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ISSUE 118 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/12/2004

'Karhu' epitomizes running rivalry

By Jesse Horst
Staff Writer

Friday, November 12, 2004

Rivalry is, perhaps, the essence of all sport. Nothing compares snatching victory from an able opponent in a competition steeped in tradition. No loss more bitter than one suffered at the hands of a foe who knows your name. Within the sheltered world of Northfield athletics, there are no two teams more familiar, nor any rivalry greater, than that between the St. Olaf and Carleton cross country teams.

Nothing exemplifies this rivalry better than the Great Karhu Shoe Race.

Karhu is the most important meet of the year, said St. Olaf cross country alumnus Peter Morse 00 last week in a tone that contained a mixture of seriousness and willful naïveté. You guys have got to get those shoes.

The statement seems ridiculous. The Ole men had just won their first conference title since 1976, feeding season-long national meet ambitions. What could be more important than a national title?

Karhu is different, said 2003 Karhu Shoe Race champion Nic Richenbach 04. Karhu is about guts. Karhu is about rivalry.

In a town with a small population and an even smaller availability of running trails, Northfields collegiate harriers cross each others paths with great frequency and restrained animosity. Northfields non-running residents may be perplexed by the sudden Ole cries of Squish! directed at Carletons bookworms or epithets of Quack! hurled at the purportedly talkative Oles, which periodically fill the otherwise quiet streets. It is, however, nothing more than friendly rivalry, acknowledged and celebrated.

Everyone on the team realizes the magnitude of our rivalry, Graeme McAlister 05 said. All thirty of us on the roster want to beat the Carls, just like they want to beat us.

In championship meets, cross country teams must cut down their rosters. Seven runners from each team are able to release their season-long energybuildup at the regional and national meets, but the remaining majority must be content to cheer (and seethe) from a distance. From the depths of this less-than-fulfilling rancor emerged what is arguably the most important junior varsity competition in all of college sports: the Great Karhu Shoe Race.

The shoes are what we train for, McAlister said. Karhu is the ultimate grudge match.

As the story goes, the meet originated in 1972 when then Carleton cross country coach Bill Huyks needed a group to test his new course, on which he planned to run what was then the Midwest conference championship meet. With only seven runners permitted to compete in the conference championship, Huyks and St. Olaf coach Bill Thornton agreed to run their remaining athletes on the day preceding the normal conference race. As a trophy, they decided to include a pair of the $10 Karhu-brand shoes, which were, at the time, standard apparel for both teams.

Those guys had so much fun with the race that we just kept on doing it, Thornton said. Thats where the great Karhu tradition emerged.

Since then, the shoes have rested in the confines of Manitou Heights for 15 years, spending the remaining 18 across the river. Out of these humble beginnings numerous other traditions have arisen.

Today, Karhu is an example of cross country at its best. Without their respective top seven runners, as well as the multitudes of other schools, the teams have nothing to distract them from their opponents, and nothing to run for except the shoes.

Karhu is to cross country racing what Tupac [Shakurs] Hit Em Up was for gangster rap, Mike Drinane 08 said. It just takes things to a whole new level.

Paul Sovik-Siemens 05 agreed. Its really the racing equivalent to asking the Carls to step outside. Karhu isnt about making it to nationals, its about pride, Sovik-Siemens said.

The comparison between Karhu and gangster rap is not as far-fetched as it first may seem. Although it is unlikely that the race will end in full-scale violence (the record books admittedly reveal no precedent for Karhu-related homicide), were Tupac in attendance, he certainly would not despair for want of lyrical ammunition. The meet commences with the gathering of both teams for a senior runner poetry reading, an expression of each teams sentiment.

On the topic of poems, Thornton is ambivalent.

I dont listen to those things much, he said. Mainly because there may be mothers around.

While the poems themselves are often sensationally bitter, it is in this gathering that the true acrimony becomes apparent. In a manner befitting heathens, Carleton runners hurl bread towards the Shakespearean Oles, who obligingly reciprocate with volleys of gummy worms. Amidst Carletonian poetic bungling, caustic Ole wit, and venomous exchange of

projectiles, the intensity of the race sets in.

If it sounds like a joke, its not, Sam Hauck 06 said. Losing Karhu is the worst of all fates.

In 2003, the Oles met this fate. Despite eventually defeating Carleton in the next weeks regional meet, the Karhu loss was a sobering disappointment.

Losing Karhu is not fun, Jeff Fruend 05 said. Watching the Carls celebrate is not something were going to repeat this year.

Despite its bitterness, the potency of losing the race is an indispensable element of its greatness. In a well-known piece of Ole lore, it is said that when Carleton won the national meet in 1988, the fact that they had lost Karhu still made the season a disappointment. That neither team diminishes the significance of the race in the face of defeat makes victory all the more grand.

Winning Karhu means a whole year of bragging rights, Fruend said.

Festivities commence with drinking of the Duck (a tasty non-alcoholic champagne) accompanied by a spirited cool down across the Carleton campus. Often, however, the partisan celebration eventually leads to a night of festivity with none other than the hated Carls.

You have to know who youre dealing with, Fruend said. After all, Karhu is about rivalry and rivalry demands familiarity.

And anyways, Fruend continued, if we win, who cares!

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