When high school seniors Dathan Ritzenhein, Alan Webb, and Ryan Hall met at the 2000 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships in Orlando, Florida, America’s running fans were all but salivating at the prospect of what lie ahead, not just in Orlando, but in the careers to come. All three precocious talents had flashed early signs of excellence on a register America hadn’t seen in a generation. Now, on December 9, 2000 on the Walt Disney World Shades of Green Golf Course, the Big Three from Michigan, Virginia and California would match up head-to-head-to-head for the first time.
Temps were high that day for the boy’s race, humidity, too. Just the same, talk of a sub-4:30 opening mile and a sub-9:00 deuce buzzed over the internet chat rooms as regional fan bases built cases for their respective heroes.
As undefeated returning champion, Rockford High School senior Dathan Ritzenhein’s game was pressure. And after an initial 4:46 mile, the whip strong Michigander applied it unsparingly.
Pulling away from a shocked Alan “I’m ready for anything” Webb with a 4:33 second mile, Ritz went on to win that 5K battle and notch a historic second straight Foot Locker national title. His 20 second margin of victory put a hard shine on it, as it was, and remains, the largest gap in Foot Locker history. The Virginia miler held strong for second, while the California cruiser Ryan Hall showed third in the high Florida humidity (Ryan’s future wife Sara Bei went from last to first to win the 2000 girl’s Foot Locker title).
Over the ensuing 15 years the Big Three, as they came to be known, have gone on to author memorable, historic performances as records have been set, Olympic teams made, though none has yet to cop an Olympic medal. But as we enter the spring of 2015, only Dathan Ritzenhein is still exploring the outer limits of his youthful running promise. Continue reading