March 14, 2014
Albuquerque, NM - WOW!
Lawi Lalang‘s attempt for an unprecedented three wins at a single indoor NCAA Championships (5K, mile, 3K) ended almost before it started as Edward Cheserek got a shocking and dominant upset victory in the men’s 5,000 at the 2014 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships. In an honestly-paced race, Cheserek blew away Lalang in the final 300m, winning in 13:46.67 to Lalang’s 13:52.83. Behind them, it was a dogfight for third as Oregon’s Parker Stinson (13:54.46) beat out BYU’s Jared Ward (13:54.93) and Stanford’s Joe Rosa (13:55.84). Oregon took 16 points from this final, which was huge in the team scoring and instantly put them in contention for the overall team victory.
The Race: Lalang Makes It A Fast Race And Gets Blown Away By Cheserek
The race started with Wisconsin’s Mohammed Ahmed going to the lead and taking the field through a 67.48 first 400m. After that, for 21 uninterrupted laps, Lawi Lalang was in control of the race. Lalang set an honest pace running fairly consistent laps around 33 seconds and went through the 1,600 in 4:30.60 (at 4,900 feet of altitude). The pace kept the field strung out single file behind him with Ahmed in 2nd, Cheserek 3rd, NAU’s Brian Shrader 4th, Jared Ward 5th and the rest of the field right there behind him.
Things went pretty much unchanged for mile 2 as Lalang ran a 4:26 second 1,600 (8:56 at 3,200) and there were few changes to the order behind him. However, at this point Lalang and Cheserek started to separate themselves from the field as Lalang picked up the pace and they were running 32-second laps. With a mile to go, Lalang and Cheserek had opened up a more than 2-second gap on the chase pack, which was led by Ward, followed by New Mexico’s Luke Caldwell, Villanova’s Patrick Tiernan, Rosa and Stinson (the 27:34 10K man Ahmed had faded way back and would be a non-factor).
At this point there were two races on the track; the one for 1st and second and the battle for 3rd. Lalang and Cheserek continued to pull away from the group, but with 1000m to go, Lalang started to slow down. Instead of 32s, he ran three consecutive laps at 34 as he and Cheserek headed into the last 400m. Nothing to be concerned about, we assumed that Lalang – the 3:52 miler who has a 13:00-flat 5,000 PR – wasn’t tiring, just simply gathering himself for the kick for home.
Boy, were we wrong.
It only took about 100 more meters for it to become clear who was going to win this race. With 300 to go, Cheserek burst around Lalang and immediately opened up a small gap as he lead Lalang by over a second at the bell and then crushed it home with a 25.90 last lap to Lalang’s 30.94, winning by a solid 6+ seconds 13:46.67 to 13:52.83. The seemingly unbeatable Lalang had been beaten by the freshman Cheserek just as a seemingly unbeatable Kennedy Kithuka has been beaten by Cheserek in cross-country.
Behind those two, it was a fight for 3rd as as four guys (Rosa, Caldwell, Stinson, and Ward) were within less than a second of each other at the bell. It would be Stinson, though, that had the wheels as he closed in 29.10 to beat out Ward in 4th, Rosa (5th) and Caldwell (6th).
Quick Long Thought #1 – Lawi Lalang Shoots Himself In The Foot: We are still in absolute shock that Lalang is not your 2014 NCAA 5,000m champion. On paper, there was absolutely no reason he should have lost this race. His 5K PR is 13:00 to Cheserek’s 13:40 and if it comes down to a kick, Lalang has 3:52 mile speed (the NCAA record), while Cheserek only 4:02. Lalang is was on a completely different level than Cheserek right now … and yet somehow he lost. How is that possible?
First, credit an excellent race by Cheserek (the NCAA altitude conversion converts the 13:46 winning time here to 13:24.81 at sea level). Then place the blame on Lalang’s racing strategy. Lalang just did not run these races like a guy who was trying to win three NCAA titles over the course of 2 days. In his mile prelim, which was scheduled to finish about 2 hours and 20 minutes before the 5,000 started, Lalang set an honest pace, leading from the gun and running a 4:04.27, which according to the NCAA altitude conversion is 3:58.95. Our question is why? He knew he had a 5K in two hours and two more races to run tomorrow. Why run a sub-4 equivalent if you don’t need to? Only 6 guys were eliminated from the mile heats so he was never in any danger of not making the final. He should have sit back conserving as much energy as possible for the races ahead.
Then in the 5K, he could have sat in the pack and let others set the pace, letting it go slow if that’s what the field wanted, before making a dominant move to win the race. However, he went to the lead almost immediately and rabbited Edward Cheserek and the rest of the field for 21 straight laps. Again, why do that? He had a sub-4 mile in his legs, but still went to the front and pushed the pace as a fresh Cheserek just sat on him. All this at altitude where the hard frontrunning is going to have even more of an effect. Just not smart racing and it cost him at least one NCAA title.
After the race, LRC spoke with Lalang and asked him about his strategy. Lalang said, “Yeah, I think that was actually the one mistake I made. I was supposed to relax for a while and run the last 3 laps, but I don’t know, I just got pumped up started pushing it from the start.” He also said he didn’t expect the altitude to have that much of an effect on him, but admitted that it did.
