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In the 36-year history of the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships— the greatest prep race we’ve ever known— there have been only eight occasions in which the male and female winners have hailed from the same region. All four regions have swept both titles at least once, with the Midwest taking both crowns an impressive four times, and the latest example coming just last year when Grant Fisher and Anna Rohrer each conquered Balboa Park for the second time.
Even so, parity has generally been commonplace at the very top in this best-of-the-best showcase.
The Midwesterners have done the most damage at the championship race throughout history— they’ve won 27 of the 72 titles, seven more than the West with 20, and eight more than the Northeast with 19. The South, by contrast, is well back in the winner’s tally with just seven. Considering, however, that a Midwest boy has won 18 times, the overall figure is somewhat skewed in one direction. Even with their staggering number of national champions, four sweeps seems quite low. It’s simply hard to have two winners from the same region since elite talent is found all over the country.
With the low amount of natty champs of the singular region variety, it should come as little surprise, then, that only once in Foot Locker history have two athletes from the same state won in the same year. Not surprisingly, either, is that the state is California— 16 different times has a winner come from the nation’s most populous state. In 2005, AJ Acosta and Jordan Hasay made history as the only pair to win matching Foot Locker titles while both representing California.
All of this variance makes the two favorites to win Foot Locker titles on Saturday particularly unique— not only are Drew Hunter (Saucony Flo50 #1) and Weini Kelati (Saucony Flo50 #1) both from the historically weak South region, they are also each from the state of Virginia. But it gets better.
While Hasay and Acosta were from the same state, their hometowns were a sizable 4+ hours from each other. Hunter and Kelati? 16 minutes, aka less than 10 miles! That’s right, our two conventional wisdom-breaking favorites for Foot Locker glory both live in Loudoun County, Virginia, just the third most populous county in just the 12th biggest state in the union.
Damn 2015, you crazy.
Hunter is about the closest thing to a lock you’ll find— he beat two-time Foot Locker champ and sub-4:00 miler Grant Fisher twice at the end of last track season, and he enters San Diego with a comical 41-second average margin of victory this cross country season. Hunter is the only top-10 finisher from 2014 returning for this year’s race, and the next closest guy coming back, Ben Veatch, was 19 seconds behind him last year. The last time the South region had a boys’ champion was 30 years ago, but I can’t imagine a world where that streak continues past Saturday.
Kelati, originally from Eritrea, is slightly less favored for victory at Balboa Park than Hunter if only because she was just 20th at Foot Locker last fall. But her 57-second average margin of victory, as well as her 16:29 5K PR in October (a 1:02 improvement from the same race a year prior, and #2 in US) signals that 2015 Kelati is a different beast from the 2014 version. Without NXN champ Katie Rainsberger making the trip to Southern California, the path looks clear for Loudoun County to kick off the national championship with a bang.
This is just so unfathomable and random, that in a race that identifies the best high school distance runners in the vast United States, the two winners could come from such close proximity to each other. With only 40 athletes earning a spot on the line each season, the chances of this ever happening are incredibly slim, particularly from the region that has by far the fewest champions.
But Virginia, specifically Loudoun County, Virginia, will bring two heavy hitters to San Diego this weekend seeking to become the event’s greatest anomaly, and additionally, the answer to a trivia question for years to come.