Belmont’s Shea Places 15th In Under20 World XC Championships; Top American For Consecutive Years [Video]

Photo: Belmont’s Ellie Shea finishing 15th at the Under20 World Cross Country Championships held in Belgrade on March 30, the first American to finish the race. (Photo credit: CITIUS MAG)

After a quiet seven months since winning races in the Under20s at the US National and Pan American Games, Belmont’s Ellie Shea put her stamp on the international cross country scene for the second time, finishing 15th at the World Athletics Cross Country Under 20 Championships held March 30 in Belgrade, Serbia.

The 18-year-old Belmont Middle and High School senior was the first American athlete across the finish line held under bright, sunny skies in Belgrade’s Friendship Park, repeating as the top American at the world championships. Last year in Australia, Shea finished 10th to lead the US to its first ever podium finish in the championships, earning a team bronze medal.

”I just wanted to make the most of it and just really be competitive,” said Shea after the race during an interview with

Wearing her trademark white framed cobalt sunglasses – which has its own on Google search page – Shea settled into the back of the large pack of front runners in the first of three laps, running the 2.1 kilometers in 6 minutes, 49 seconds. Notably, Shea was one of the few participants who hurdled the hay bale barriers to shave a few seconds on each loop.

The lead group, comprised of Ethiopians, Kenyans, and Ugandans, showed their quality in distance races as they pulled away during the second lap with Shea and fellow American Allie Zealand – teammates on last year’s U20 team – running in 16th and 17th, behind the UK’s Innes Fitzgerald who pulled away by seven seconds over the Americans with one lap remaining.

In the final loop, Shea returned to the top class runner she was last year, as she sped away from Zealand, catching and dispatching Fitzgerald before nearly nipping a pair of Ugandans and a Kenyan who were fading fast down the home stretch.

Shea finished in 20:50, completing the final lap and the home stretch (2.2K) in 7:29, finishing outside the top 12 by seven seconds. The race was won by 15-year-old Marta Alemiayo crossing the line in 19:29, leading a dominate Ethiopian team performance to sweep the first three places.

Zealand would overtake Fitzgerald to finish 16th in 21.08. The US team of Shea, Zealand, Mary Dalton (28th), Zariel Macchiato (29th), Jolena Quarzo (41st), and Maddie Gardiner (49th) would take 4th place in the team event with 88 points, edging out the UK (90) and Japan (98).

Belmont’s Shea Top Ten At U20 Cross Country World Championships, Leads US To Historic First-Ever Medal

Photo: Belmont’s Ellie Shea running through the vineyard section of the course at the World Athletics U20 Woman’s Cross Country Championships held in Bathurst, AUS on Feb. 18, 2023

Running in her first major international competition representing the United States, Belmont’s Ellie Shea finished a historic 10th place at the World Athletics U20 Women’s Cross Country Championships held Saturday, Feb. 18, in Bathurst, Australia.

The 17-year-old Belmont High junior’s result is the highest placement by an American runner in 32 years since Melody Fairchild came in third in 1991. The Emerging Elites runner led the US to a bronze medal in the team competition, the first-ever medal by a US U20 women’s squad in the 28 times the race has been run.

“I feel great. It was really fun. It was really hard. I fell in the mud and got right back up and kept going,” said Shea in an after race interview with “Getting the chance to race the best in the world is something I don’t take for granted.”

View a video of an interview of Shea after the race by the website .

Held in the infield of the Mount Panorama motor racing circuit in sweltering conditions that reached 97 degrees, Shea said her strategy for the 6 kilometer race was to start conservatively and pick off runners as the race progressed.

As she mentioned, Shea’s race was nearly upended in the first minutes when she nearly went down transversing the course’s “billabong” – the Aussie term for a stagnant muddy water crossing – with her left leg sliding out from under her, forcing her to place her hands in the mock to stay upright.

“I was not expecting it to be that sloppy. I never run through mud like that before, but I got back up as quick as I can and let that adrenaline take me,” said Shea.

