PORTLAND – The temperature was a bone-chilling 20 degrees, with a mild breeze. In other words, North Central’s Kai Wilmot and Tanner Anderson felt right at home.
Wilmot set a course record to win Nike Cross Nationals at Portland Meadows, beating a national-caliber field of 197 runners, including his teammate Anderson, who took third. Nike Cross Nationals is considered the unofficial national high school cross country championship race.
Wilmot and Anderson ran 1-2 midway through the race, then dropped back before Wilmot surged toward the end to post a 5,000-meter time of 15 minutes flat. He was nine seconds ahead of runner-up Blake Haney of California. Anderson, this year’s State 3A cross country champion, also ran the course in 15:09, just missing second.
Wilmot is Washington’s first boys champion since Nike Cross Nationals began in 2004.
Wilmot and Anderson said they were joking during warmups about all the runners who looked out of their element from a weather standpoint.
“Our workout on Wednesday was way colder. We were kind of enjoying it, watching guys out here running with tights on,” Wilmot said.
It’s been a while since Wilmot has had such fun. He has struggled with injuries this year, particularly his hip. The North Central senior won just once this fall, and finished fourth in the State 3A meet, 33 seconds behind Anderson.
“My hip was hurting a little bit earlier this week, but the last couple days it felt great. The last five weeks have been the best five weeks I’ve had in a year,” Wilmot said.
Anderson, who won the Nike Cross Nationals regional three weeks ago in Boise, was expected to contend for the title. Although this was his fourth try at Nike Cross Nationals, Wilmot wasn’t anywhere near the championship radar, except inside the North Central tent. They knew he was starting to feel good, and Wilmot’s best might be enough.
“One of my buddies wrote me a letter the other day and said run with the confidence you had last year. If there was any day to do it, today was the day,” Wilmot said.
Wilmot and Anderson ran with a large pack early in the race, then about midway, found themselves running 1-2. They tried to stay close to each other for most of the final 3,000 meters.
“Any time we got separated, I tried to go back to Kai and share the energy. All those other guys, they didn’t have anyone to run with, but I had Kai,” Anderson said.
Wilmot briefly dropped back, but surged to the front during the final 800 meters to pull out the victory.
“I was scared until about the last 15 meters when I realized I had won it. It was something I dreamed of doing,” Wilmot said.
If you thought Anderson was disappointed in defeat, you thought wrong.
“This is the happiest I could possibly be. When I was back and watching Kai win it, I thought, you’d better do it. When he crossed the line I was full of joy,” Anderson said.
Wilmot said the rigors of running against Greater Spokane League competition helped to make their Spokane national statement Saturday.
“Runners make runners. The reason we’re tough and the reason the rest of our team is tough is because we run against tough GSL teams, week in and week out,” Wilmot said.
North Central finished eighth in the team standings.
The Indians’ other team scorers were Justin Janke (58th), Oliver Reed III (70th) and Samuel Sjoberg (100th.)
It was a banner day for the state of Washington. Aside from Wilmot, Camas junior Alexa Efraimson won the girls title, and Gig Harbor won the boys team championship.
“If you want to be successful in Washington,” said Anderson, “you’ve got to be good.”