THE national male and female middle-distance runners always faced an uphill task against the likes of traditional cross country powerhouses USA and Canada at yesterday's North America, Central America and Caribbean Athletics Association (NACAC) 2019 Cross Country Championships, at the Queen's Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain. The results yesterday highlighted the gap between the North American countries and the Caribbean.
There were four races, only two of which – the senior men and senior women's 10km races – were contested by TT runners.
In the penultimate event, the senior women's 10K, US-based Tonya Nero represented TT with a 12th place finish, clocking 37 minutes, 34 seconds, behind race winner Breanna Sieracki of the USA, who crossed the finish line in 35:57.
Just three seconds in Sieracki's wake was Canadian Jessica O'Connell, and Jessica Tonn, another American, rounded off the top three. Nero's compatriot Samantha Shukla, the only other TT athlete in the race, placed a disappointing 18th in 40:40.
USA finished with the fewest points and thus captured the team trophy as well, followed by Canada and Mexico for second and third.
The men's race, the closing event, was dominated by the Americans, three of whom stayed shoulder to shoulder amongst themselves for the entire duration of the race. In fact, the three runners, Abbabiya Simbassa, Frankline Tonui and Reid Buchanan all clocked 31:49, with their team-mate Evans Kirwa taking fourth in 32:08, making for an easy team win.
Matthew Hagley, who is tipped to represent TT, along with Nero, at the 2019 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark next month, was TT's best runner on the day but finished way down the pack in 20th out of 27 runners. He clocked 35:22. Hagley was followed ten seconds later by team-mate Sherwyn Stapleton. Iley Bruce (35:53), Shirvan Baboolal (36:08), Anthony Phillip (37:18) and Mark London (38:28) occupied from 23rd to 26th spots, beating only Garfield Gordon of Jamaica, who did not finish.
The Canadians similarly dominated the Under-20 Women's 6K race and the Men's 8K, earning the top three spots. Taryn O'Neill (21:31), Charlotte Wood (21:33) and Makenna Fitzgerald (21:37) took the women's event for Canada, and Evan Burke (26:43), Nicholas Mota (26:53) and Andrew Davies (27:00) did the same for Canada's men.
Thelma Wright, a two-time Olympian for Canada and IAAF cross country delegate for the region, said in a brief interview that the USA and Canada runners may have an advantage in cross country as the sport is an integral part of the countries' school programmes. She said however the TT male runners in particular were a talented group but lacked grit.
"They look like they aren't used to feeling the burn," she said, adding that their results will vastly improve with greater determination and by taking a different view of the sport, like the Canadians and Americans, by introducing it at the primary school level.
Wright also noted that the terrain was not the best TT had to offer, saying the previously used course in Turtle Bay, Tobago, was more suitable with the number of dips and turns, in comparison to the one dip on the Queen's Park Savannah course.