It took her a bit of time to catch up with the chase pack on the challenging hilly course that the International Broadcast commentator Steve Moneghetti called “the most difficult course” he saw in the past 20 years of the competition.

Predictably, in the team competition Ethiopia won gold (15 points) while Kenya scored silver (22). More surprisingly the United States snared the bronze (54), led by Ellie Shea.

Louise Evans for World Athletics

Despite the near mishap, Shea began stalking the lead pack occupied with favorites of Ethiopians and Kenyans, passing runners through the race including a trio of Ugandans who made up one of the favorite squads.

Racing with Irene Riggs, the national junior cross county champ from West Virginia, for most of the event, Shea said the race was going to be “a battle of the toughest” so she was prepared to put her head down “and grind it out.” In 20th place after her trip in the mud, Shea was 15th after one kilometer only 6 seconds off the lead pack, 13th by 2 kilometer only 15 seconds out of first.

As the race entered its final stage, Shea – wearing her trademark cobalt blue sunglasses – remained within the camera’s range with the leading group. In the final up/down hill portion, Shea passed Ethiopia’s Melknat Wudu racing 10 seconds faster down the home stretch to break the log jam of the two leading countries and secure a top ten finish. Shea crossed the line in 21 minutes, 48 seconds, 55 seconds behind winner Senayet Getachew of Ethiopia.

The brave racing from Shea, Riggs (12th in 22:03), 2022 National Cross Country champion Karrie Baloga (13th, 22:12) and Zariel Macchia (19th, 23:05) powered the US to its first medal at the worlds.

“Team USA really showed up,” said Shea.

Ellie Shea (second from left) earn team bronze for the U.S. (photo credit: Fast Women)

The experience traveling 10,000 miles and 16 time zones from home – and now another 10,000 miles on a 24 hour plus flight back to Belmont – to come away with a world championship medal was a thrill, said Shea.

“It’s my first time internationally to race. It’s my second time out of the country ever, so it was awesome,” said Shea, who traveled with her mother, Belmont teacher Jamie Shea.

“I could hear her,” said Shea of her mother during the race. “It was awesome.”

Ellie’s Midnight Run: Belmont High’s Shea Ventures To The Land Down Under To Race In World U20 XC Championships

Photo: Belmont’s Ellie Shea will be racing 10,000 miles from home Saturday in a land down under.

What are you doing over the February school break? Belmont High junior Ellie Shea will be flying 10,000 miles (think of the air miles!) over 24 hours to take part in a race that takes 17 minutes to run.

Shea will be wearing the USA vest as she toes the line at the World Athletic Cross Country Championships in the outback town of Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia at around midnight Saturday, Feb. 18, Belmont time. Shea will be running in the Under-20 race competing against 72 of the world’s best young runners from 19 countries.

The two-time national high school 5,000-meter champion indoors and outdoors on the track joins a squad made up of mostly high schoolers who will take on the 6K (3.73 miles) loop course located in the infield of the Mount Panorama Circuit, which will include tire obstacles, a trip through a vineyard, and a mud field. The 17-year-old earned her spot on the team by placing second at the USATF U20 Championships in Richmond, VA in mid-January. Shea, who runs for the Emerging Elites club, finished second in December’s Champs Sports High School Cross Country Championships National Finals to her U20 teammate Karrie Baloga.

One of five races, the junior women’s race is scheduled to start at 4:10 p.m. or 1610 UTC. With Bathurst 16 hours ahead of Boston, Shea’s race will take off just after midnight on Saturday. Hopefully, Belmont will be able to watch the race live by going to the World Athletics YouTube and Facebook channels. The race will be carried live on Peacock, NBC’s streaming channel noted in the US for carrying live matches of England’s Premier League.

Australia’s oldest inland European settlement, Bathurst is three hours due west from Sydney on the expansive plains just beyond the Blue Mountain Range. The town is well-known for the aforementioned motor racing track and as a designated spot for tourism by Australians.

The weather forecast for Saturday’s race is clear skies and temperatures in the low-to-mid 90s which is not the environs that would lead one to believe there will be optimum performances.

So chookas on the big race, Ellie.