Eugene Oregon has been the center of track and field in the United States since the 60s. It started with coach Bill Bowerman and the great University of Oregon milers and was magnified by Steve Prefintaine and his worldwide presence on the track, as well as his tragic death as a young age. Because of this history as Oregon, the men’s distance events ranging from the 1500 meters on through the 10k get a spotlight at these championships. Here’s what you need to keep an eye out for in each of these events.
Weren’t expecting me to start there were you? Well the 10k has always held an extra special place in my heart and besides preliminary rounds, it is the only event you can watch on the first day of competition. The big two names and far away favorites in this event are Kennedy Kithuka and Edward Cheserek. They have been close rivals since cross country season when true freshman Cheserek upset the overwhelming favorite Kithuka for the Championship. Kithuka of Texas Tech will be trying to take down the hometown favorite running for University of Oregon. If it is close near the end then look to the freshman with the advantage with a faster kick, however with Kithuka’s experience and edge in stamina I don’t think he will let it come down to the kick. Kithuka has a much faster personal best in the event of 27:41 this year however Cheserek’s PR of 28:52 does not accurately represent his talent as he only ran to qualify for these championships. He holds an outstanding 3:36 PR in the 1500m which gives you some indication of his lep speed.
However there is the possibility someone other than these two is able to steal away the title. Shadrack Kipchichir of Oklahoma State as he is coming in with the fastest time of the year of 27:36 and has some serious wheels if it comes down to the kick. Also don’t count out Mo Ahmed of Wisconsin, who has run mid 27 minutes before and completed for Canada in the Olympics, and Joe Bossard of Colorado who has placed 6th in these championships before yet has faced injuries in more recent years. My peediction is that Kithuka will run away with it and the race will be over long before the finish line, he doesn’t want a reoccurrence of what happened in cross country. It will take an outstanding time to do this though so expect an exciting race!
The next distance event on the track is the one that would probably appeal to the most number of people. Long and gone are the days when the mile was showcased on the outdoor track. Nowadays we have after the European system and we run the 1500 meters, which although shorter is a comprable measure of stamina. The story here is again between a favorite and an Oregon Duck trying to take him down. The favorite is Lawi Lalang of Arizona. He has run 3:36 in the 1500 meters by himself and has an astounding personal best of 13 minutes in the 5k. In an honest race Lawi should be able to run away with it. If it becomes tactical however, look to Mac Fleet of Oregon to unleash a feirce kick. Other contenders will be Brandon Kidder of Penn State who holds a PR of 3:38, Rich Peters of Boston University who holds the NCAA indoor 100m record, and Peter Callahan of New Mexico who probably has the most dangerous kick off of a slow pace. One contender who will not be racing due to a fall in the preliminary rounds is Chad Nowell of Oklahoma State, however he would have been a serious threat to these guys.
We will wrap up the distance events with the 5k on the last day of competition. This is by far the most competitive distance event as it features the top ranked athletes returning from both the 10k and the 1500m. We have Kithuka, Lalang, Cheserek, Shadrack, Trevor Dunbar and Mo Ahmed back on the track. They will be competing with fresh legs from Oregon’s Eric Jenkins who has a PR of 13:20 in this event. From the east region we have North Carolina State’s Andrew Colley and Patrick Tiernan or Villanovan who can mix it up with the big dogs. The most dangerous runner here however in my opinion is Oklahoma State’s Kirubel Erassa. He failed to qualify in the 10k so he will be fresh for the 5k. He is ranked second this year with a 13:27, only a second behind Kithukas best this year, and has the advantage of being fresh against these other runners who will already have a race in their legs. While anything can happen in a race with so many all stars, my predicion is that Kirubel will come out ahead.
Obviously there will be some exciting matchups in Eugene in the next coming weeks. There are some big guns coming out on the track but the magic of track is that anyone can run away with it no matter how they are ranked, that’s why they run the race.