3A stars stress friendship over rivalry

November 2, 2012 

Katie Knight and Amy-Eloise Neale. Amy-Eloise Neale and Katie Knight.

In the world of Washington distance running, they are Ali and Frazier, the Lakers and Celtics. You can’t talk about one without running smack into the other.

They are the faces of girls distance running in this state at a time when it has never been better — Neale is ranked second in the nation by MileSplit, Camas sophomore Alexa Efraimson sixth and Knight eighth. After three memorable encounters at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco, Neale and Knight will write the final chapter in their state cross country rivalry this afternoon.

“We’re a big part of each other,” said Neale, the senior from Glacier Peak (Snohomish) whose team is favored to win the Class 3A state title. “From the outset, we were running against each other. Now we’re friends. “We’ve been roommates at Nike camp a couple of times. We see each other at national meets. There’s a special bond it creates after a while. She’s a rival, but we’re friends. We go through the same things on the course.”

“I’d say we complement each other,” said Knight, defending Class 3A state champion from North Central (Spokane) after Neale won as a freshman and sophomore.

Both runners talk about pushing each other and say one wouldn’t be where she is without the other. Where they will be next fall is in Seattle, running for the University of Washington.

Knight and Neale had the same lists of college finalists — Washington, Colorado and Stanford — and visited the California school together, though choosing the same college was not an overriding factor.

Still, they won’t be running away from each other anytime soon, with the cross country postseason ahead as well as track, and college after that.

“When I was a freshman, racing Amy for the first time, I felt like it was never, ever going to end, and I have three more years I’m going to compete with her,” Knight said. “Now, I wish it wouldn’t end.”

It would have been easy for the two running stars to fall into an uneasy acquaintanceship before and after races. They have run against each other a couple dozen times, finishing 1-2 in at least 14 races.

But instead of fostering resentment, they became friends — genuine friends — after rooming together at the Nike Elite Camp in the summer after their sophomore years.

Knight was coming off a string of six second-place finishes to Neale in two years at state events, and it was starting to get to her.

“It was hard my sophomore year,” she recalled. “We raced a ton of times sophomore year, and I rated everything by how I would do against Amy-Eloise, not how I would do compared to how I should do. I learned that I didn’t have to compare myself to her. I didn’t always have to gauge how well I was doing by how well she did.

“It became a lot more pleasant to race her, to be around her. I was helping her and she was helping me become the best we could be.”

Letting go of that tension paid off for Knight when she won state last fall.

“It was amazing,” she said. “I never won a state thing. To get to cross that line first — I just remember, you never know when Amy is going to pull out an amazing kick. I didn’t know I had her beat until the very last step at the finish. I had a feeling of, ‘Oh my gosh, I finally did it.’

“There was a lot of pressure. I was afraid I was going to leave my high school career without a single blue state medal. It was a great feeling finally getting that.”

And her friend was nothing but class after a disappointing day for her and her team, which finished second by two points to Camas.

“State last year — my freshman year, they were saying, ‘You could be a four-year champion,’ and that’s a ton of pressure to carry with you for four years,” Neale said. “And the same thing with the team. When we didn’t win, it was very tough to handle that. After the race, obviously we were very disappointed, but we tried to handle it well. Our competitors did very well.”

Neale and Knight have running résumés as long as your arm, loaded down with honors. Neale was a five-time Junior Olympic national champion before she reached high school, then won distance triple crowns as a freshman and sophomore — state champion in cross country, and 1,600 and 3,200 meters in track — and picked up three Gatorade Washington girls runner of the year awards along the way.

Last fall, Knight was the Gatorade girls cross country runner for Washington. She also was named to the adidas All-America team and selected to the U.S. Junior National cross country team that competed in Scotland.

Speaking of going overseas, Neale competed in France in 2011 for the British National Team (her family moved to the United States when she was 2) in the 2-kilometer steeplechase at the IAAF World Youth Championships.

If a course record is set here today, it will break Knight’s 17 minutes, 10.6 seconds from last season, which topped Neale’s 17:31.8 from 2010.

“We’re excited to see each other at meets,” Neale said. “When we step on the course, business is business. But there are not many sports where you can finish a race, finish the competition, then go on a cooldown together and be friends again.”

Added Knight: “As much as I’m excited to race against her this week, I’m excited to see her.”

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service