EUGENE, Ore. – With an early end to his 2018 outdoor track and field season, Oregon Track Club Elite’s Ben Blankenship was on the lookout for a different kind of competitive experience this fall.
“I wanted to retool myself as an athlete,” he said.
Blankenship, a finalist in the 1,500 meters at the 2016 Rio Olympics, found exactly what he was looking for at the 2018 USATF National Club Cross Country Championships in Spokane, Wash., on Dec. 8.
The former University of Minnesota All-American outlasted a deep and talented field of 425 runners to win the men’s 10K race on a cold and cloudy afternoon. Blankenship crossed the finish line in 29 minutes, 21 seconds, a full six seconds ahead of runner-up Hilary Bor at 29:27. OTC Elite teammate Luke Puskedra placed 29th overall at 30:21.
“I put Club Cross on my calendar because I thought it would be a good chance to do something different,” Blankenship said. “Not typical racing, just get out there and compete and see how it would go.”
It had been eight years since Blankenship last competed over 10,000 meters in a cross country race. He placed 33rd overall as Minnesota’s top finisher at the 2010 NCAA Cross Country Championships. He also was an NCAA qualifier for the Gophers in 2009 and ’08.
“I went into Spokane knowing if I got on the line, I wanted to compete and run hard,” Blankenship said. “When there’s a ton of athletes in a race, the key to success is being able to get out and get early position, and then go from there.”
As it turned out, Blankenship and Bor – a fellow 2016 Olympian – broke away from the lead pack with about a mile to go. When Bor began to fade with 500 meters remaining, Blankenship sped to victory.
“Ben and Luke have been in basic phase training for a while now, so it was good for both of them to have a competitive outlet,” OTC Elite Coach Mark Rowland said. “For Ben, winning was a bonus, but that was not our objective. We wanted to assess how well things were going even though this race was slightly longer than we’d have liked.”
The victory in Spokane had one other unexpected benefit for Blankenship. He is now scheduled to represent Team USA in the Great Stirling Cross Country race in Scotland on Jan. 12, an 8K competition featuring teams from the U.S., Great Britain and Europe.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Blankenship said. “It’s right around the corner, a little bit shorter, and it gives me another target to keep my mileage up … I think it will be another cool experience and it’s always fun to represent your country.”