All-American Caroline Bierbaum has been voted the nation's most outstanding athlete in women's cross country, according to results of national balloting among 1,000 NCAA member schools as part of the Collegiate Women Sports Awards program, now in its 30th year. For winning, she receives the Honda Award, given annually to the top women athletes in 12 NCAA-sanctioned sports.

Bierbaum (CC-New York, N.Y.) was the runner-up among 253 runners in the NCAA Women's Cross Country Championship November 21 at Indiana State University. Running the 6K race in 19:46, she improved by one place from her 2004 showing, when she placed third at the NCAAs.

Bierbaum was one of four finalists for this year's award. Her competition for the honor consisted of the three women who finished in the top four with her at the NCAA meet -- Johanna Nilsson of Northern Arizona University, the race winner; Stephanie Madia of Notre Dame, who was third; and Victoria Mitchell of Butler University, who finished fourth. Bierbaum was also a finalist in 2004, when the award was presented to the champion, Kim Smith of Providence College.

"I'm thrilled," Bierbaum said. "It's a great honor. I'm especially honored to win the Honda Award because I wasn't expecting it. I know they always nominate the top four finishers in the NCAA Championships, and it usually goes to the winner. I guess this is a testament to my consistency during the past year."

Bierbaum is the second Columbia student-athlete ever to earn the Honda Award. Cristina Teuscher, an Olympic gold medalist, was honored with the Honda Award for women's swimming in 2000, her senior year.

"All of us are so very proud of Caroline for earning this tremendous honor," said Dr. M. Dianne Murphy, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Physical Education at Columbia. "As a student and an athlete, she truly exemplifies the best of what college athletics is supposed to be."

Bierbaum earned All-American honors with her NCAA finish, her fifth All-American accomplishment. She had earned All-American in cross country for Columbia last season, in the same sport for Duke in 2002, and in both indoor and outdoor track during the past winter and spring.

"Caroline's consistency has been amazing," said head coach Willy Wood. "In fact, she is the only one of the four finalists to appear on the ballot twice. Caroline finished her college cross country career with two top-three national finishes!"

"I couldn't be happier for Caroline," Wood continued. "The Honda Award is the fitting culmination to an outstanding collegiate cross country career. It is the equivalent of winning the Heisman Trophy in college football."

The Honda Award is the latest chapter in the story of Bierbaum's courageous comeback. A standout cross country runner at the Groton School in Massachusetts, she spent one year at Duke and then returned home to Manhattan, transferring to Columbia in 2003. She ran only one varsity race for the Lions, though, due to low iron levels. She didn't return to running until the summer of 2004, following a change in her medication, but did not expect to be ready for Columbia's cross country season.

However, a strong summer of work, and success in local fall races, convinced her to rejoin the Columbia team in October 2004, after the Lions' season had begun. She won her first race that month, and two weeks later became the first Columbia woman ever to win the Ivy Heptagonal Championship.

This fall, the Lion co-captain was second in the Pre-Nationals at Indiana State, won the Heptagonal Ivy League Championships again, breaking a 23-year old record for the race and leading her team to its fourth straight team title, and finished third in the NCAA Northeast Regionals. The most decorated female track & field athlete in Columbia history, she was first team All-Ivy League and All-Region, in addition to her All-American honors.

Bierbaum also has been honored for her academic accomplishments. An Academic All-American and four-time Academic All-Ivy League honoree, she is a history major with a 3.74 grade point average.

As a Honda Award recipient, Bierbaum has been automatically nominated for the Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year along with athletes voted the most outstanding in basketball, field hockey, golf, gymnastics, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming & diving, tennis, volleyball, and track & field. The Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year will be determined by separate balloting involving all NCAA-member institutions and the winner will receive the Honda-Broderick Cup in New York in June 2006. Cristina Teuscher also received that honor, the only Ivy League student-athlete ever so honored.