John Gilbertson: National Champion
(Watch John Gilbertson cross the finish line at the 2012 NAIA National Championships!)
November 17, 2012
VANCOUVER, Wash. – Shades of Eric Liddell. Popularized by the 1981 film, Chariots of Fire, the “Flying Scotsman” and 1924 Paris Olympic champion, viewed each race that he competed in as an act of worship unto the Lord. When facing the most important race of his career, a member of the American team encouraged him with I Samuel 2:30, “I will honor Him who honors Me.”
TMC’s John Gilberston carried that same mentality into Saturday’s NAIA National Championship race. In an interview from his sophomore year, Gilbertston once said “I feel like each race day is a sacred day, and it shouldn’t be defiled by any kind of distractions. Race days are when I get to go out and worship God and exalt him, and that’s all I think about really when I’m racing and before the race also.”
Gilbertson’s first-place victory in the 2012 NAIA National Championship was no different than any race he had run before.
“The Lord gave me the strength in my legs that I needed to put in the right surges at the right times to create some space and kick it to the finish,” Gilbertson said. “I was blessed by God today. This (a national championship) was a goal, but it didn’t seem very realistic at the beginning of the summer. But as the season progressed and I kept winning (races), it became more relevant that I could go to the front and stay at the front.”
Coach Zach Schroeder couldn’t be more pleased. Gilbertson ran what the eighth-year head coach described as “a tactically perfect race” en route to earning the NAIA National Cross Country individual championship in a time of 23:56.
As a team, the Mustang men’s cross country team earned an eighth-place finish and senior Anthony Pizzo from Canyon Country, CA (Canyon High School), who finished 15th, joined Gilbertson in earning NAIA All-American honors. Both Pizzo and Gilbertson earned their third consecutive All-American selection as the top 30 finishers at the national championships earn this accolade.
A total of 327 men toed the line on Saturday morning to vie for individual and team titles, but it was the senior Gilbertson from Saugus, California, (LA Baptist High School) that had everyone in his rear view mirror.
Running with a lead pack of five runners through the first half of the race, Gilbertson settled in until the lead pack was reduced to three runners with 3K left in the race. During the last mile of the race, Gilbertson was able to finish executing the race plan that had been designed for him as he pulled away and finished with a time under 24 minutes and the title of national champion in his last collegiate cross country race.
It was a historic day in distance running since it had been 23 years since an American-born runner claimed the top prize in NAIA men’s cross country. The last time it happened, calendars displayed 1989 when Rick Robirds from Adams State (Colo.) won his third individual title in four years.
Gilbertson completed the fall season by winning each of the seven races he entered, including the UC Irvine Invitational, Stanford Invitational, and the Bronco Invitational at Santa Clara University.