News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

October 19, 2013

Cross Country Town USA

Teams from across U.S. prepare on nationally renown course

TERRE HAUTE — More than 1,100 runners, including athletes from the nation’s top two cross country teams, will compete today in the 2013 NCAA Pre-Nationals.

It’s the ninth time the top 150 men’s and women’s cross country teams in the nation are returning to “Cross County Town U.S.A.,” a new nickname for Terre Haute/Vigo County, the site of the Pre-Nationals and the 2013 NCAA Division 1 Championship race.

“The course is in the best shape that we’ve had since we started hosting major meets,” said John McNichols, Indiana State University men’s cross country and track coach, of the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course.

Indiana State is hosting the Division 1 Pre-Nationals and the NCAA Division 1 Championship race on the course at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center, 599 S. Tabortown Road.

Overall, 161 collegiate teams will compete. Of those, 52 men’s teams and 51 women’s teams are regionally ranked, making this year the single largest Division 1 seeded race at the LaVern Gibson course, McNichols said.

Some ranked men’s teams include No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 2 Colorado, No. 4 Oregon, No. 9 Tulsa, No. 12 Indiana University, No. 19 Boise State and No. 29 Stanford. The ranked women’s teams include No. 2 Florida State, No. 5 Georgetown, No. 6 Oregon, No. 11 Stanford, No. 12 Colorado, No. 14 Michigan and No. 20 Butler.

The seeded race, the “blue” races, start at 11 a.m., with the men’s 8,000-meter race, followed by the 11:40 a.m. seeded Women’s 6,000-meter race. Two “white” races include non-seeded teams, and there will be an open race for extra runners.

“The open race is for teams that bring more than seven runners per team. Some teams will bring 12 to 17 runners,” McNichols said.

Runners will wear an electronic chip in their shoelaces, which tracks the runners through different sections of the course, recording their split time, as well as finish time. There will also be NCAA officials to visually monitor the race, as well as video cameras as backup.

“It’s a three-way timing system to make sure we get everything right,” said David Patterson, executive director of the Terre Haute Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Spectators can see runners along nearly 90 percent of the course and can view the entire race on a large jumbo monitor.

“This race will attract between 3,000 to 4,000 people,” Patterson said, creating nearly a $1 million economic influx to hotels and restaurants. “Ten of the hotels in Terre Haute have five to seven teams. Other teams stay in Greencastle or Plainfield, or even at hotels around the Indianapolis airport,” Patterson said.

Earlier this week, James Payne worked to cross-mow the grass down to two inches along the more than half-mile long straight-away, one of the unique features of the course. “They want everything just right,” he said.

“We had a 100-year drought last year, and much of the grass went away, so we had to reseed the entire course,” Patterson said. “We spent a lot of money and effort to reseed and get this back in great shape. Between the hard work of Steve Girton, who heads up all the maintenance, and the weather, it worked out great. The course has really blossomed. It looks as good as it ever has in the last 16 years.”

Patterson said the Pre-Nationals is a “free preview” of the LaVern Gibson course for cross country teams that seek to compete at the Nov. 23 NCAA Championship race on the course.

Last year, Patterson said the NCAA moved the event to be held on a Saturday, instead of a Monday. With the change, Patterson expects the event to draw more fans and spectators.

“This is our first Division 1 event on a Saturday and with more teams, up 20 to 30 percent. We have more attendees and hope to have more people watching,” Patterson said, adding that the increased attendance would help the site compete as a host for future NCAA championships over the next four years.

Historically, a Division 1 cross country race attracts 5,000 to 6,000 people, but Patterson expects that to increase at least 25 percent, if not more, because the race will be held on a Saturday.

“We have four years of bids in with the NCAA and will know in a month who all bid against us. In the coming months, we will know whether we will get any Division 1 or Division 3 championships,” Patterson said. “All we can do in that regard is the same things we have been doing, which is to be as good as we can be.”

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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