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Cross Country: Johanna Nilsson

Posted: Monday December 12, 2005 11:13AM; Updated: Monday December 12, 2005 12:35PM
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Cross Country: Johanna Nilsson
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The Swedish-born Nilsson dominated the field at last month's Cross-Country Championship in Terry Haute, Ind.
Photo by: AP
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By Matthew Waxman

These days the X Games are synonymous with skateboarding and motocross but x-country, the original of the X Games, is the only one recognized by the U Awards. Northern Arizona's Johanna Nilsson is the winner of our women's cross-country U Award or in the case of this Swedish sensation, ‹ Award. Not among the favorites at last month's NCAA Cross-Country Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., she placed first in a field of 253 women with a course- record time of 19.34.

The svelte Swede broke away from the pack early and never looked back, cruising to a 13-second victory. "I did not want to break away as early," said Nilsson, "but it ended up working out for me. I had no idea about the lead that I had going into the home stretch."

Three weeks earlier, with a first place individual finish in the Big Sky conference championships in Riverdale, Utah, the junior All-America led the Lumberjacks to their fifth consecutive and 13th overall conference title. It was also the fifth straight year a Nilsson has won the conference crown.† Big sis, Ida, a† Lumberjack All-America, had won the event the previous four years.

The Nilsson sisters came to the Arizona desert from Kalmar, Sweden, based on a high school friend's recommendation and for the opportunity to train in the 7,000-foot altitude of the NAU campus, which Johanna says is one of their secret weapons. "I think (the altitude) helps," says the younger Nilsson, who also runs for the Swedish National team. "When you get down to sea level (for races), you have all that extra oxygen."

When not using her wheels, Nilsson†is on one as a ceramics major. But for Nilsson†running is as much about being closer to nature as trying to leave competition choking on her dust. "I really enjoy just going for long runs through the forest and the mountains." she says. "It's like relaxing meditation for me."

So add Johanna Nilsson to the bikini team and red gummy fish to the list of imported Swedish treats.

Honorable Mention

Victoria Mitchell, Butler.Mitchell, who was named the Horizon League Women's Cross-Country Athlete of the Year in 2004 and 2005,†finished fourth†at the NCAA Championships (the highest ever by a Butler female runner). She also won the NCAA Pre-National Meet, the Horizon League Championship (for the second consecutive year) and the Great Lakes Regional Meet. The 23-year-old†Australian native†will soon complete her†master's degree and return home in March for†the Commonwealth Games†in Melbourne.

Clara Horowitz and Shannon Rowbury, Duke. Duke's dynamic duo led the Blue Devils to a third place finish at the NCAA Championships last month, but the season was far from disappointing for the pair.†For the first time in school history,†the Blue Devils were ranked No. 1 in the nation. At the ACC Championship,†Rowbury won the individual title with Horowitz finishing in second†by only two seconds. The duo†again finished 1-2 at the Southeast Regional a week later.

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