With the 2012 NCAA Cross Country Championships a day away, head coach Dave Smith and runners Tom Farrell and Girma Mecheso were invited to the pre-race press conference held this afternoon at the Sawyer Hayes Community Center. Here are their statements:
"I'm just excited to be here. The national championships - I think we're all fit and healthy and ready to go, which is 90 percent of the battle at this time of the year, just getting everyone to the starting line and ready to go. I think the course looks great and the weather looks like it's going to be perfect. I think the field is as deep and full of parity as it has been in the last 10 years. I think there are 10 teams that you could put in a bag, shake up, and draw a different order every time. I think it's going to be a real dog fight out there."
On the course conditions:
"You know, like any cross country course or golf course, it plays a little differently than every other course. There are different challenges to every course you run on. There are a couple quick, little dips and undulations in the terrain in the first 500-600 meters, that if you're not awake or paying attention, can be an issue. Having run the course twice in the last couple days and seeing it and knowing when those things are coming, it's not too much of an issue. There's a lot of turning - 90-degree turns or 180-degree turns - that poses different challenges than a wide-open course, but at the end of the day, I don't think the course really determines the race; I think athletes do. Good athletes adjust to any course, just like a golf course; you have to know how to play it or run it. I think the course looks great. It's in great shape. The footing is good. Even from yesterday to today, it's firmed up a little bit and it's been even more manicured than before. Somebody's been working hard to keep improving it."
On handling being the favorite in the men's race:
"In our minds, we're never the underdog and we're never the favorite. We're a team out there trying to win the championship. I think, every year, there are at least 3-4 teams that are pretty equally matched. Even if it might not look that way throughout the year, it always comes out that way in the end, or nearly comes out that way in the end. The difference between this year and last year is maybe, last year, we had some guys who had done some incredible things for us. I think a lot of our team expected those guys to do everything for us again; that those guys can win a championship by themselves. I think some of our young guys weren't prepared to step up and fill the roles they needed to fill, and thought German Fernandez, Colby Lowe and Johnathan Stublaski could go win a championship for us. This year, having to deal with the situation of those guys not being here, I think a lot of younger guys thought `this is the time I have to come through.' I think we're a little more deep and a little more prepared than we were at this time last year with a bunch of young guys hungry and ready to run."
"Like our coach, Dave (Smith) said, the course is great and the weather is great. One thing to mention, our coach tells us, is the course is flat and it's very narrow. Whenever we start, we have to start a little bit faster. We have been getting ready for this and I think we're ready to go."
On competing against Arizona's Lawi Lalang:
"Lawi is a great athlete and he already showed that he's one of the best, but our goal is not to chase Lawi. It's to go for the team title. I don't think our concern is about Lawi. Our concern is for our team to come together and help each other and get it done at the championship."
On the difference between this year's team and last year's team:
"Last year, our team was so great due to the experience we had, like Colby, German and Stublaski. Our young team is young, but we're ready to go. Our team is really focused. Last year, we didn't expect to lose, and this year, we are ready. I think we have what it takes to win this championship."
"It's looking like it's going to be a great meet. The course looks great. Thanks to Louisville and Tom Sawyer State Park for setting up what looks like to be a great meet. I think it's going to be another great national championship race on the boys and girls side, so we're certainly looking forward to it and I'm sure everyone else is."
On preparing mentally for the national championship as the favorites:
"I think, throughout the season, Dave (Smith) helps us prepare with the type of workouts we do and how we approach each race. We approach each race differently every time and, always toward championship season, it gets more important. I think, physically, that's how we get used to racing. Mentally, you can't take rankings for granted. As nice as it is to be ranked first, every team on that list isn't going to finish exactly where that list says they're going to finish. We're definitely not going in taking anything for granted. It's going to be a tight race, so we're excited to race."