Courtney Frerichs, the 2017 World Championships steeplechase silver medalist, and Craig Engels – two of the brightest, young U.S. distance stars – will be guests of event sponsor Nike and the NSAF Saturday at the Great American Cross Country Festival.
The NSAF and Nike are thrilled to have Frerichs and Engels with us during the races and festivities at WakeMed Soccer Park, where they will sign autographs at a large Nike tent in the staging area and hand out some of the awards. Nike has enhanced the prestige of GAXC the past two years with the presence of their talented pros (Mary Cain was here in 2016) and any of the 2,500+ athletes competing Saturday will have a chance to meet them and get autographs.
Frerichs, also a 2016 Olympic finalist, exploded to the top echelon of international distance running in August when she raced to the silver medal during the IAAF World Champs 3,000-meter steeplechase final – joining gold medal-winning teammate Emma Coburn for a sweep and Team USA’s first-ever WC medals in the event. Her 9:03.77 made her the #2 American steepler ever and #7 in world history. Frerichs’ previous best had been 9:19.07 before London and her dramatic improvement made her one of the great breakthrough performers in U.S. distance history.
Frerichs, originally from Nixa, Missouri, had already built up a great resume leading up to London. While she was not a top national performer as a prep, she quickly improved as a collegian – first at U. of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) and then at U. of New Mexico – where she would win the 2016 NCAA 3kST title (collegiate record 9:24.41) as a senior prior to her runner-up finish in the Olympic Trials. She racked up seven All-American finishes in XC and track, in the fall of ’15 leading the Lobos to an NCAA team title. She now resides in Portland where she competes for Nike and the Bowerman TC.
Engels, meanwhile, has been steadily moving up the distance ranks since his days as a prep star at Ronald Reagan HS in Pfafftown, N.C. – where his fine range enabled him to become one of the few high schoolers in history to run both sub-1:50 for 800 and sub-9:00 for 3,200. A GAXC alum from 2010, he was also the 2012 Penn Relays mile champ and won the state Gatorade title in T&F that year. Engels first went to N.C. State as a collegian; where after his freshman year he was runner-up in the 2013 USA Junior 1,500 and then captured the Pan American Junior title in that event in Medellin, Columbia.
Then Engels transferred to U. of Mississippi, where he helped build the Rebels rising distance program during his remaining years. At the 2016 Olympic Trials he just missed making the team in both the 800 (PR 1:46.03 in 4th) and 1,500 (PR 3:37.66 in 5th). This year, he finished as a 5th-year senior at Ole Miss, anchoring the winning NCAA DMR indoors and taking 3rd in the NCAA outdoor 1,500 – then 4th (again) in the USA 1,500. He then turned pro with the Nike Oregon Project, later went sub-4:00 twice (3:57.67 best) and improved his 1,500m PR to 3:35.95.
Nike’s support of the GAXC has also established it as the NXN Southeast Pre-Regional Meet, with WakeMed hosting NXN SE later in the fall on November 25.
Thanks to John Nepolitan of Runnerspace.com/DyeStat.com for the great photos of Frerichs (with her WC silver medal) and Engels (before his 3:58.58, his 2nd sub-4, at HOKA ONE ONE Long Island mile).