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LRC: 2008 NCAA Cross Country Nationals - Men's Race Recap:
Galen Rupp and Oregon Are Golden

by: LetsRun.com
November 24, 2008

In the end, the results say that Galen Rupp's performance didn't matter. The Oregon Ducks were so good (and Oklahoma State ran so poorly) they somehow would have won the 2008 NCAA Cross Country Championships even if their #1 man didn't finish the race. However, Rupp's individual win was something the Ducks and Nike Oregon and Phil Knight and Alberto Salazar and Vin Lananna and Track Town, USA desperately wanted and needed.

Last year, the Ducks got the team title but Rupp didn't get the win and Oregon went home feeling slightly less than satisfied. No matter what the Ducks were saying last year about the joy they took in winning the team title, it's impossible to deny that Rupp finishing second didn't fit the storyline that Nike had literally spent millions to try to create at Oregon.

This year Rupp and the Ducks came through big time and everyone can go home happy as Galen Rupp outsprinted Liberty's Sam Chelanga in the final 400 meters to get the individual win in a course record 29:03.8 and the Ducks crushed the competition in the team battle.

The team and individual titles came in contrasting fashion. On the team front, there was really never any doubt. Displaying the same front-running style that gave Oregon the title last year and would have made Steve Prefontaine proud, the Ducks made sure that the other teams felt their presence early. At 3k, the Ducks had three in the top five, whereas the supposed challengers from #2 Oklahoma State were nowhere to be seen as they had no one in the top 65.

At 3k, Rupp was up front battling with Chelanga and he was closely followed by his teammates Shadrack Kiptoo-Biwott and freshman phenom Luke Puksedra. The Cowboys' top two in freshman sensation German Fernandez and John Kosgei were only 10 seconds back of Oregon's 2 and 3 but they were outside of the top 65 in the race. We were standing next to one fan on the course who said at this point "This thing is over. Oregon's got it."

While we were unwilling to call the Cowboys out of it at this point, given how we've seen Colorado come from way behind to shock Wisconsin a time or two before, it did seem as if the Cowboys were out of it. It would have been one thing if their whole pack was running close to Kosgei and Fernandez but their 5th man at this point had to be closer to 200th.

It was roughly at this point that Shadrack Kiptoo-Biwott did one of the oddest things we've ever seen in a race. Kiptoo-Biwott, who was looking totally relaxed even though he was leading the chase pack, literally put both his arms out with palms up and raised them up and down a few times. We'd love to ask him what he actually meant by this gesture but to us it was almost as if he was mocking the competition, asking, "Is this all you got?"

Apparently so as no one came close to really challenging Oregon.

The Ducks would fade a bit over the final 7k but their win was never in doubt as all seven of them that toed the line were running relatively well. The Ducks may have been out hard but there was never a thought of, "Oh my god, if runner x for Oregon cracks, they are screwed as their #6 and 7 are way back like last year."

At the finish, Oregon totalled 93 points in the team scoring as their top 7 all finished in the top 75 overall. After Rupp, it was the #1 frosh in the country Luke Puskedra who was 4th in the team scoring (5th overall), then Kiptoo Biwott was 8th (9th overall), then sophomore Matt Centrowitz in 36th (45th overall) before last year's hero Diego Mercado closed out the scoring in 44th (54th overall). The 6th and 7th Ducks ran credible races as well, as junior Kenny Klotz was 53rd in the team scoring (66th overall) and 800m Olympian Andrew Wheating, who passed at least 7 guys in the final 300 meters, was 59th (75th overall).

The Ducks truly deserved the win as they had the best top 3 of anyone in the field and followed with the best depth as well, as their 7th man (Wheating) finished higher than every other team's 5th man.

Behind Oregon, the one team that the experts thought had a chance to win, Oklahoma State, was moving up after their very slow start. However, any chance they had for a podium finish vanished suddenly when German Fernandez stepped off the course due to an injury. We saw Fernandez pull up and it was clear he was hurt and not going to finish. There is little doubt in our mind that Fernandez would have finished in the top 10 as he was running with teammate John Kosgei, who ended up 9th. To us, it seemed possible that he might be able to finish as high as 3rd given how much he was moving up.

