Oklahoma State And Sam Chelanga Repeat As NCAA Champions
Chelanga's Win Was Harder Than Expected; OSU's Was Way Easier
November 22, 2010
History repeated itself at the 2010 NCAA Cross-Country Championships, as Liberty's Sam Chelanga won his second straight individual title and the Oklahoma State Cowboys repeated in the team race.
While history repeated itself, the action on Monday didn't exactly go according to plan, as heavy favorite Sam Chelanga had to work harder than expected and Oklahoma State turned what was expected to be a tossup into a complete laugher.
The Individual Race
In contrast to last year, when Sam Chelanga had an 11-second lead at 3k, 18-second lead at 5k and 25-second lead at the finish, the race was in doubt until the finishing straight in 2010. The race started under warm (mid 60s) and very blustery conditions (wind consistently in the 15-20 mph range with gusts up to 30 mph) and as a result, it wasn't a surprise that Chelanga didn't bolt from the pack at the very get-go, as he'd be alone in his battle against the wind. But while the wind may have made Chelanga a bit cautious, it certainly didn't take his frontrunning instincts totally away from him. Chelanga still led from the gun. He just had some company when he crossed the mile mark in 4:37. Not a lot of company, as only four men dared go with Chelanga and the brave souls were last year's runner-up in David McNeill of NAU, Oregon's Luke Puskedra, Arizona's Stephen Sambu, and Alabama's Julius Bor. Roughly 7:30 into the race, Chelanga "stepped on the accelerator" as Larry Rawson aptly described the move on the telecast on NCAA.com and was all alone out in front. However, his solo lead didn't last long as Puskedra and Sambu would be back on his heels by the 12:30 mark and the three would go through 5k in 14:37-8.
Puskedra didn't stay with the two Africans much longer, but he would remain strong until the finish and hold on to 3rd place. Not bad for a guy who was only fourth at the PAC-10 meet less than a month ago. The third place finish is Puskedra's highest at NCAAs, as he was 5th in Terre Haute as a freshman.
Farther ahead, it was the 5th placer at PAC-10s in Sambu who was the biggest surprise of the day. The transfer from Rend Lake never left Chelanga's heels and the longer he stayed with Chelanga, the more the tension grew. Could the collegiate 10,000 meter record holder, a man with a 27:08 personal best, really lose the NCAA cross-country meet? As the two made the right hand turn for home, that question was still in the air. Memories of 2008, when Chelanga entered the homestretch neck-and-neck with Galen Rupp and lost out in the sprint for glory, soon faded from memory as Chelanga threw down the hammer and Sambu had no response. Chelanga would win in 29:22.2 to Sambu's 29:26.5.
Chelanga admitted that memories of 2008 were on his mind as he entered the homestretch. "In 2008, it came down to the same spot and I let it go. Today I said I wasn't going to let it go," said a happy Chelanga after the race. Chelanga also admitted that the wind resulted in him employing a more conservative strategy than in 2009, but nonetheless he said it was a goal of his to keep the pressure on and "keep the race flowing so the guys could not relax a lot."
Behind Chelanga and Sambu, Puksedra held on to third in 29:38.0, a marked improvment on the 21st he finished last year and even better than his 5th place showing as a freshman. Iona's Leonard Korir ended up fourth and was rewarded for being brave enough to leave the large chase pack prior to 5k.
At 5,000, Chelanga, Sambu and Puskedra had 29 seconds on the main chase pack, as they hit halfway in 14:37 to the packs' 15:06. At this point, Korir was halfway home in 14:48 (in fourth). The only others under 15:00 at that point were NAU's Diego Estrada, who was 5th in 14:53 and his teammate David McNeill, who was already slipping back but was still in 6th in 14:59. The pack was wise to dare not try to run with Chelanga, as of those that ventured out on their own, it only truly ended up great for Korir, as Estrada would fade a bit to 16th and last year's runner-up McNeill would crater home in 123rd. Yes, 123rd.
