Cross-country runners are a unique breed of athlete. Who else would run 10 km as fast as they can simply to cross a finish line? Who would simply want to run, not chase balls or tackle opponents? Who would want to deal with the mental and physical pain of it?
Lanny Mann does. So do Andrew Alley, Nathan Kendrick, Steve MacIntyre, Aaron Swanson, Gerry Stewart and Brian Carruthers.
Those representatives of the University of Calgary Dinos demonstrated strength and stamina last weekend, when they finished first in the Canada West Universities Athletic Association and fifth in the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union at the national championship. If the placings were the only things reported about a race, the heart of cross-country would be missed. The Dinos may not have captured a title last weekend, but they captured the spirit of cross-country.
Alley, Kendrick and MacIntyre walked away with the 11th-through-13th places in the race and positions as second-team All-Canadians. Alley also captured the CIAU rookie-of-the-year title. Behind that trio came Mann (32nd), Swanson (50th), Stewart (66th) and Carruthers (77th).
"The guys went in there with the goal of winning and fell a little short," said coach Doug Lamont. "The higher the goal, the more it hurts if you don't get it."
Kendrick pointed more to the Canada West championship as the team's real accomplishment.
"It means we accomplished a goal," he explained. "It proved something to a lot of other people, considering we weren't ranked for the first six weeks of the season."
Kristen Brennard was the lone U of C runner in the women's 5km race, finishing 38th in the nation and 12th in Canada West. The women's field was deep, with the top 40 runners coming in under 19 minutes. Brennard's finish further exemplified Calgary's talent level compared with the rest of the nation.
Mann's 32nd-place finish is deceptive. He ran an exceptional race, staying between second and fourth place for most of the 10 km. In the last 200 m, Mann pushed himself past the point of physical exhaustion and collapsed. He forced himself to struggle across the finish line valiantly, but the title was lost. Had Mann finished in the top 10, the Dinos would have captured the CIAU title.
Mann showed not only the spirit and talent of a national champion, but also the leadership found on a national-calibre team. Carruthers called Mann's performance "inspiring," and added that the team has always looked up to him, even more so after last weekend.
Kendrick found little disappointment in the result.
"It is [disappointing], but in the way that it happened, there's nothing we could do," he said. "If he had dropped out of the race or spent the night before with his girlfriend that would be different. I'm fine with it. The other successes--the Canada West championship, the All-Canadians--ease it a lot."
In a previous race, Mann beat the eventual national individual champion, Graham Cocksedge. He has led the Dinos to numerous team victories, but he had never run a race like that one. On the outside, it may appear to be a devastating race for Mann and the Dinos, but in reality, it proved their strength. The nation is now aware of Mann's capabilities as a leader and contender.
"Lanny will be back with a vengeance," said Lamont.
Most of the team will be back with Mann next year. Stewart has used up his five years of eligibility and will not be back. MacIntyre is graduating, but still has a year of eligibility left and has yet to confirm his decision.