Photo and Message Board Account
of German Fernandez's Injury

The Oklahoma St. website is reporting that Fernandez dropped out with only 1,500 meters remaining but it seemed farther out than that to us - somewhere between miles 4 and 5 - but it's honestly a bit hard to remember. We really thought it was at 6.5k. There is a message board blow-by-blow of the injury here. Regardless, Oklahoma St.coach Dave Smith was obviously disappointed with the turn of events and said, "We were looking at a very high finish - probably second or third - but injuries are part of the sport and we have to accept that."

The Cowboys were certainly moving up, but one thing needs to be made clear. Even if Fernandez finished the race in the top 10, the Cowboys certainly weren't going to finish 2nd. They would most likely would have been a well-beaten third. If you put Fernandez in 10th, they would have scored 101 fewer points and been third with 204. As it was, they ended up 8th with 305. Even without Fernandez's injury, it's clear the Cowboys didn't bring their A game to Terre Haute on Monday. The setback to their future superstar unfortunately just added injury to insult.

The surprise 2nd-place team for the second straight year was the Iona Gaels, who didn't miss a beat under the first-year tutelage of Ricardo Santos after Mick Byrne's departure to Wisconsin. Led by Andrew Ledwith's surprise 3rd place finish (or victory in the "I'm the best human behind the superhuman Rupp and Chelanga" contest) and Mohamed Khadraoui's 6th place finish, the Gaels had two in the top 10 as well as two more in the top 40. As a result, Iona was a clear 2nd with 147 to the 227 of third-place Stanford, who was led by frosh Chris Derrick in 7th. Stanford just edged out Byrne's Wisconsin Badgers, who were the last team on the podium in 4th in 229.

In contrast to the front-running display the Ducks put on in the team battle, Galen Rupp did what Steve Prefontaine didn't like to do - win by running a smart, controlled, measured race. Early on, it was Chelanga who was making it a pure guts race as he hit the 1k in a ridiculous 2:34 and had gapped the field by at least 5 seconds. Rupp, to his credit, didn't panic. After hitting the mile with the field, he slowly worked his way up to Chelanga and pulled even with him just past the two mile mark, 9:30 into the race.

At this point, Chelanga visibly slowed before there was some contact between the two runners and Chelanga promptly took off and gapped Rupp. Rupp patiently worked his way back up and by 11:30 into the race, the two were side-by-side again. The duo would run in tandem for virtually the entire last 3.5 miles. Side-by-side is probably a poor description, as Chelanga was normally a step or two ahead with Rupp sitting on his shoulder.

Once Rupp and Chelanga were together, the pace seemingly slowed, particularly after 5k, as they both seemed to be storing something for the finish rather than trying to make it a one-on-one battle for the ages. It seemed that the pace was slowing because the pair's lead on the chase pack didn't really grow all that much. At 5k, the duo of Rupp and Chelanga were 17 seconds ahead of the chase pack, but at the finish Rupp was only 22 seconds clear of Ledwith. However, Rupp ran pretty even splits of 14:29 and 14:34, so this was a case where the eye was a bit deceiving. In reality what happened was the chase pack was picking up the pace. The chase pack had gone out conservatively and a few of the runners hammered home a negative split after a 14:46 opening 5k.

Coming into the last 400m, Rupp and Chelanga were alongside each other. With just less than 400m to go (28:10), Rupp took the lead but Chelanga responded and briefly retook the lead as the duo sprinted all out neck-and-neck. Some 20 seconds later (28:30), Rupp surged again and Chelanga cracked. Rupp powered home for his first NCAA title.

As television announcer Lewis Johnson said, the O on his chest no longer stood for O zero NCAA titles. The Golden Boy truly was golden. He no longer was Mr. Runner-Up. After three times being the runner-up in the NCAA, he now was an individual champion.

The 2008 NCAA Men's Cross-Country Championships deservedly belong to Oregon and Galen Rupp. They both produced when it mattered most and did so with the added pressure of being the favorites - which makes it all the more harder to do.

Well Done!!!

More Coverage:
USA Today Article on Rupp's Win
*Photos From Men's Race


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