Border Clash 2008: Washington Does It Again

At the Border Clash,

results are secondary
(but Wash. did win again)
By Jack Pfeifer
            BEAVERTON, Ore. – There were lots of bells and whistles at the Border Clash cross country race between the top high school runners from the states of Washington and Oregon.
            Hundreds of little metal cowbells were handed out to all takers – green for Washington rooters, blue for Oregon, colors in keeping with the eco-Northwest – so the ringing resounded across the pastoral Nike campus here in suburban Portland on a clear Sunday morning like church bells.
            At the blast of a cannon, 80 runners, split into respective state groups, took off Braveheart-style and converged 80 yards later with a sharp turn into one group, fighting to get to the front. They were accompanied by the hooting from a band of bagpipers and drummers.
            A helicopter whirred overhead, not to transport Nike mogul Phil Knight but to catch the race on video so it could be transmitted live to four flat-screen screens set up on the infield. Each one was inside a white canvas tent, with a small grandstand, letting fans follow the race, because the 4.4-kilometer course was not viewer-friendly.
            The runners did not wear school uniforms but just ones with a big ‘W’ or big ‘O,’ for rivals become teammates for a day.
            On this day, it seemed that the scoring system had been changed. After nine years of domination by the visitors from the North (Washington leading 7-2), the hosts (Oregon) had devised a new way to score. “Instead of scoring 10-deep for each team, as we have in the past,” a meet organizer said, “we’re only scoring 5 this year.
            “Washington has been winning with its depth.”
            At least he was honest.
            The girls went first, and Oregon ran well. Khalia Tidwell, a junior from Gresham, took the lead after the first mile. She was caught by three teammates halfway, and in the end it was Taylor Wallace, a senior from Klamath Falls and last year’s runnerup, finishing just ahead of Annamarie Maag of Lake Oswego, as Oregon went 1-2-3-4, although it was a result that didn’t necessary sit well with all of Taylor’s teammates.
            Two Portlanders, both sporting a blue letter ‘O’ on their left cheek, explained. “Tate gave us all an ‘O’ with crayon before the race,” they said, referring to their teammate Tate Murray of Lake Oswego. “Everyone wanted one except for one person, Taylor. And she won.”
            The 5th finisher was Alyssa Andrews of Gig Harbor, Wash., that state’s 4A champion earlier this month. Andrews had beaten many of her Oregon rivals just a week earlier at a Team Nationals regional meet in Boise, Idaho.
            This put Oregon well ahead in the scoring, with the boys’ race to come.
            A year ago, the Washington boys swept the first 10 places, a tough act to follow. This year, it was 14. Andrew Kimpel of Spokane sprinted past Drew O’Donoghue-McDonald of Seattle with 25 yards to go to win the race. Kimpel was one of three North Central High School runners in the top 10, another indication NC is one of the teams to beat in the Team Nationals, also to be held here in Portland, in two weeks.
            “They clobbered us,” an Oregonian lamented, “but Washington has three times the population!” (It’s actually closer to 1 ½ times as many.)
            It’s Oregon’s show, however, and they do a splendid job.
            The 160 competitors get some carbo loading the night before at the Tiger Woods Center on the Nike campus, and there is a presentation and a goodie bag – painstakingly crafted within the allowable amateurism rules.
            Full-color meet posters were available, no charge. The cowbells were free. No admission charge, no parking fee. Several thousand people showed up. (The event’s estimated budget is $30,000. Someone had to pay for the chopper.) It is a festive, free-wheeling atmosphere. One group of four girls, wearing sports bras and running shorts, sported the letters “OR” brightly painted on their lower backs. They ran from spot to spot in tandem, giddy with their state girls’ success, disconsolate when their boys fell back. Later, they spotted two of their heroic boys, heads down in defeat, and mobbed them. Group photos ensued.  
            Admiring copycat “Border Clashes” have popped up around the country, including the Maryland-Virginia Battle of the Potomac and the Arizona/New Mexico Border Wars. Oregon-Washington is especially successful because virtually every top-flight runner in each state chooses to compete in the race. And what pedigree: Four of the first five finishers in the 2003 boys’ race, for example, are now on teams contending to win this year’s NCAA championship (Galen Rupp/Oregon, David Kinsella/Portland, Stuart Eagon/Wisconsin and Ryan Vail/Oklahoma State).
            Nike showcased four of its elite runners, and they showed the right spirit by being respective team captains. This year Shannon Rowbury and Nick Symmonds stood up for Oregon, Anna Willard and Dathan Ritzenhein for Washington. Fellow clubmates Kara and Adam Goucher were on hand, and there was plenty of cross-country chatter in the air as Monday morning’s NCAA championships were hours away, in Terre Haute, Ind. The University of Oregon men’s team and University of Washington women’s team are the top seeds. Both races were to be televised live on a big screen at Hayward Field on the Oregon campus in Eugene. Thousands of UO students were expected, fog or rain notwithstanding.
            At the closing awards presentation, the top 10 finishers for each sex were introduced. The girls came first, and each girl’s state was given. The Oregon girls got the loudest cheers. When it came time for the top 10 boys, the emcee said, “I guess I don’t have to say the state every time.”