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Feldman’s Success Highlights National Championship

Despite a Disappointing MIT Finish, Feldman Earns All-American Honors For NCAA Division III Cross Country

By Stanley Hu

STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

For the men’s cross country team, this was one race they would like to forget.

But for Daniel R. Feldman ’02, what began as a quest for redemption ended with a scintillating performance that earned him All-American honors at the NCAA Division III National Cross Country Championship.

Feldman raced his way into the record books last Saturday, placing fourth at Nationals-the highest finish ever by an MIT athlete-at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. Posting the fastest time of his career, Feldman clocked a sizzling 24:23 over the 5-mile course. J.B. Haglund from Haverford College won the race in 24:16.

“[Feldman] ran the plan to perfection,” said Coach Halston W. Taylor. “We predicted 24:20; he ran 24:23. Dead on splits, like he was supposed to.”

That was the way it was supposed to go last year, but the men’s cross country team inexplicably failed to reach Nationals back then. In last year’s regional championship, Feldman ran poorly and failed to qualify individually. To make matters worse, the team finished sixth, missing the cutoff by one place.

On Saturday, Feldman got his chance to make amends.

Pacing off the top collegiate runners in the country, he ran with the lead pack and went through the first mile in 4:45. “I was kind of a little unsure,” said Feldman. “I didn’t know about these big races. But then I was just up there, you know, and I started to feel bad.”

Feeling bad didn’t stop him from staying with the leaders on a 70-degree day that had runners collapsing across the finish line and suffering from heat stroke. Feldman pushed through the next miles and followed eventual winner Haglund over the rolling hills of the course. Around mile four, Haglund surged ahead of the pack, and Feldman found himself battling Tyler Foos from the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse. Feldman sprinted in with a 4:39 mile to capture his first All-American title with a fourth place finish.

The rest of the team, however, did not fare as well. Ranked 11th heading into the race, the Engineers fell victim to the pressure of running in big meet and the unusual November heat. They placed 20th overall, a disappointing result for a team that had hoped to break into the top five. The University of Wisconsin at La Crosse won with 80 points.

“I have no clue [what happened],” said Taylor. “I know that they didn’t get out. I know that they did not run the plan.”

The plan was to get out fast to avoid being trapped behind slower runners, move into solid position, and strike from there. Sean P.r. Nolan ’03, who led MIT to a third place finish in the regional championship, started conservatively with a 4:55 mile. Content to let others start faster, Nolan planned on moving up and running with Feldman, a strategy that had worked well for him all season. But he began to lose focus early in the race.

“You know that good feeling that you get? I felt that in the warm-up,” said Nolan. “But I started thinking negative thoughts. Instead of thinking about how much other people hurt, I started to think about how much I hurt.”

Nolan dropped back from the leaders after the third mile but held onto 61st place in 25:26. Meanwhile, Albert S. Liu ’03 ran a consistent race to place 133th in 26:08. Sean J. Montgomery G, who normally finished third for the team, struggled through the race in 26:18. Benjamin A. Schmeckpeper ’05, Mark L. Strauss ’02, and Brian C. Anderson ’04 rounded out the team score, clocking 26:22, 26:35, and 27:38, respectively.

Those times count for something, but the end results ultimately come down to position. “I guess what happened to everybody on the team is that when you don’t get out hard, you find yourself in a quagmire of people,” said Taylor. “Everyone’s time is right there, but you’re not necessarily gaining any ground on a flat course. You start thinking all kinds of things. And once you start doing something wrong, everything gets worse. [Feldman] got himself out ... the other guys didn’t.”

Their 20th place finish at Nationals capped off an otherwise winning year for the men’s cross country team. They blazed their way through the season, capturing first in the UMass Dartmouth Invitational and the NEWMAC Championship. Rallying to defeat rivals Tufts and Williams, they placed third in the Division III New England Championship to qualify for Nationals. “We had a great year,” said Taylor.

Still, the bitter taste of disappointment remains.

“I don’t know if I can wait that long [for next year],” said Nolan. “I just want to get ready for track and do better.”