Deena Drossin in action in the women's long race at the 2001 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Ostend (© © Allsport)
Last year, it was the men who stood in the 10K spotlight at the Cardinal Invitational at Stanford University in California. Abraham Chebii's memorable win, the fastest ever in a US competition, ended up the year as the season's best, as Mebrahtom Keflizighi toppled a 15-year-old American record in the race.
This year, it was the women's turn to shine in the 10K event, and a pair of national records resulted from an emotion-packed finish on Friday 3 May.
Japan's Yoko Shibui held off a determined finish by American Denna Drossin to win in a national record of 30:48.89.
It was the fastest performance in the world during this young season, but more tellingly, it was the best since the Sydney Games, eclipsing anything that the World Championship season of 2001 had to offer.
By coincidence, Shibui's clocking was exactly one minute--to the exact hundredth--better than her previous best of 31:48.89.
Drossin's futile last-gasp challenge to Shibui still produced a 30:50.32 clocking for an American record, almost a half minute faster than Lynn Jennings' existing US standard of 31:19.89, which came ten years ago in a bronze-medal performance at the Barcelona Olympics.
Drossin's previous best had been 31:51.05 in her 2000 Olympic Trials win.
For both women, Friday's race was a reaffirmation of their new membership in distance-racing's elite. Shibui moved to the number-seven position all-time in the event, with Drossin just behind in the number-eight spot.
As is the case with all record-level performances in distance events, the accomplishments did have some assistance, on this occasion from Seattle-based Lyudmila Vasilyeva of Russia, herself a top-rank 1500 runner (eighth-fastest in 2001). With few exceptions, such European-style pace making organization is all but unknown in America, but at Stanford it is starting to become de rigueur.
Vasilyeva completed her work just before the 3K mark, after she was convinced that Shibui's and Drossin's mental metronomes were accuately set.
What evolved from that point was a riveting duel of 73- and 74-second laps, as the two protagonists pushed and tugged each other to previously unknown levels on a windless, 11C-cool evening, with Shibui doing most of the tugging.
The Japanese runner, who missed a medal by just 15 seconds in the Edmonton World Championships marathon with her fourth-place finish, has been highly touted of late by
her country's cognoscenti as their next great marathon runner. Since last year, much
of the 23-year-old's training has been done in 1700-metre-high Boulder, Colorado.
Drossin has gone to even higher country, as she now maintains residence in the ski resort of Mammoth Lakes, at a 2400-metre elevation in California's Sierra Nevada mountain range.
With her second-place finish at the recent World Cross Country Championships, plus last year's win at the New York marathon, the Boston-born and California-raised Drossin has quickly shot to the top of American distance running.
Both of the 10K races were dedicated to the memory of the late athletes' coach and manager, Kim McDonald of Great Britain, who died suddenly while on holiday in Australia last November. For the past several years, McDonald had utilized the Stanford facilities as an off-season training site for some of his top proteges, and a moment of silence honoured his many contributions to the sport.
There were other noteworthy results during the evening's programme. Martin Keino of Kenya held the lead much of the time in the men's 5000 metres, and he easily won in 13:22.91, a personal best. Chasing Keino to the finish was a trio of young Americans who all posted their top career times--Jorge Torres (13:26.00), Dathan Ritzenhein (13:27.77) and Jonathon Riley (13:29.15).
Apparently still full of adrenalin after his PB race, Keino returned to the track an hour later to help pace the men's 10K, won by his countryman Albert Chepkurui (27:19.79) in a close battle against Mebrahtom Keflizighi of the US (27:20.15).
Nicole Teter's move to Stanford to train with retired Georgetown coach Frank Gagliano and the Nike Farm Team keeps looking better with each track outing. Her 1:59.76 world-leading win tonight in the women's 800 was even more noteworthy in being the earliest an American has ever recorded a sub-2:00 on American soil in any season.
The 28-year-old Teter, who broke Mary Slaney's 22-year-old indoor 800-metre record in March, was herself dipping under two minutes outdoors for the first time in her career.
An Atlanta Olympian and a member of the US team in Seville three years ago, steeplechaser Robert Gary spent the past two seasons off the chart.
In his season steeple debut here, the 29-year-old amazed with a world-leading 8:23.12, less than four seconds off his career best which came during the 1996 season.
Leading tonight's contest for much of its seven-plus laps, Gary ran the final kilometer far ahead of the field and enjoyed a victory margin in excess of twelve seconds, which would indicate that the European season should lead him to his best-ever year.
Easily the standout of the field events was Toby Stevenson's 5.71 pole vault performance. The Stanford assistant coach had one nearly successful attempt at 5.81 to close the competition.
Ed Gordon for the IAAF