A touch of the Olympics will visit Mission Bay Park on Saturday when the USA Cross Country Championships come to San Diego for the first time since 1971.

More than 700 athletes, including past and future Olympians, are expected to compete in a series of seven races over a 2-kilometer looped course that should lend itself to fast times.

I got a chance to jog on it earlier, soon-to-be Olympic marathoner Ryan Hall said Wednesday. It's a good course for me, flat and fast. The grass is good, and I think it's going to be a good race.

Hall is one of the favorites for the open men's 12-kilometer race after winning the U.S. Olympic marathon trials on Nov. 3. The 25-year-old runner from Big Bear shattered the U.S. Olympic trials record with his winning time of 2 hours, 9 minutes, 2 seconds.

I haven't raced since the trials, Hall said, so that's only one time in the last six months. There are some things I need to accomplish in this race on Saturday.

One of those goals is to maintain his training for the Beijing Olympics this summer.

I'm just trying to continue what I've been doing, Hall said, and that's working hard day in and day out as I aspire to get to the next level.

Hall's challengers on Saturday will include future Olympic teammate Dathan Ritzenhein and 2004 Marathon trials bronze medalist Dan Browne. The top nine men will qualify for the American team that will compete in next month's IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The women's open 8K race will include Shalane Flanagan, the reigning U.S. 5,000-meter outdoor champion and holder of the U.S. indoor 3,000-meter record. Flanagan earned NCAA All-American honors 15 times at the University of North Carolina.

The top six women qualify for the world championships, and Flanagan can expect a strong run from 2004 Olympic trials marathon champion Colleen De Reuck and American 3,000-meter steeplechase record holder Lisa Galaviz. De Reuck, a 43-year-old native South African, has competed in four Olympics and has won the USA Cross Country Championships twice (2004-05).

Galaviz is a former Arizona State standout.

The junior races are expected to include top high school and collegiate runners, some of whom participated in the Foot Locker National Cross Country Championships at Balboa Park.

San Diego is used to hosting big events, including the Carlsbad 5000 and Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, said Paul Greer, the co-race director along with Thom Hunt. We understand this meet carries greater magnitude and importance for every athlete, coach and spectator who plan on attending.

Hosting these Championships is truly an honor and a privilege.

Contact staff writer Rick Hoff at (760) 740-3545 or rhoff@nctimes.com.