RIDGEFIELD, Conn. -- Brien McMahon senior Eric van der Els and Ridgefield’s Gabe Altopp traveled nearly 3,000 miles to separate themselves by five seconds Saturday at the Foot Locker cross country national championships in San Diego.
Van der Els finished 18th in the race in 15:35.6 followed by Altopp in 15:39.9. Both runners narrowly missed earning All-American status, which went to the top 15 runners. The race featured the top 40 high school runners in the country. Drew Hunter of Virginia won the race in 14:55.7.
Van der Els and Altopp had similar strategies, pushing the pace early before settling in. Both runners made late moves in the final half mile of the race and pushed into the top 20.
“I feel pretty good about it,’’ said Altopp, who will continue his running career at Brown University. “Towards the end the finish just came out of nowhere. I saw it and tried to find another gear. I picked up about four places in the last 500 yards.”
Altopp said his goal entering the race was to finish in the top 20. It was the first time time he raced on a national stage against the best runners from across the county.
“It’s been fun getting to know all these kids,’’ Altopp said. “All of them are great runners. I’m sad that I can’t come back next year and race again.”
After a good cross country season last year, Altopp missed the spring track season because of injury. His top 20 performance Saturday proved what many felt all along, that he is among the nation’s elite distance runners.
“It feels good to come back and have a strong season after being injured in the spring,’’ Altopp said. “We’re going to do some racing in winter but the goal is to have a strong spring season. I’m hoping I can get to race some of these again in the spring.”
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