Nacouzi at XC championships in Spain

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

On a sun-soaked day along Spain’s southwest coast, Julie Nacouzi ran with determination despite a leg strain at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships.

The Montgomery High senior was the fourth and final scoring runner for Team USA, drifting back in the field after a nagging right calf injury flared in the later stages of the 6-kilometer race dominated by the Ethopian and Kenyan teams.

“Luckily there was a girl ahead to pace me. I was happy to finish,” Nacouzi said.

While disappointed with the result, Nacouzi improved her ranking among U.S. runners; she finished in fifth place among Americans at the junior women’s national finals a month ago in San Diego.

Wearing the USA blue jersey and racing with the world’s best was a memorable finale to a remarkable string of races for Nacouzi. She won the Foot Locker Cross Country West Regional the first Saturday of December, captured third in the prep national championships a week later, and then made Team USA with a great race in the elite field of prep and college runners.

“I guess it’s been a great year,” said the shy teenager with the big smile.

Enjoying an early spring break in Spain, Nacouzi landed with Team USA in Punta Umbria a week ago. The girls stayed at an Atlantic Ocean beach hotel.

Nacouzi’s roommate was national champion Aisling Cuffe, from New York.

“It was a lot of fun, a nice relaxing time,” Nacouzi said.

Racing well would be a challenge. Nacouzi eased training when the calf strain came back following the national championships.

Having a week to adjust to the eight-hour time difference helped. Hearing dozens of different languages during those days reminded Nacouzi of the event’s international significance.

The junior women’s race was the first of four events Sunday, followed by the junior men and both the women’s and men’s championships.

The course was grassy and fast, even with sections of logs to scramble over.

Warming up for the race, Nacouzi noted some African runners were barefoot or wore pads on their feet.

“That was interesting,” she said. “They were excellent teams overall.”

Ethiopians and Kenyans took the first 11 places. Cuffe was the top American, finishing 17th. Team USA placed seventh among the 14 teams.

The day was capped by a swim in the Atlantic followed by a dinner and dance where runners exchanged jerseys.

“I was proud to be an American athlete,” Nacouzi said. “It was exciting.”