Who's No. 1? FloTrack Tackles The Katelyn Tuohy vs Claudia Lane Debate

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If you've paid the slightest modicum of attention to high school girls cross country this season, you know the names Katelyn Tuohy and Claudia Lane. 

Tuohy, who hails from New York via North Rockland High School, and Lane, who attends Malibu High in Southern California, have broken historic course records up and down the East and West coasts this fall. Unfortunately, due to the split between Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) and Foot Locker Nationals, fans and pundits alike will never see a champion crowned between the two — at least not this season.

Tuohy, of course, won NXN in 16:44.7, a time that broke the Glendoveer Golf Course record set two years ago by Katie Rainsberger — now a five-time All-American at Oregon — by 11 seconds, and distanced runner-up Kelsey Chmiel of Saratoga Springs by 41 seconds.

Lane faced a more storied course record in Melody Fairchild's 16:39 standard at Foot Locker's Balboa Park, a mark that has stood since 1990. (For comparison's sake, NXN has only been held at Glendoveer for four years).

The junior reportedly had a sore throat this weekend, but still tackled the course with vigor — running out 13 seconds ahead of her competitors by the mile mark — and finished 19 seconds ahead of the runner-up, Katelynne Hart of Illinois, 17:03.4 to 17:22.5.

If placed in the boys fields at their respective championships, Tuohy would have placed 137th overall and 1:41 behind winner Aidan Troutner; Lane would have placed 40th overall and 1:44 behind Jacobs. Of course, their winning margins were so large that each girl would likely have run faster with boys around her.



Comparing Common Opponents

But back to Hart. Her finish is actually one of the few marks that we can use to compare Lane and Tuohy, as she raced both NXN and Foot Locker. The sophomore was fourth at NXN in 17:41.6, a full 57 seconds behind Tuohy.

Tuohy was thus 38 seconds more dominant than Lane over a common opponent.

If we compare all four female athletes who competed at both NXN and Foot Locker, Tuohy's average margin of victory over common opponents at the national championship was 1:32.3, while Lane's was 43.7 seconds.

ATHLETENXN PLACETOTAL ELAPSED TIME BEHIND WINNER (TUOHY)FOOT LOCKER PLACE

TOTAL ELAPSED TIME BEHIND WINNER (LANE)

Katelynne Hart4th0:572nd0:19
Tierney Wolfgram27th1:357th0:48
Sarah Schmitt8th1:138th0:53
Emily Covert77th2:249th0:55

The Rebound Effect

However, results indicate that an athlete who "bombs" or performs uncharacteristically poorly at NXN will bounce back with a better performance at Foot Locker. Take Tierney Wolfgram for instance, who defeated Lauren (11th at NXN) and Grace Ping for the Minnesota Class A state XC title and won NXN Heartland. She had an "off day" at NXN and performed closer to her projected ability level at Foot Locker with a top-10 finish. 

The same goes for Emily Covert, the Minnesota Class AA state champion, who beat the Ping sisters, Wolfgram, Schmitt, and Anna Fenske (10th at NXN) at Roy Griak and was top three at both NXN Heartland and Foot Locker Midwest — but finished 77th in Portland. The junior rebounded with a ninth-place run in San Diego.

Look no further than the past two boys Foot Locker champions for evidence of the rebound effect. Reed Brown won the national title in 2016 after placing sixth at NXN, and Dylan Jacobs won this year after placing 13th at NXN. 

Whether the higher placing in San Diego is due to a shallower field, better weather conditions, or the added motivation of Foot Locker's reputation as the more historic championship, we cannot be sure, but we’d bet that Balboa Park's typically pristine weather may have something to do with it, as the mud and rain common to Portland may deter athletes who do not usually train in those conditions. 

Still, how does this all reflect on Tuohy and Lane? The Foot Locker champion's reported sore throat makes us feel disinclined to put too much stock in time differentials between the champions against the respective NXN and Foot Locker fields, though it's clear that if Lane were not 100 percent on her game on the day, she would have lost to Tuohy.



A Record Year

Part of the mystique in this fall's cross country campaign for both harriers was the left-and-right destruction of course records. Below, we outline Tuohy and Lane's record times, the prior records, and the resumes of the previous record holders.

