Upset City! New Mexico Freshman Josh Kerr Stuns Edward Cheserek & Runs Away With 2017 NCAA Mile Title

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By Jonathan Gault
March 11, 2017

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — March Madness came to the 2017 NCAA Indoor Championships as 19-year-old New Mexico freshman Josh Kerr took down 23-year-old Oregon senior Edward Cheserek and destroyed the rest of the mile field to win a shocking NCAA title in 4:03.22. In NCAA tourney parlance, Kerr was a #7 seed against Cheserek, an overpowering #1, who two weeks ago ran 3:52.01 to break the collegiate record, but it was Kerr who looked like the unstoppable force today as he simply blasted Cheserek over the final lap, closing in 26.68 to win by over two seconds.

We’ve seen the great Cheserek beaten in the past, but never before had someone laid a loss like this one on the King in an NCAA track championship; Kerr absorbed Cheserek’s hard kick with 600 to go before crushing him over the final 200. Cheserek, who would hold on for second, may have let up a little once he knew he was beat as he still had to run (and win) the 3k later but Kerr ended up winning by an astounding 2.20 seconds – the third largest in meet history – and he was 2.89 seconds ahead of third-placer Sampson Larri.

The event put a serious dent in Oregon’s national title hopes as instead of scoring in the double digits, the Ducks had to settle for eight (the other UO athlete, Matthew Maton, finished ninth and did not score). They’d end up finishing third overall – 8 points behind winner Texas A&M.

The Race

This one began very slowly, with the entire field still in it at 809 meters, passed in a pedestrian 2:11.62. The pace picked up slightly on the next lap, 30.86, but things really got going once Cheserek went to the front just before three laps to go. Cheserek made a hard move to get to the front and the race began to string out, with Kerr and Oklahoma State’s Josh Thompson following behind Cheserek as the trio began to open up a gap. But the gap began to close on the homestretch, and just before two to go, Kerr upped the ante with a move of his own and as they approached the bell, he had successfully dropped everyone but Cheserek, who tried to retake the lead as they ran down the homestretch for the penultimate time. But Kerr wouldn’t let Cheserek go by and kept pushing as the bell rang.

Amazingly, the 26.52 penultimate lap had done nothing to dent Kerr’s speed, and as they sped around the oval for the final time, it was Cheserek who cracked, falling behind on the backstretch. Kerr’s lead was two meters, then five, then ten, and by the time he rounded the final turn, the crowd was going bonkers and it was all over. He crossed the line well clear of the field in 4:03.22 thanks to a devastating 53.20 last 400, two seconds in front of a well-beaten Cheserek. Middle Tennessee State’s Sampson Laari was the best of the rest as he kicked his way from seventh to third thanks to a 27.30 final lap.


19Josh KERRFRNew Mexico4:03.2230.76 [30.76]1:04.43 [33.67]1:38.88 [34.45]2:11.64 [32.77]2:42.62 [30.99]3:10.03 [27.41]3:36.55 [26.52]4:03.22 [26.68]
28Edward CHESEREKSROregon4:05.4230.88 [30.88]1:04.17 [33.29]1:38.50 [34.34]2:11.84 [33.34]2:42.48 [30.65]3:10.21 [27.73]3:36.70 [26.50]4:05.42 [28.73]
36Sampson LAARISRMid. Tenn. State4:06.1131.19 [31.19]1:04.87 [33.69]1:39.20 [34.33]2:12.24 [33.05]2:43.25 [31.01]3:11.39 [28.14]3:38.82 [27.44]4:06.11 [27.30]
47Neil GOURLEYJRVirginia Tech4:06.2630.66 [30.66]1:04.04 [33.39]1:38.53 [34.49]2:11.62 [33.10]2:42.83 [31.21]3:10.53 [27.71]3:38.08 [27.56]4:06.26 [28.18]
53Adam PALAMARSRSyracuse4:06.4731.05 [31.05]1:04.36 [33.31]1:38.82 [34.47]2:11.96 [33.14]2:42.98 [31.03]3:10.74 [27.76]3:38.65 [27.92]4:06.47 [27.82]
64Joshua THOMPSONSROklahoma State4:06.9630.68 [30.68]1:04.07 [33.40]1:38.61 [34.55]2:11.65 [33.04]2:42.66 [31.01]3:10.41 [27.76]3:37.87 [27.46]4:06.96 [29.10]
71Liam DEESOIona4:07.8231.43 [31.43]1:04.63 [33.20]1:39.07 [34.45]2:12.06 [32.99]2:43.13 [31.07]3:11.17 [28.04]3:39.32 [28.15]4:07.82 [28.51]
82Ben SAARELSRColorado4:07.8431.09 [31.09]1:04.58 [33.50]1:38.81 [34.23]2:12.18 [33.37]2:42.73 [30.56]3:10.59 [27.87]3:38.41 [27.83]4:07.84 [29.43]
910Matthew MATONSOOregon4:08.8830.95 [30.95]1:04.24 [33.29]1:38.72 [34.48]2:11.88 [33.17]2:42.94 [31.06]3:10.68 [27.74]3:38.90 [28.23]4:08.88 [29.98]
105Thomas JOYCESRCalifornia4:16.7731.33 [31.33]1:04.40 [33.08]1:39.03 [34.63]2:12.43 [33.40]2:43.43 [31.00]3:12.33 [28.90]3:43.33 [31.01]4:16.77 [33.44]

Quick Take #1: There’s no secret to beating Edward Cheserek. You just have to be really, really good.

