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 LetsRun.com. “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 LetsRun.com .
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.
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.
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.”