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Ed Cheserek.jpgThe King, NCAA 2015 (his second 10k, now he has a third!), photo by Cheryl Treworgy/Pretty Sporty

Edward Cheserek Wins 10,000, Captures 14th NCAA Crown

In an NCAA final, it is rare sight indeed to witness a legion of athletes toe the line - each with the apparent goal of finishing second. But that was the case for 23 anxious, tentative competitors in the men's 10,000 meter final as each one realistically assessed his chances against the 24th competitor: Oregon junior Edward Cheserek, the two-time defending 10,000 meter champion and 13 time NCAA titliest.

The 10K - the only running event final of Day One of these NCAA outdoor track & field championships - got underway on a cool, still, dusky evening here in Eugene. After an opening 800 meters in 2:39, the jog ended when Duke's Shaun Thompson stepped up to take over the early lead. Lap after lap, the turgid pace continued as the pacesetting Blue Devil was soon joined by Campbell's Lawrence Kipkoech in second with Cheserek - the elephant in the room - tucked in on the rail in 3rd. Adopting a pace tailored made for Cheserek, the race immediately transformed into a re-creation of an Appomattox-like surrender. Although they inwardly suspected a pace change might not be forthcoming, the knowledgeable Hayward Field crowd patiently waited for some sort of mid-race tempo shift - that bold move by an athlete who knew a race strategy to unseat a two-time defending champion with a mile personal best of 3:56 simply would not be successful with a funereal-like mid-race cadence.

The race for the NCAA title trudged onward. Shortly after 5K - passed in 3:06 - Amon Terer, Kipkoech's teammate, edged into the lead as the pace slowed even further. Thoughtful witnesses to this snail-like tempo wondered if the winning time would even dip under 30 minutes. Before long, Luis Vargas of North Carolina State moved up to join the lead mob of 20 runners all bunched within a 10 meter pack around the calm two-time Bowerman Award finalist who was simply biding his time.

Shortly after 8 kilometers and a steady diet of circuits in the 68-72 second range, the pace finally quickened with a 21st lap of 64.5. 7th place Cheserek - always alert - responded to the welcomed move and quickly wiggled through the crowd to slide into 2nd position behind the new leader, Northern Arizona's Futsum Zienasellassie. Also joining Cheserek in the breakaway pack was a group of seniors: Colorado's Pierce Murphy followed by Arkansas's Gabe Gonzalez, Portland's Reid Buchanan, and Thompson. These proved to be the athletes who would battle for the higher podium positions. The tempo shift - spirited, but not punishing - allowed this leading six-pack to pull away from the field and gather themselves for the final sprint all knew was coming. After some jostling on the homestretch coming to the bell, King Cheserek went to work. His move was not a vicious downshift, but rather a measured tightening of the screw. Clearly in command, Cheserek began flying with 200 meters remaining after sneaking in a few furtive glances back that assured him that a 14th NCAA title would soon be his. Completing his last 400 meters in 57.24, Cheserek hit the line in 29:09.57 - a 1.11 second margin over runner-up Zienasellassie, who was followed by Gonzalez, Murphy, and Buchanan.

Oregon head coach Robert Johnson spoke matter-of-factly about the victory earned by his distance ace. "He looked solid," understated Johnson in assessing Cheserek's 10,000 meter performance. "It's always special. Hayward Field is a special place. He's done this before."

After a cool down, the winner addressed the media in the mixed zone. "It was fine to me," responded King Ches when inquired about the early race pace. " I could have gone slower. I knew the race would be that way. I was prepared for whatever it took. I was ready to go." When asked how long he was prepared to tolerate the slow pace before making a strong move, the smiling champion replied, "As long as I can!" Cheserek - who showed no lingering, ill effects of the right hamstring injury that troubled him in earlier outings this outdoor season - gave a nod to the partisan crowd that lifted him through the final furious lap. "It's amazing. Hayward Field is so magical to me."

The 3-time 10,000 meter champion - who declined to comment on his pending application for American citizenship - was earnest in acknowledging how much he values his bountiful harvest of winning NCAA trophies. "It means a lot to me. But we always do it as a team."

Turning his sights to Friday's 5000 meter final - and a possible 15th NCAA crown - Cheserek outlined his businesslike approach to the next race. "I always take it one race at a time. So I'll go back and talk to my coaches and just get ready for the next one." The other twenty-three 5000 meter competitors better know he will be.

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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