After Korir, the next finisher was the leader of the chase pack - Stanford's Chris Derrick. The chase pack was led by many of the leaders of the teams that were expected to battle it out for the team titles. With the team title first on their minds, no doubt many of these guys were happy "to take a safety" in the heavy wind and battle things out over the final 5,000. The top 11 of the main pack all negative split the course and Derrick had the fastest second 5,000 of anyone in the race, as he covered it in 14:38, which compared favorably to Chelanga's 14:45. Derrick was followed by his teammate Jake Riley, who certainly made amends for last year's 54th place showing by finishing sixth.
The Team Race
Oklahoma State had the next three finishers as juniors Girma Mecheso, German Fernandez and Colby Lowe finished seventh, eighth and ninth to give the Cowboys the edge in the team battle, as they now had three in two Stanford's two. Where was Stanford's #3 in PAC-10 champion Elliott Heath? Nowhere to be seen. Heath had run as he had all year with Derrick and Riley through 5k but by 8k, he was 21 secodns adrift. It would only get worse, as he'd lose another 30 seconds over the final 2k to finish 42nd - his second-straight somewhat subpar showing at NCAAs, as he was just 37th in 2009.
In the end, it didn't truly matter, as the Cowboys won in dominant fashion. Last year, Okla. State didn't so much win the title as not lose it, as their winning total of 127 was the highest since 1972. This year, the Cowboys finished with 73, as freshmen Tom Farrell would finish in 25th in the team scoring and junior Johnathan Stublaski would come home in 30th. The thought that the Cowboys might be vulnerable at #5 was far from true, as their sixth man in redshirt freshman Joseph Manilafasha was 54th in the team scoring.
Finishing a surprise second was 11th-ranked Florida State with 193. Yes, Florida State. The Seminoles jumped from second-from-last to second in one year and won the unofficial LRC award of "1st Place XC Team For A School That Actually Cares About Track & Field." Wisconsin ended up third with 223 and the last team on the podium was the #1-ranked Cardinal of Stanford, which amassed 237.
Team Score At 5,000
|Team Score At 8,000
1. Oklahoma State 80
2. Wisconsin 109
3. Florida State 210
4. Stanford 235
5. Oregon 270
|Team Score At Finish
1. Oklahoma State 73
2. Florida State 193
3. Wisconsin 223
4. Stanford 237
5. Oklahoma 281
4th-ranked Wisconsin was actually the only school that was close to challenging Oklahoma State today. At 5k, they trailed Oklahoma State by only 22. At 8k, they were down by 29 and it seemed as if the race was over barring a blowup. A blowup there was, but unfortunately for the Badgers, it came from one of their own. Wisconsin junior Elliot Krause was in the top 20 at 8,000. Where did he finish? In 137th. How is that possible? By running 7:26 for his final 2k (that's almost 6 minute mile pace).
Krause actually didn't lose it until the final 250 meters. LetsRun.com has learned that Krause was still ahead of fellow Badger Landon Peacock, who ended up 20th (17th in the team scoring), before collapsing approximately 250 meters from the finish line and staggering home some 75 seconds behind Peacock. Had Krause made it 250 meters more on pace, the team score would have been different, as Oklahoma State would have won with 75 and Wisconsin would have been a clear second with 137 (Editor's addition: An article on Madison.com that talks about Krause can be found here).
On an aside, that wasn't the biggest implosion of the afternoon - Harvard's Dan Chenoweth, who had barely missed All-American honors with 42nd place finishes each of the last two years, ran 9:09 for his last 2k to finish in 238th (that's 7:21 mile pace for those of you doing the math).
But the day belonged to Oklahoma State. They clearly were the #1 team in Terre Haute today. To put their win in perspective, realize that every other school except for Florida State scored more points with their fifth runner than Okla. State did with their entire team and Florida State's 5th guy was barely ahead of the OSU team total (64 versus 73). In terms of Okla. State versus FSU, it wasn't close. Okla. State had three in before FSU had one and five in before FSU had three in. Looking at the other podium teams, the Cowboys had six in before Stanford and Wisconsin even had four in.
Complete results appear below.
Note: The story has been edited to add in more details about the collapse of Elliot Krause. The original story just talked about his fade over the final 2,000 meters, as we didn't actually see him go down with 250 meters to go.
*Full Men's Team And Individual Results Appear Below As Well As Here
*2010 NCAA Cross-Country Photo Gallery - Men