Florida Gators athlete stamps authority on the US collegiate event at Charlottesville as Graham Blanks of Harvard wins men’s title

The highly anticipated showdown between Parker Valby and Katelyn Tuohy at the NCAA Cross Country Championships resulted in a big win for Valby in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday (Nov 18).

Such was the hype in the US running media surrounding the race, it was almost on a par with Seabiscuit vs War Admiral.

Yet Valby against Tuohy turned out to be a one-horse race as the Florida Gators athlete clocked an NCAA record of 18:55.2 on the 6km course to win by 10 seconds from Doris Lemngole of Alabama, as Olivia Markezich of Notre Dame finished third, Hilda Olemomoi of Alabama fourth and Tuohy of NC State fifth in 19:23 after having struggled with illness during race week.

Such was the interest, the meeting was declared a sell-out on the eve of the event. “Valbymaniacs have been sleeping on the course all week probably,” quipped one message board poster.

“I tried not to get into all that,” said Valby. “Although I did notice a sign on the start line that said ‘Valby’s revenge season’.”

Indeed, Valby saw an 11-second lead cut down in Stillwater 12 months ago as was caught, passed and beaten to the NCAA title by Tuohy. This time. However, Valby started favourite after some terrific recent form and hit the front and stayed there.

On the fast rolling course the runners passed 1km in 2:54 with Valby soon cutting loose and building an eight-second lead through 2km. Passing 3km in 9:15, she held a lead of 18 seconds and this grew to 20 seconds at 4km.

Did she realise how big the cushion over her rivals was? “I had no idea,” she said.

Hitting more hills in the latter part of the race and struggling a little with a stitch, Valby’s lead fell to 18 seconds at 5km (15:44) and was then almost halved by Lemngole in the final kilometre. But her win never really looked in doubt.

The team contest was much tougher as NC State took their third win in a row but by just one solitary point from Northern Arizona as Oklahoma State finished third.

In the men’s race, meanwhile, Graham Blanks became the first winner of this title from an Ivy League university as the Harvard man clocked 28:37.7 to beat Habtom Samuel of New Mexico by three seconds with Ky Robinson of Stanford third as Oklahoma State took the team title.

There will be much speculation now over Valby’s progress once she leaves the University of Florida. The 21-year-old, who apparently only runs three times per week due to injury concerns, has already signed a NIL (name, image and likeness) sponsorship deal with Nike and it will be interesting to see if she tries to qualify for the US Olympic team next year.

A more immediate sign of her ability, though, would be to see how she might fare against arguably Europe’s No.1 under-23 cross-country runner right now, Megan Keith. It’s a shame the annual new year GB vs Europe vs USA cross-country international in Edinburgh is now defunct otherwise we might have found out.

Full results here.

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