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Cross Country: Gryphons take team gold, Kerr takes individual gold

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QUEBEC CITY (CUP)-- Geoff Kerr of the University of Calgary Dinos won the gold medal in the men's 10 km race last Saturday in Quebec City at the 2006 Canadian Interuniversity Sport cross country national championships.

Hosted by Universite Laval, and held on the historic Plains of Abraham, the championships brought student-athletes from across Canada to fight hard in a windy, rainy, sleet-soaked affair on the site of the 1759 battleground. Alex Genest of the Sherbrooke Vert et Or earned the silver, while University of Western Ontario Mustang James Gosselin collected the bronze in the field of 122 runners.

Kerr raced near the head of the pack for the entire four laps of the 2.5 km circuit, but only overcame Gosselin on the uphill near the Martello tower--half a kilometre from the finish line--on the final lap. Gosselin led the second and third laps of the race and Genest hung near the front the whole way.

"It was a great course--the setting, the park, the history," said Kerr, who finished in a time of 32:29.8 "The weather was a factor, but it was the same for everyone, so I am pleased with the win."

Kerr, a fourth-year economics student, had never before cracked the top-10 at nationals. He noted his last uphill was especially tough because the course was so muddy and slippery.

He also said the rest of the field bolstered his win.

"These guys are a real tight group--a lot of guys could've won this race."

CIS rookie Genest, who finished in 32:38.2, was also pleased with his performance and was thrilled to be able to do it with the venue.

"I'm extremely happy with it [being] here in Quebec," said Genest, who won a conference race on the Plains of Abraham on a much nicer fall day earlier this season. "I love running in nature, so it wasn't too bad."

On the western front, the emotions were flowing for Gosselin who has finished in the top five in the country in all five years he has competed. The teary-eyed Gosselin, faced a hard battle this week as he was recovering from a concussion.

"I really enjoyed this race," he said. "The course was well laid out. It was a true cross country course--a big difference from the regular golf course-type courses."

The 2006 championship was Gosselin's last CIS race and his bronze medal placed him in very elite company.

"You could probably count the five-time All-Canadians on two hands, and I made All-Canadian," he said. "And I'm happy about that."

The medalists proved themselves to be the elite class of the field, all finishing over 20 seconds ahead of anyone else.

On lap one, in the shadow of the glorious Château Frontenac, the pack remained tight and only started to thin out as they approached the winding basin. The runners roared near the edge of the battlefield and wound through the valley beside the river, keeping much the same tight form.

It wasn't until they reached the narrow valley leading up to the Martello tower, 2 km into the first lap, that the vanguard started to pull away. The early 19th-century tower, built to defend Quebec City, is a prominent structure overlooking the St. Lawrence River on the edge of Battlefields Park.

At the close of the first lap, two Dalhousie runners--with painted-on handle-bar moustaches--led the race while Gosselin was third.

On lap two, the runners thinned out even more, but this time, as they passed the tower, Gosselin had moved up to first, followed by Kerr and Genest.

Lap three stretched the pack even further with Gosselin still leading.

On the bell lap, Gosselin remained in first, but at the end of the largest uphill near the tower, Kerr overtook him. Kerr held on to win by a nine-second margin and Genest overtook Gosselin to nab the silver by two seconds.

When Gosselin crossed the line, he congratulated Kerr and Genest before shedding a few tears with his teammates.

"They all congratulated me on a great career at the university level," he said, adding that he was sad to see it end. "I'm graduating, but these games were one of my best sporting memories--and now it's over. I'm disappointed too, but I'm happy to finish third."

Gosselin had an uphill battle during the race in more ways than one. He sported a black eye from when he was assaulted last week and had to be taken to hospital in an ambulance.

"I had to do a post-concussion test to see if could race," Gosselin said. "I didn't want to lose out--I didn't want to miss my opportunity to be a five-time all-Canadian in my last race."

Guelph dominated the men's team competition even though their top runner, Stephen Koziarski, finished ninth.

The Gryphons 66-point total was 40 better than the second-place Toronto Varsity Blues, while the Victoria Vikes, tied at 120 with the three-time defending-champion Windsor Lancers, claimed the bronze medal on the strength of a better fifth runner.

The placings of the top five runners from each school are added together for scoring purposes, with the lowest score winning.

The 2007 CIS cross country national championships will be hosted by the University of Victoria.

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