Stillwater High School boys track and cross country coach Scott Christensen served as team leader of the USA's Senior Men's team at last weekend's IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh, Scotland. DtB caught up with Christensen (pictured) upon his return to ask him about the experience.
DtB: For folks who've never attended a World Cross Country Championships, can you describe the atmosphere of the event?
Christensen: First of all 20,000 spectators! Drums and other percussion groups from several African nations playing constantly, a bagpipe player on the crest of Haggis Knoll, a English speaking announcer that gave a play by play like a North American hockey game, a Giant Screen monitor on the leaders keeping track of everything, a criterium style course so you can frequently see the athletes come by. The crowd itself was more in a frenzy then any meet I have ever attended including state and NCAA meets.
DtB: As the team leader, what was important for you to do (or not to do) to help your squad perform well at World Cross?
Christensen: I set up a to-do list right after the San Diego trials. A once a week e-mail to all of the athletes. These included our travel plans, weather situations, gear info, basically the nuts and bolts of the trip. I know most of their personal coaches and agents so I talked to all of them as frequently as I could about nagging injuries, what we should do in Scotland, and the like. I went into Google and brought up past interviews and race results on the 9 of them. I wanted to know their wives name, where they went to high school, if they are an Eagle Scout...things we could make small-talk about.
Once there, I met with the Senior Team each morning to set-up the daily workout times and determine what help they needed, I assisted in their pre-race (Friday) blood draw at drug testing. They elected a Captain through me. We went out to dinner together the night before the race at an Italian restaurant in Edinburgh and talked about the dynamics of our team, we spent time together Saturday at the course itself preparing. I brought spikes of all lengths from Run N Fun and we set up their shoes after we got back from the course.
On Sunday the 10 of us met at 1 pm in the Village for the 2:45 race and we bussed down together to the start. We pushed through security together and I led them to the US changing tent. They ran their warm-up and I led them to the Call room at 2:20. I then had access to the course and kept track of each of their places as they came by, hollered at them, and I guess was their coach for about 37-38 minutes! I then met them after the race for some slaps on the back.
DtB: How did you feel about the senior men's team's performance?
Christensen: We lost Dathan Ritzenhein due to a nagging IT band about 10 days before and replaced him with Stanford alum Jonathon Pierce. He was really pumped to get the call and raced well. There were three really exceptional performances: Jorge and Edwardo Torres and Scott Baughs. Max King ran pretty well. The others were a little disappointed. Josh Rohatinsky was a real gem to work with and was real open with me. He felt he may have started a little fast and had some breathing problems late. All in all we were the top non-African team and that is pretty good. We beat many good teams from throughout the world. Naturally, we wanted a medal, but without Dathan and Ryan Hall, who was 5th at the Trials but is preparing for the London Marathon, this is about where we should have been.
DtB: Are there things you can take from the World Cross experience that can help your Stillwater teams?
Christensen: I take things everyday of my life and try to apply them to my Stillwater team. These days provided me with an abundance of material. These 9 Senior Men are all champions at what they do...State, NCAA, USATF, you name it. Yet, they got along so well together all week. There was no arrogance or aloofness, even with each other, just good guys with a load of talent that prepare very well. Sport transcends generations, I want my boys at Stillwater to treat racing and preparation as professionally as these men do. The world is full of wannabees, these guys have done it.