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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

More on German Fernandez

Could German Fernandez win a medal at the World XC Championships in Amman this March?

The last US runner to medal in the men's junior race was Dathan Ritzenhein in 2001. He took bronze behind Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele (wow!) and Kenya's Duncan Lebo (who?). How does Fernandez' development compare to Ritz's at the same age?

Ritz was already a stud by his junior year of high school. He won the Foot Locker national XC championships and then went on to run 4:05.9 for 1600m and 8:41.10 for 3200m. As a senior, he successfully defended his Foot Locker title, stomping Alan Webb and Ryan Hall in the process, and pursued but did not break two venerable national high school records, running 8:44.43 (2 miles) and 13:44.70 (5k) in the process.

As a college freshman, Ritz was second in the Big XII cross country championships (behind teammate Jorge Torres), and took fourth at the NCAA championships (behind Boaz Cheboiywo, Torres, and Alistair Cragg). He redshirted his freshman season of indoor track, took second at the USATF Junior XC (behind Matt Tegenkamp) and then went on to Belgium and won his bronze medal.

In contrast, Fernandez was not well known as a high school junior. He didn't qualify for the Foot Locker championships and his track times didn't make the national lists. As a senior, he was only third at the Foot Locker championships, but in February he won the USATF junior XC championship and then took 25th at the World XC Championships. His track season was one of the greatest ever, as he pulled off that amazing state championships double and then broke a national record that Ritz couldn't.

As a college freshman, he won the Big XII cross country championships on a kick, and likely would have been third at the NCAA had he not fallen out with an injury.

In terms of levels of achievements, they're basically at the same level. What sticks out in this comparison is that Fernandez's rate of improvement is vastly superior to that of Ritz at the same age. Whether or not that will continue is uncertain, but last Saturday's race indicates he's made yet another step up (especially considering the reports that his recent training hasn't been geared specifically for the mile).

Next question: could Fernandez win the gold medal? Doubtful, but as my high school coach used to say, if we already knew who was going to win we wouldn't bother to run the races.

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