Samantha Blair finishes 25th at Nike nationals
Devils sophomore fast in Oregon
Were this a basketball game, Eagle Valley’s Samantha Blair just hammered down a dunk and Devils fans are chanting, “She’s a sophomore.”
In Blair’s case, it was a running race — Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon last weekend — and she finished 25th among the best women’s runners in the country.
Observers of the running scene in Eagle County are almost immune to the accomplishments of Eagle Valley’s Blair sisters. Joslin, now a senior headed to Vanderbilt, set every running mark imaginable, and now Samantha, a sophomore, seems to be resetting all those records.
Ho-hum. There go the Blairs again.
What is interesting aside from the obvious — Samantha Blair just finished 25th in a prestigious national race — is how she did it.
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While there seems to be a monolithic Blairness, if that is an adjective for Joslin and Samantha, they are different runners.
Samantha overcame pre-race nerves and employed a different race strategy for this competition, things that will benefit her in future events.
“I have never seen her with this level of nerves,” Eagle Valley Track Club coach Charlie Janssen said. (For those unfamiliar with CHSAA rules, the Eagle Valley cross-country team cannot continue to compete after the state meet in October. To comply with those rules, teams like Eagle Valley — and Battle Mountain — must assume new names, ergo the Eagle Valley Track Club.)
Samantha hadn’t had a history of being nervous before big races, and while still a sophomore, she’s been no stranger to big races.
“There was a ton of super-amazing competition,” Blair said.
The good news, as it turned out, was that it was the Oregon course was wet and muddy.
Those aren’t ideal conditions for a fast track, but they are familiar to an athlete used to running in the mountains, and a bit soothing.
With it being wet, Janssen feared that a slow start might leave Blair running in messy conditions. But Samantha has fast starts down. Earlier in her career, as in her freshman year, she’d just power out of the start and go until she stopped.
The bigger question was getting that normal good start and still having some fuel in reserve.
Janssen wanted Blair to run the first of 3.1 miles in 5 minutes, 30 seconds, which conveniently the latter hit on the nose. That left Blair in the mid-30s in the race, but with enough fuel to start reeling in competitors.
“It’s race maturity,” Janssen said. “She’s maturing and learning.”
That is going to be the takeaway for Blair, that and she knows she can crush it with the best of them.
She finished in 18:16.9 and was the second-fastest runner in the field from the Southwest region, which would be Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.
Niwot’s Samrawit Dishon, the Colorado 4A state champion, got the best of Blair in their latest encounter. They’ll continue to butt heads come track season. In the meantime, Blair beat 5A state champion, Riley Stewart, of Cherry Creek.
Blair actually gets some time off as the holidays approach.
When the calendar flips over, she’ll begin training for track and field season.
At state last year, as a freshman, she was fifth in the 800 meters, eighth in the 1,600 and fifth, for good measure, in the 300 hurdles.
“I’d like to get into the top three in the state in the 800 and 1,600,” she said.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.