Katelyn Tuohy's 2017 XC Record Season 

COURSETUOHY'S TIMEPRIOR RECORDPREVIOUS RECORD HOLDER

RESUME THAT YEAR

SCHENECTADY CENTRAL PARK (4500M)14:06.8814:37.59Tuohy, 201613th @ NXN
VAN CORTLANDT PARK (4K)13:21.813:53.90Jessica Lawson, 2015

11th @ Foot Locker

WAYNE HS (STATE MEET/5K)17:51.418:06.00Abigail Spiers, 201728th at NXN NY
BEAR MTN STATE PARK (3 MILE)15:55.3016:27.56Aisling Cuffe, 2010

1st @ Foot Locker

BOWDOIN PARK (5K)16:52.417:16.9Cuffe, 2010

1st @ Foot Locker

GLENDOVEER (NXN/5K)16:44.7016:56.80Katie Rainsberger, 20151st @ NXN


Claudia Lane's 2017 XC Record Season

COURSELANE'S TIMEPRIOR RECORDPREVIOUS RECORD HOLDER

RESUME THAT YEAR

MT. SAC INVITATIONAL (2.94 MILE)15:49.0016:00.00Sarah Baxter, 20121st @ NXN
LAKE CASITAS (3 MILE)16:19.56*16:32.00Lane, 20171st @ FL
WOODWARD PARK (STATE MEET/5K)16:30.316:39.7Baxter, 20121st @ NXN
RIVERSIDE (3 MILE)15:49.416:30.11Lane, 20161st @ FL
FOOT LOCKER WEST (MT. SAC 5K COURSE)16:59.617:14.00Amber Trotter, 2001

1st @ FL, 16:24 course record at Oak Trails Golf Course (Florida)

*Prior to this season, the Lake Casitas course record was held by Sarah Baxter, who ran 16:37.10 in 2013. That year, she was third at NXN behind Alexa Efraimson and Elise Cranny.

Both Tuohy and Lane beat records held by national champion runners. Tuohy gets credibility from beating two of 2010 Foot Locker champion Aisling Cuffe's marks, plus Rainsberger's NXN record. But for sheer "wow" factor, Lane gets the edge here in improving marks set by Sarah Baxter and Amber Trotter, widely regarded as two of the best prep cross country runners ever.

Much has been written about Baxter's 16:00-flat course record on Mt. SAC's infamous 2.94-mile course; it was a race that shattered 2001 Foot Locker champion Amber Trotter's course record of 16:16. For comparison, fellow California great and two-time Foot Locker champion Jordan Hasay managed "just" 16:27 on the course.

For Lane to not only dip under 16 minutes but to break 15:50 was truly a shock, and would seemingly be cause for the junior to supplant Baxter as the "greatest high school girls cross country runner ever."

Or, maybe, now that Baxter's record is broken after five years, we should realize that the superlative chatter of "greatest ever" may have been premature.

It must be noted, of course, that the course has changed slightly to accommodate construction at Mt. San Antonio College, though experts in the state say that there is no more than a two or three-second time differential from the original course, and athletes are not in agreement whether that's three seconds faster or three seconds slower. Lane's time will count as the new record, according to meet director Doug Todd, albeit with an asterisk referring to the 2017 construction.

Trotter, meanwhile, carries her own renown as having produced the highest-ever girls speed rating of 180 with her 16:24 course record Foot Locker win in 2001. She won the race by 40 seconds, broke Sara Hall [née Bei]'s course record by 31 seconds, and was just 1:34 behind the boys champion, Timothy Moore. 

Watch Amber Trotter's 2001 Foot Locker Nationals victory, which yielded a Speed Rating of 180 -- the highest ever recorded by a high school girl.


Are Speed Ratings A Valid Comparison Tool?

Speed ratings are a somewhat subjective tool created by Bill Meylan to compare runners on different courses across the country; check out his site here. For comparison's sake, he rated Tuohy at 172 twice this season at Bowdoin Park and NXN, and Lane at 166 for both Mt. SAC and Foot Locker West.

Foot Locker permanently switched locations from Oak Trails Golf Course in Florida to Balboa Park in San Diego in 2002, so we will likely never have an accurate measuring stick for how today's athletes compare to Trotter's 2001 time or her "180 speed rating." Yet, she did race Mt. SAC's short and long courses and Lane has now bested Trotter's PBs on the 2.94 mile and full 5K course by a respective 27 and 15 seconds.

MileSplit has ranked Tuohy in the No. 1 spot since October 2. Their year-end rankings remain Tuohy No. 1, Lane No. 2. DyeStat, meanwhile, ranked Lane No. 1, Tuohy No. 2 in their most recent update — which was before either national final.

To choose one or the other is virtually an impossible task. Tuohy beats Lane if the latter has a sore throat — as she did at Foot Locker Nationals — but if both athletes are healthy it seems like a truly even matchup.

Maybe it's a blessing in disguise that these two superstars didn't meet in 2017. The Tuohy vs Lane debate can now enter the greater ether of historic track and field discourse, much like the question of whether or not a man can break two hours for the marathon, or if distance running fans will ever stop putting so much pressure on teenagers.

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