Though never without turbulence in its administration, the sport of running, as ever, remains engaging while afoot. Yes, like the Thanksgiving Day turkey, there is always meat on this bone, whether in youth, junior, senior, or masters competitions. And now I know that applies to the world of Virtus World Championships, as well.
The ninth Virtus World Cross Country Championships were staged at San Diego’s Tecolote Shores east Mission Bay Park this past weekend (Nov. 19-20, 2022), site of four previous USATF National Cross Country Championships.
Virtus is the International Federation for Elite Athletes with intellectual impairment. It has 90 member nations, offering competitive opportunities to more than half a million athletes worldwide. Virtus is among the Paralympic family of federations.
This weekend’s Virtus World Cross Country Championships were the first to be staged off the continent of Europe and the first held since 2018. Nine nations sent representatives.
Short and long course races were on offer, short course on Saturday (2k for women, 4k for men), then the long course championships went off on Sunday (6k for women, 8k for men).
The 2K loop along Mission Bay is a lovely venue, with long early morning shadows and soft turf. The hills are modest, but after several laps, the spongy turf takes the snap from your legs.
Though the fields were modest, totaling just 32 athletes in all, to see the passion, excitement, and dedication of the athletes in competition was just as compelling, just as empowering as any championship, whether at the high school, college, or professional level.
To witness double gold medalist, Michael Brannigan from East Northport Long Island, New York, battle double silver medalist Adam Angelone of Morris, New Jersey shoulder -to-shoulder down the final 80m of Sunday’s 8k long course race, was as heart pounding as watching North Carolina’s Katelyn Touhy running down Florida’s Parker Valby at the NCAA Cross Country Championships on Saturday in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
“It’s all about the fight,” sub-4 minute miler Brannigan told me afterwards.
To see the gleam in the eye of Jason David from France after a teammate handed him the tri-colour French flag for his final dash to the tape, to see the pride spread across his face as he hit the line to win the II2 category, was all you needed to make it through the rest of the day with an extra spring in your own step.
That’s the thing about competition. In a world where most everything is over-hyped, where excuses fall like seasonal temperatures in every other part of the country, pure competition never disappoints. And it doesn’t matter the age, the level, or any other distinction you can suggest.
When athletes train for a championship effort, then lay it all on the line, running till their hearts are about to burst, then accept the results with congratulations to the winners and honest pride in their own performance, it rekindles a belief in the human enterprise that so much else around us tends to knock the pins out from under.
Thanks to championship race director Tracy Sundlun, assistant directors Paul Greer and Jennifer Nanasta, the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center, title sponsor Amazon, and Mark Truffault, president of Virtus for their dedication and leadership. A salute, as well, to Olympic legends Willie Banks and Joaquim Cruz for being on hand to hand out awards and celebrate the runners.
It might not be as grandiose as the FIFA World Cup, but there’s not much of a world of difference between what we saw this weekend in San Diego and what’s on display for the next few weeks in Qatar. Believe me, the world could use a good dose of Vurtis.