Kerr and Cheserek Battle for the lead

Kerr and Cheserek Battle for the lead

It was going to take something truly special to stop Cheserek from accomplishing a historic mile-3k-5k triple this weekend. May we present Josh Kerr.

Kerr didn’t just take Cheserek’s shot, he absorbed the blow and responded with an even bigger counterpunch, closing in 1:20.61 for his final 600 meters (27.41-26.52-26.68). Even for someone with Cheserek’s speed, that kind of close is hard to match.

Kerr’s race today was proof that he is special, but he’s had championship racing chops for years. The Edinburgh native ran 3:44 and won the European Junior champion as a 17-year-old in 2015 and last year was fourth at the British Olympic Trials and 10th at NCAAs outdoors and the World U20 Champs (he enrolled at New Mexico in the fall of 2015).

Kerr knew going in that he was not among the favorites but that did not bother him.

Cheserek is Beat

Cheserek is Beat

“I thought I had a chance,” Kerr said. “You can’t go into a race not thinking you’ve got a chance. So even though he’s the best the NCAA has ever had, I had to try to leave that out of my mind. But you know, he’s a class act. Won the 5 yesterday plus went through the heats of the mile and got the 3k later… I think I was ranked fifth or sixth coming into Euro Juniors and I was able to win that. So I’m a championship racer. That’s kind of what I do.”

Kerr’s plan was to be the first guy to move with 550 meters to go, but Cheserek beat him to the punch and Kerr wasn’t able to get in the position he wanted to strike. But he found room just before 400 to go and that was still good enough for the win.

College Station has been good to British New Mexico milers Lee Emanuel won a national title for the Lobos on this same track eight years ago. We mentioned above that Kerr’s 2.20 second margin of victory tonight was the third biggest in history – Emanuel is #2 as he won by 2.37 in 2010.

In the end, this wasn't even close - Josh Kerr crushed King Cheserek

In the end, this wasn’t even close – Josh Kerr crushed King Cheserek

The largest margin of victory in NCAA history? That belongs to Jim Ryun, who won by 2.50 seconds in 1967 when he, like Kerr this year, was just 19 years of age.

Quick Take #2: There’s a reason no one has ever pulled off the mile-3k-5k triple / Let’s appreciate the fact that Edward Cheserek just scored way more points at an NCAA indoor championship than anyone in history

No one has ever won three individual events at a single NCAA Indoor Championship because it’s an incredibly difficult feat to accomplish: four races in the span of 25 hours, three of them finals against the best the NCAA has to offer. The fact that freaks like Lawi Lalang (who was a 3:33/13:00 time when he tried it in 2014) and Cheserek can’t do it show that a triple victory is indeed a Herculean task. 

Cheserek came closer than anyone to pulling it off, accounting for 28 points; if he were a team, he would have finished sixth overall. We give Cheserek huge props for even trying it and even bigger props for running so well in all three races.

Most individual points at a single NCAA Indoor meet (relay wins count for 2.5)
1. 28 Edward Cheserek, Oregon 2017
2. 22.5 Edward Cheserek, Oregon 2016
2. 22.5 Galen Rupp, Oregon 2009
4. 22 Justin Gatlin, Tennessee 2002
5. 20.5 Edward Cheserek, Oregon 2015
5. 20.5 Xavier Carter, LSU 2006

As for the race, Cheserek said he would have preferred a faster pace and that he was boxed in which made it difficult for him to move around. Once Kerr gapped him, Cheserek realized Kerr wasn’t coming back and backed off toward the end of the race to conserve energy for the 3k.

Quick Take #3: The curse of the NCAA mile record continues

In 2009 (German Fernandez), 2012 (Miles Batty), 2013 (Chris O’Hare) and 2014 (Lawi Lalang), the NCAA mile record was broken during the regular season, but in each instance, the guy who broke it didn’t win the NCAA mile title that year (Fernandez didn’t run the event at NCAAs, while the other three were beaten at NCAAs). That streak continued today as Cheserek was second after breaking the record in Boston two weeks ago.

Past NCAA mile champs certainly believe the “Curse of the Mile Record” exists:

One more thing that may have hurt Cheserek’s chances was that he made a very big move to go from back in the pack to first with 600 to go. Kerr didn’t have to make that move.

Middle Tennesee State’s Sampson Laari

Laari, a native of Ghana, was an 800 guy until this year (he has run 1:46 and was 5th at NCAA outdoors) but moved up to the mile in 2017, a decision that looked pretty smart today as he passed four guys on the last lap to take third.

“I realized the 800 is all about speed,” Laari said. “My speed is there but I don’t have that sprint speed. Mine is like endurance speed. So I decided to move to the mile.”

Oklahoma State’s Josh Thompson

Thompson had no regrets for coming in with the goal to beat Cheserek.