Hodgson Leads U.S. To 4th-Place at World Cross-Country Championships

March 29, 2003

AVENCHES, Switzerland - University of Washington freshman Laura Hodgson finished 58th Saturday in the junior women's race at the 2003 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Avenches, Switzerland, helping the six-woman U.S. Junior National team to a fourth-place finish overall.

The Americans accumulated a team score of 82 points, best among non-African nations, and trailing only the 14 points of first-place Ethiopia, Kenya's 22 points and the 78 points of third-place finisher Morocco.

Ethiopia's Tironesh Dibaba earned the 2003 junior women's world cross-country title, finishing the six-kilometer race In 20 minutes, 21 seconds.

Hodgson, a product of Spokane's North Central High School, crossed the line in 24:08 under clear skies and sunny conditions, with temperatures nearing the low 60s. The race was a sharp contrast to the wet, muddy conditions at last month's Junior National Cross-Country Championships in Houston, Texas, where Hodgson placed second to earn a spot on the U.S. team.

'Wow ... that was quite an adventure,' the Husky freshman said following the race. 'The start was quite fast, and that's not my style of running. I would've liked to have finished higher.'

Due to the large number of competitors in the race, Hodgson said it felt like the NCAA Championships, with runners clogging up the course and fighting for position.

'This race was very similar to Pre-Nationals or the NCAAs,' she said. 'The NCAAs were a great help in preparing for this race. Every girl in this race was a top runner. It's not like high school races where you can take it out hard and hang on. NCAAs were the first time I was in a situation where every girl was out there to run as hard as they could.'

Hodgson wasn't the only Husky competing at the World Championships on Saturday. Former UW All-American Christian Belz represented his native Switzerland in the senior men's race, placing 18th overall.

Belz led all Swiss finishers on the 4,000-meter course, crossing the line in 11:39 to a loud ovation from the home crowd, and sparking his nation to a seventh-place finish, it's highest ever in World Championships competition.

Kenya took the men's title with 14 points, while Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele won the individual crown in 11:01.

'I'm happy for my performance today, and with my team's,' Belz said afterward. 'There were a lot of people out there supporting us with the cowbells. It's a special feeling to run in front of your home crowd, and to do well.'

Sunday's action at the World Championships will feature one more Husky, as Margaret Butler competes in the senior women's 4,000-meter race for Team Canada.

For more information on the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, please visit www.iaaf.org. USA Track and Field correspondent Paul Merca contributed to this report.

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