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Neely Spence wins USA cross country title

February 07, 2009|By ANDREW MASON

DERWOOD, Md. -- Neely Spence knew how to get where she wanted to go. Now, the 18-year-old can learn about where she's going.

Spence, a freshman at Shippensburg University, won the Junior Women's title Saturday at the USA Cross Country Championships, qualifying to represent Team USA at next month's IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Amman, Jordan.

"I've been talking to my professors," she said. "They're going to let me do my projects on Jordan and my presentations on Jordan, so I can do research and learn about where I'm going."

Spence, the NCAA Division II runner-up in cross country last fall, covered the challenging 6K (3.73-mile) course at the Agricultural History Farm Park in 20 minutes, 43 seconds. Ashley Brasovan, 18, of Wellington, Fla., the 2007 Foot Locker Cross Country national high school champion, finished second in 20:57.

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Spence pulled away in the final mile.

"It felt really good out there," she said. "I was ready. This was the last thing I needed to check off my goal list from the fall. In August, I made a list of goals, and now I've met all of them.

"This will be my first international competition. I'm really excited to represent the U.S."

Her father and coach, Steve Spence, won a bronze medal in the marathon at the 1991 World Championships and placed 12th in the marathon at the 1992 Olympics.

"She's really looking forward to putting on that USA singlet," Steve Spence said. "The first time is always special."

The top six finishers Saturday qualified for the world meet.

"Her goal was top six," Steve Spence said. "I told her just to be confident in her ability to kick, because she's a 4:40 miler and most of these girls are like 5-minute milers."

Oklahoma State freshman phenom German Fernandez, who recently set the junior world record for the indoor mile at 3:56.50, won Saturday's Junior Men's 8K (4.97-mile) race in 23:20. The Open Women's 8K race was won by Emily Brown, 24, of Minneapolis, in 26:58.

The Open Men's 12K (7.46-mile) race was a thriller. Olympic silver medalist Meb Keflezighi, 33, of San Diego, shot to the lead early and then barely held off Tim Nelson, 24, of Portland, Ore., for the win. Both runners were clocked at 36:06.

It was Keflezighi's third USA cross country title, but first since 2002. He placed second in the marathon at the 2004 Olympics, but failed to qualify for the 2008 Summer Games.

Keflezighi, who appears to be back in top form, dedicated his win to President Obama.

"Our country is going through a bad time right now," he said. "We've got to believe, and we've got to hope for the best.

"Hey, look what God did for me."

Several local runners Saturday participated in the 8K Masters (40-and-over) races, which were national championships but not world qualifiers.

Susan Graham-Gray, of Greencastle, Pa., placed second in the women's 40-44 division in 31:21; Mark Cucuzzella, of Shepherdstown, W.Va., was 13th in the men's 40-44 division in 27:31; Tim Schuler, of Chambersburg, Pa., was ninth in the men's 45-49 division in 28:58; and Mike FitzGerald of Hagerstown was 15th in the men's 50-54 division in 32:33.

"I went out slow and just picked off people the whole way," Graham-Gray said. "It was exciting. I haven't run cross country since I was in college."

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