TRUJILLO, Peru - Following a plan not altogether different from last month's USATF Junior National Championships, Florida State rising sophomore Steven Cross positioned himself near the front from the start and delivered when it mattered most.
Cross won gold at the XIX Pan American U20 Track & Field Championships in the 10,000 meters at Chan Chan Stadium Saturday, finishing in 32:09.66 to edge United States teammate Aidan Reed (32:10.15). The tactical final was a near mirror image to Cross' US title win last month at Sacramento's Hornet Stadium.
"The race went out very slow and none of the South American guys wanted to take the lead, so Aidan Reed and I took turns leading until about the last mile where things started to pick up a lot," Cross said. "It came down to the last 400 and I was feeling strong and was able to bring it home.
"It's truly incredible to win gold representing USA. This is something I've wanted to do for a long time and to already accomplish it so young, it just leaves me hungry for more."
Cross' performance was a source of pride, especially for Florida State coach Bob Braman.
"I'm really proud of Steven," Braman said. "He certainly didn't come peaked for this race, but his competitive instincts are razor sharp. Meets like this teach young talent to win under pressure. Steven has been A+ in that department all summer."
Cross' third 10,000-meter final in three months may have been his slowest of the year, but could not have gone any better for the Merritt Island, Fla. product, who competed in five races this outdoor season while redshirting for the Seminoles and never finished worse than second.
Competing unattached throughout the spring, Cross ran a pair of 5000-meter races at Mike Long Track in Tallahassee, finishing second in the first, then following up his runner-up 10,000-meter finish at the Penn Relays (29:31.22) with a 5000-meter personal-best (14:21.33) at the Seminole Twilight in early May.
"I was very happy to have the race play out tactically," Cross said. "I've known that I have a strong finish and being able to use that here played out perfectly."
And just like his victory at Sacramento to secure a berth on Team USA, Cross' closing speed was good enough to nip Reed, who just completed his freshman season at Southern Utah. After claiming the US title by a scant 1.59 seconds last month again Reed, Cross' margin of victory was an even narrower .49 seconds on Saturday.
Yuri H Labra Phutur, the crowd favorite from host Peru, finished third overall in 32:13.33.
"At times the experience has been sort of surreal," Cross said, of his first international event representing his country. "Just being surrounded by such a large number of talented young athletes and being constantly reminded that you're representing the United States is sort of hard putting into words.
"I do know that come the last 200 meters, the reminder than I had USA on my chest gave me an extra boost to bring it home."