By Michael Minshew
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The chilly winter wind sweeps across the terrain, where a continuous rain made running conditions harsh for the average runner, let alone junior athletes. But the 6,000m race at Holyrood Park in Edinburgh, Scotland, was filled with some of the best competitors from the United States, Great Britain and other parts of Europe.
However, on January 5, weather wasn't an issue for Oklahoma State freshman track and cross country runner Craig Nowak, who finished third overall in the Junior Men's category with a time of 19:03. Nowak's time was the top finish from his six-man group representing Team USA at the Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country race.
His finish was only two seconds from first place and helped Team USA place third in the overall standings with 201 points.
Nowak didn't find out that he would be competing in the event until three weeks before the race.
"I didn't really know about it until the last minute when Coach Smith told me he had nominated me to be on the team," Nowak said. "A couple days after that he told me they selected me. But, it was a nice trip."
The finish earned the Cypress, Texas, native a trip to the USA Cross Country Championships in St. Louis, Mo., where a top-six finish would earn him a trip to race at the 38th IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland on March 24th.
Nowak said the trip gave him a good opportunity to see the differences that other international competitors bring to the table.
"It was a good experience for learning how to compete on an international level," Nowak said. "It was good to see how people from other countries race and their style. I think I learned some good tactical lessons for racing and it was a good experience seeing new competition."
For many of the competitors in the USA Cross Country Championships, it is their first opportunity to make an international team, but Nowak said the experience from running in Scotland will be invaluable experience for his future races.
Coach Dave Smith said in his first semester at OSU, Nowak was in a position to run in the top seven at the national championships before rolling his ankle. Smith said this race was a good confidence booster.
"The trip to Scotland and the opportunity to represent the U.S. in international competition was a great way for him to get his mojo back and he raced like he had something to prove," Smith said. "We are proud of the fact that he put himself in the mix, was the U.S. team's number one finisher and had a shot to win the race up until the last few meters."
Nowak also said he returned to the country after the race with more motivation to train and get better.
"It was really good for motivation because I wasn't sure where I was at with my standings in the U.S. to try to qualify for the team in St. Louis," Nowak said. "So being the first guy from the U.S. to finish there really helped give me a little confidence booster and know I was on the right track."
Smith said he is impressed with what Nowak brings to the program.
"Craig is going to be great for our program because he brings so many assets as a student athlete," Smith said. "He is talented, he has a fantastic work ethic and he loves to compete, but probably his greatest strength as a distance runner is his enthusiasm and his excitement for all things running and training."
"He has this incredibly positive energy that is contagious. Even some of the guys on the team that are older, more experienced and have been here for a while are affected by it. He has great leadership qualities and is the type of guy coaches hope others will follow."
It's an energy that has allowed Oklahoma State's track and field team to earn its highest ranking ever. The No. 3 Cowboys, ignited by Nowak's vitality and combined team efforts, are at an all-time high for the program.
After the race in Scotland, Nowak was placed on the USA Cross Country Championships watch list of the country's best junior athletes. And on February 2, Nowak placed first in St. Louis to earn a trip to the World Cross Country Championships. On March 24, Nowak will proudly wear the red, white and blue once again amongst the world's best.