Ammar Moussa and the 1.8 Seconds Retribution

Stop and watch the interview above because (1) the rest of this won't make sense otherwise and (2) it's a good retrospective look at one of the untold stories from the 2013 NCAA Cross Country Championships.

In what seems to be constant battle of this modern era, two years ago at nationals, the Colorado Buffaloes were again trying to knock off Oklahoma State. Except in 2011, it wasn't for first place - that honor already belonged to the Wisconsin Badgers. The last time NCAAs was in Terre Haute, the Cowboys and Buffaloes were fighting for that second place trophy. The two teams were guaranteed podium spots as they were well clear of fourth place BYU, but that’s never enough for perennial powerhouses. Pride is a nice consolation prize, too.

It was a close finish, but OSU prevailed over CU by a mere five points, 139 to 144. Though the difference could have been made up by any of the Buffaloes, then freshman Ammar Moussa had his own personal regrets about that race. Moussa finished 65th overall in 30:43 and was CU’s fifth runner that morning. OSU’s fifth, Johnathan Stublaski, was 63rd in 30:42.

If Moussa could have caught OSU’s final scorer, then the swing in points would have moved Colorado up one spot closer to the champion Badgers.

Why are we bringing up an old interview on Magnolia Road when talking about last Saturday? Mainly because of a misconception.
As Ryan Fenton would point out in our BA NCAA XC Recap, Moussa statistically played a vital role in bringing the title home for Colorado. If you don’t feel like watching the whole thing (hopefully again), here are Moussa’s splits at the 2013 NCAA XC Championships plus NAU’s and CU’s team scores at the 8k mark and finish.

Moussa's Splits
3k - 181st - 8:50.3
5k - 113rd - 15:24.1 (moved up 68 spots)
8k - 113rd - 23:56.6 (moved up 0 spots)
10k - 95th - 31:17.1 (moved up 18 spots)

Team Scores
Northern Arizona - 152
Colorado - 171

Colorado - 149
Northern Arizona - 169

On paper, the Moussa argument makes sense. He moved up in the last 2k and closed the gap between the two teams. But it was something in the Daily Relay’s College Weekend Wrap that we enjoyed a bit more. Colorado coach Mark Wetmore was quoted as saying, “People kept telling me, 'Your fifth guy was passing hundreds of people' and I said, 'Well he had to, he was in 300th when I saw him.'"

It wasn’t that Moussa came up in the clutch, but that he did exactly what he was supposed to do. To add to this, Blake Theroux said in his post-race interview that Colorado’s top four ran a perfect race in Terre Haute.

How do we know it was perfect? Here are Colorado’s top four actual place, Butler projections, and Wood Report projections:

Name Actual Place Butler Projection Wood Report Projection
Ben Saarel 8th 20th 34th
Morgan Pearson 17th 43rd 36th
Blake Theroux 23rd 61st 25th
Pierce Murphy 39th 32rd 55th
Ammar Moussa 95th 106th 30th
Note: We'll have more on the beauty of the Butler Projections later this week.

It’s a mixed bag, but Theroux was right (quick note: Theroux was 148th in 2011). As a team, Colorado came up big at NCAAs. So why this fuss over Moussa? Because we like to think he enjoyed a little retribution. Plus, his post-race interview was pretty good:

I like to imagine that at some point on the drive back to Boulder, CO with the team's trophy in tow, that Moussa looked back to that finish two years ago, smiled, did that sort of laugh where a short burst of air comes out of your nostrils, and then returned to the present where Colorado was the national champion. Or as I like to call it, The Richard Gere.

When it comes to dwelling on races, there’s a thin line. In one scenario, a poor race is a small push towards a downward spiral. Everything is ruined because of one bad performance. In the other world, that race is the spark that rejuvenates an athlete. After all, isn’t one of the best motivators an attempt to try and prove people wrong?

As a whole, Colorado came up big when it counted most. But for some guys like Moussa, the victory was just a little sweeter.

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