimberly Markland, Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C., was successful, clocking 18 minutes flat as the women's five-kilometer winner.
"I decided to go out fast and set the pace," said Markland, a marathon trials qualifier for 2000 Olympics. The Ohio native took the lead early and never looked back. A racer for only five years, she attributes her success to her biggest fan, fiance Maj. Neal Robinson, whom she will wed next month after the Olympic trials.
Marine Corps Capt. Patty Restrepo of Camp Pendleton, Calif., finished 36 seconds behind to take second place. A public affairs officer and 1996 graduate of the Naval Academy, Restrepo said she had some discomfort and tingling in her leg and hip before the race. "I started out running moderately," she said. "Then, things came together and I started moving up."
Air Force won the women's title in a combined 56:18 time based on Markland's lead and teammates 2nd Lt. Tracy Villano, Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., third at 18:46; and 2nd Lt. Amy Nesbitt, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, eighth, 19:32.
Villano's running career has really blossomed. Recruited for basketball by the Air Force Academy, the Class of '98 grad played two years before changing shoes. The new career has allowed her to also qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials next month. Nesbitt, a 1999 academy grad, was recruited originally for soccer and now has qualified for the Boston Marathon.
The men's five-kilometer race saw just six seconds separating the top three finishers. Air Force Capt. Nick MacFalls, Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., held off Army Spc. Samuel Wilbur, Fort Carson, Colo., for a two-second win in 14:57. Third place went to Ensign Mike Ryan, Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C.
The race featured defending champion 2nd Lt. Robert Dickie, Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. When the runners reached the halfway mark, Dickie was clearly toast. Instead, with less than a half mile to go, MacFalls, Wilbur and Ryan jockeyed for the lead and closed within 100 yards of the tape before MacFalls kicked ahead and finally prevailed.
"My goal now is to qualify for the Olympic trials in the 1500. I have to run 3 minutes, 41 seconds which is equivalent to about a 3 minute, 58 second mile," MacFalls said. Training in Boulder, Colo., the 1995 academy graduate isn't quite there yet, but he's confident he can qualify.
Army men won the five-kilometer team title, however, on the strength of a combined 45.32 posted by Wilbur; and Fort Carson, Colo., soldiers Spc. Wynston Alberts, fourth at 15:10, and Spc. Teddy Mitchell, eighth at 15:32.
Tense finishes continued in the 12-kilometer race, where Capt. Eric Mack, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, completed the Air Force's domination of individual titles. A tight pack of 12 runners stayed together nearly five miles into the race.
With a mile and a half to go, Mack and Spc. Mike Dudley, Fort Carson, intensified their jousting for the title of champion. Left in their wake was defending champion Lt. j.g. Jon Clemens, Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla.
The two front runners were shoulder to shoulder as they approached the finish line. Fewer than 25 yards from the finish the two warriors began an all-out sprint that allowed Mack to just edge Dudley by half a second with a time of 31:45.
A native of Colorado Springs, Colo., Mack was beaming at the end, but he hadn't been so sure six months earlier that he would ever be in the winner's circle again. He was diagnosed with a stress fracture in September 1999 and had to back off on training. It wasn't till in December that his training fell into place and he was ready to see what he could do in a race.
"I knew with the winds and the slow pace it was going to come down to a kick," he said. Another Olympic hopeful, Mack is training to qualify in the 5,000-meter or 10,000- meter runs.
Even as Mack's strategy called for a kick, Dudley said he knew he would be in bad shape if he had to depend on one. "I'm not a sprinter. I do not have the leg speed of Mack," the West Virginia grad said. "I am a marathoner and was hoping to outlast him." The Oregon National Guardsman is one of the nation's fastest marathoners and has already qualified for the Olympic trials.
Navy team depth gave it the 12-kilometer team title with a combined 1:37.07 clocked by Lt. j.g. Danny Gough, Naval Station Newport, R.I., third, 32:19; Clemens, fourth, 32:20; and Lt. Jeff Luneberger, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md., sixth, 32:55.
(Maj. Gus Schalkham is assigned to the 45th Space Wing Public Affairs Office at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.)