National treasure: Conn's Michael LeDuc wins Div. III cross country title

Connecticut College senior Michael LeDuc crosses the finish line first at the Division III men's cross country championship Saturday in Hanover, Ind. He won the 8K race in 24:29, the second-fastest time in course history.
Connecticut College senior Michael LeDuc crosses the finish line first at the Division III men's cross country championship Saturday in Hanover, Ind. He won the 8K race in 24:29, the second-fastest time in course history. Photo courtesy of Carter Cloyd, Hanover College

Hanover, Ind. - Cross country has always been Michael LeDuc's favorite sport.

"It's more of a true running sport," said LeDuc, a Connecticut College senior from Canton. "You're running someplace, not just running around in circles.

"It was very frustrating not to be as successful (right away), as I hoped."

LeDuc, however, who lost his shoe at the regional championship his freshman year and was ill at the regional as a sophomore, put the final, successful stamp on his cross country career on Saturday at Hanover College.

LeDuc won the NCAA Division III men's cross country championship with a time of 24 minutes, 29 seconds on the 8K course, the second-fastest time in course history.

According to Conn coach Jim Butler, LeDuc is the first cross country champion in program history, the second in conference history and the fifth from the New England region.

"He is on a roll," Butler said. "He won pre-nationals on Oct. 5 (at the same course) and shortly after that he said, 'Coach, I want to win the next four races. ... After he won the (New England Small College Athletic Conference) meet at Harkness I went up to congratulate him and he leaned over and said, 'Two to go.' That became our mantra, our mantra together.

"... (Prior to Saturday), I had the sense that he was extremely ready. I told him, if this was a horse race, you would be the handicappers' favorite. It's your race to win."

LeDuc stayed close to the front the entire race, making a move to get to the front with John Crain of North Central College (Ill.) at about the 3-mile mark. Crain was the 10,000-meter national champion this spring.

With 350 meters to go, LeDuc separated himself, winning by four seconds over Crain (24:33).

"It was pretty exhausting, I don't know," LeDuc said of his thoughts at the finish line. "I'm still kind of in disbelief. It's something I had thought about for over a year now and trained really hard for with my teammates."

LeDuc was joined in Indiana by his parents Jeffrey and Theresa, his two brothers and five Conn College teammates who drove through the night from New London to support LeDuc.

One of those teammates, freshman Ben Bosworth, was one of several who awoke some mornings at 4 or 5 a.m. to train with LeDuc, who ran early due to his student teaching job at Montville High School.

"I hardly ever had to run alone," said LeDuc, who was 13th in last year's race to earn All-America honors.

He is also an All-American in indoor and outdoor track, winning the national championship in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in the spring.

"His heart, his desire, his courage," Butler said of the reason he thought of LeDuc as the favorite. "I've never coached another athlete with his desire. When he sets out to do something, he does it. I just know how much he wanted it."

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