Oct. 30, 2007
IOWA CITY — Diane Nukuri’s Big Ten running career had been littered with near misses and heartbreak. Until Oct. 28, 2007 that is.
Nukuri, a senior from Pickering, Ontario, by way of the African country of Burundi, shattered the women’s conference championship cross country record Sunday in Columbus, Ohio, with a 6-kilometer time of 19-minutes, 37-seconds. The runner-up was Michigan State junior Nicole Bush, more than 11 seconds behind Nukuri in 19:49.38. The previous Big Ten record was set in 2006 by Michigan’s Erin Webster (20:23).
“The course was beautiful and it was perfect weather for cross country,” Nukuri said. “With 200 meters to go I was just pushing. It was a hard race, but I knew I was about 10 seconds away from being a Big Ten champion, so I was very excited.”
Nukuri didn’t need to wait long to celebrate with teammates. Two other Hawkeyes — senior Meghan Armstrong and sophomore Jolly Burke — also earned all-Big Ten recognition. Armstrong was fourth in 20:08.85 and Burke was ninth in 20:20.24. The Hawkeyes placed fifth with 103 team points — just eight points out of fourth and 13 points out of third.
“For Diane collegiately, this is a dream come true,” said Layne Anderson, University of Iowa women’s cross country coach. “There were seven or eight girls who had a realistic shot to win the race and we knew the winner would need to run well. Diane started picking it up at the half-way point and when she gets out front and no one is on her, she runs hard.”
The last conference cross country champion from Iowa prior to Sunday was Tracy Dahl in 1992.
“For Diane collegiately, this is a dream come true. There were seven or eight girls who had a realistic shot to win the race and we knew the winner would need to run well. Diane started picking it up at the half-way point and when she gets out front and no one is on her, she runs hard.”
UI Coach Layne Anderson
Last season Nukuri finished eighth at the NCAA cross country championships to earn All-American status. She was 16th in the 2006 conference meet before winning the Midwest Regional. During the Big Ten track season, Nukuri was runner-up indoors in the 3K and 5K and during the outdoor season she was runner-up in the 5K and fourth in the 10K. Those near-misses appear to be a thing of the past for Nukuri, who has run four cross country races this fall and set a school record during each outing. She has won three of those meets in course-record time.
Powered by the nucleus of Nukuri, Armstrong and Burke, the Hawkeyes are ranked No. 18 in the nation according to the Oct. 23 poll by the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. There won’t be much time for Nukuri to enjoy the Big Ten championship — Iowa will compete at the Midwest Regional on Nov. 10 in Peoria, Ill. The NCAA Championship is Monday, Nov. 19, in Terre Haute, Ind.
“I’m very excited about winning the Big Ten, but now I have to put it behind me and move on,” Nukuri said. “I am going to stay focused and train hard because I don’t think that I’m 100 percent fit yet. That makes me feel good and confident.”
Anderson thinks that Iowa’s three all-conference performers can also be three All-American performers.
“It would take a great race, but I think they all can do it,” Anderson said.
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