QT #2 – History Repeats Itself – Cheserek Gets Another Huge Upset Victory: For the second time this year, Cheserek pulled off a huge upset to win an NCAA title. At the NCAA XC Championships, Kennedy Kithuka was a heavy favorite, picked first by 95% of LetsRun.com voters, but Cheserek got a dominant victory.
Here Cheserek did the same against Lalang, who probably would have been picked first by even a higher percentage had we done a poll, as Cheserek beat him by more than 6 seconds. He closed his last 400 in 54.50 in an honest race at altitude – extremely impressive. And what’s more, Cheserek remains undefeated in his collegiate track career. Can he keep it going in the 3K tomorrow?
QT #3 – Fast Times At Altitude: The NCAA altitude conversion gives Cheserek’s 13:46 a converted 13:24.81 (a big PR over the 13:40 he had coming in) while Lalang’s time was worth a 13:30.81. The race was honest and a lot of the guys in the field ran altitude-converted PRs or near-PRs.
QT #4 – Lalang Ends Up Closer to 3rd Than First Lalang was actually much closer to the guys in 3rd-6th place than he was to Cheserek in 1st. Parker Stinson actually finished less than 2 seconds behind Lalang and was gaining ground at the end. This development actually was smart by Lalang – once victory was out of reach, save it for the two races on Saturday.
QT #4 – A Great Run For Parker Stinson: Speaking of Stinson, this was definitely a great (and unexpected) result for him. He ran a very smart race, starting in dead last for the first 400m, as he said he could tell the pace was too fast and knew if he hung back people would fade. He moved up through the field slowly throughout the race and of the guys fighting for 3rd, had the most left in the last lap. He was very emotional in his interview and it was obvious this race meant a lot to him. He said he was happy to prove people wrong (he’s come up short at NCAAs in the past and isn’t known for having a kick).
QT #5 – What Will Lalang Do On Saturday? Today obviously did not go according to plan for Lawi Lalang and it’s crazy to think that it’s a real possibility that he leaves Albuquerque with no victories as he faces outdoor 1,500m champion Mac Fleet in the mile and will be up against Cheserek again in the 3K.
When we spoke with Lalang after the 5,000, he was committed to running the 3K. We asked him what he thought he had to do differently tomorrow to beat Cheserek and he said that he’d probably just let Cheserek dictate the pace and try to wait for the last 3 laps to make any kind of move.
QT #6 - If you’re wondering how this might affect the team scoring, it was definitely a big boost for the Oregon men as they got 16 points and were actually first in the team standings at the end of day 1. They’re a legitimate title contender, which is big as they came in only ranked 6th:
QT #7 – The Hot-And-Cold Nature Of Maksim Korolev And James Leakos Continues: Harvard’s Maksim Korolev, the NCAA third placer in cross-country, finished 13th (14:34.41). His Harvard teammate James Leakos was a DNF. We’re not sure what happened to these two once again at an NCAA championships.
They went 1-2 at the Ivy League Championships two weaks ago but Korolev and Leakos have a history of running hot or cold. Today the cold versions of Korolev/Leakos showed up.
Insiders who follow the Ivy League like LetsRun.com co-founder Robert Johnson have long been fascinated by the pair as up-and-down results regularly happen with them. In 2012, they were only 22nd and 19th at their conference meet in cross-country, but then 2nd and 5th at Regionals, only to go 201st and DNF at NCAAs. Then in track, Korolev made a name for himself on LetsRun by getting lapped multiple times last year at NCAAs in the 10,000m. He seemed to erase all memories of that race this fall by surprising everyone with a studly 3rd place, top American finish at the XC champs.
Jared Ward (4th):
Joe Rosa (5th):
Luke Caldwell (6th):
Patrick Tiernan (7th):
Reed Connor (8th):
Adam Bitchell (9th):
Results (full lap splits for each athlete here):
|1||Edward Cheserek||FR||UO||13:46.67||1 (1)|
|2||Lawi Lalang||SR||ARIZ||13:52.83||1 (2)|
|3||Parker Stinson||JR||UO||13:54.46||1 (3)|
|4||Jared Ward||SR||BYU||13:54.93||1 (4)|
|5||Joe Rosa||JR||STAN||13:55.84||1 (5)|
|6||Luke Caldwell||SR||UNM||13:56.66||1 (6)|
|7||Patrick Tiernan||FR||NOVA||14:00.83||1 (7)|
|8||Reed Connor||SR||UWI||14:09.20||1 (8)|
|9||Adam Bitchell||SR||UNM||14:10.36||1 (9)|
|10||Morgan Pearson||JR||UCO||14:15.78||1 (10)|
|11||Brian Shrader||JR||NAU||14:21.11||1 (11)|
|12||Erik Olson||JR||STAN||14:34.40||1 (12)|
|13||Maksim Korolev||SR||HARV||14:34.41||1 (13)|
|14||Mohammed Ahmed||SR||UWI||14:50.11||1 (14)|
|15||Mark Parrish||JR||UFL||14:54.99||1 (15)|