June 7, 2013
Eugene, OR – Texas A&M’s Henry Lelei can not catch a break in the steeplechase finals at the NCAA Track and Field Championships. Last year, a fall on the last hurdle cost him runner-up honors behind eventual Olympic finalist Donn Cabral (Lelei finished fourth) and this year a hard fall on the last water jump cost him a shot at the win as UTEP’s Anthony Rotich won in a 8:21.19.
A much deserved win we might add as Rotich’s time was an 11+ second personal best (pb of 8:32.50 in semis). For the weekend, Rotich knocked nearly 16 seconds off of his previous 8:37.47 personal best.
Lelei recovered well from the fall and was still able to hold on to second place as he finished in 8:23.16, beating out Arkansas’ Stanley Kebenei who took third in 8:24.45.
Behind the top three Kenyans, there was a whole separate race going on between the Americans as they fought for top American honors and the rest of the first-team All-American honors (top 8). BYU’s Curtis Carr ended up being the best of the rest, taking fourth in a new PR of 8:40.87 (previous PR of 8:41.70).
The Race For The Win
Really, we almost should write two recaps for the men’s steeplechase final as there were two separate races going on today. One between Kenyans Rotich, Lelei and Kebenei for the win and another between all the non-Kenyans.
The top three broke away very quickly as they had about three seconds on the field by 600m and almost six seconds by 1k. Rotich, Kebenei, and Lelei traded the lead back and forth running consistent 67-68 second laps until on the third to last lap when Rotich dropped the pace down to 65. Lelei and Kebenei followed, but after a 64 second penultimate lap, a small gap formed as Kebenei fell just over a second behind Rotich and Lelei.
Going into the last lap it, it was a two man race and Rotich started pulling slightly away from Lelei, but with 200 to go Lelei started kicking hard and as they approached the final water jump it was clear Lelei was going to catch back up to Rotich and the race would be decided in the final straightaway.
But it never came to that as Lelei went down hard in the water. There was no recovering from this and Rotich won the race unchallenged in the final meters, closing in a 61.
Would Lelei hold on to second? Kebenei was wasn’t far behind. Impressively, even with the fall, Lelei was able to run a 63.36 final lap and take second 1.29 seconds ahead of Kebenei, who for comparison’s sake, closed in 63.21 without a fall.
The Race For Top American
Behind the 3-way battle for first was the many-way battle for top American and first-team All-American honors. For most of the race, the chase pack was led by Colorado’s Aric VanHalen (son of the rock musician Alex Van Halen) who took them through 69-72 second laps and held the lead until there was less than 800m to go. The entire rest of the pack were strung out behind him and with one lap to go it was High Point’s Dakota Peachee that led, but less than 3 seconds separated him and 11th place (and less than four seconds between him and 12th place) so the entire rest of the field was still in contention for fourth place/top American honors if they had a kick.
And not surprisingly as he had the fastest last lap in the prelims, it was BYU’s Curtis Carr who ended up fourth as he closed the fastest of anyone in the field – a blistering 60.41. There was never any question who would be fourth as Peachee finished more than two seconds back in fifth at 8:43.04. Behind Peachee, Louisville’s Mattias Wolter was 6th, Eastern Kentucky’s Ole Hesselbjerg was 7th and VanHalen finished out the first-team All-American list in 8th.
Quick Thought (QT) #1: Rotich winning here with an 8:21.19 PR may surprise some as he came into the meet with only an 8:37 PR. However, it wasn’t a surprise to his coach, 1988 800 Olympic champion, Paul Ereng, who we interviewed after the race (interview above). Ereng said that he knew Rotich was ready for a fast time after their conference meet where he tripled: 1500 (3:43.01), 5000 (14:25.92) and steeplechase (8:39.44), winning all three and said he actually thought Rotich could run as fast as 8:15.
“I thought if he was rested enough, he could run 8:15, maybe 8:17, under 8:20 for sure,” said Ereng.
Ereng said after watching Rotich run that 3:43 1500, he thought Rotich could run a 3:38 1500 in the right race.
QT #2: Even stopping to take a swim in the steeple pit, Lelei still ran more than a four second PR as his best was 8:27.62 coming in. The race for the win could have been really interesting here if Lelei hadn’t fallen. In his interview (above) Lelei said it was very disappointing as it’s his last steeple as a senior, but that he “just has to pick his head up and move on.” He’s also running Saturday’s 5,000.
QT #3: Carr summed up the race pretty well at the start of his interview (on right) when he said that it didn’t matter if you were in fourth or 12th with a lap to go, it just came down to the kick.
Carr has had an impressive upswing this season as he only ran 9:07 back at Mt. Sac, had to run the B-heat at IC4A’s in mid-May to qualify for Regionals and now has finished fourth in the NCAA.
That being said, the 24-year old Carr didn’t come exactly out of nowhere. Carr explained that he’s had a lot of injuries over the years since coming back from his Mormon mission.
In 2008, Carr was a US Junior steeplechase champion and went to Junior Worlds where he ran an 8:53 pb. He said this year, he was coming off of yet another indoor injury and that is why he wasn’t in great shape early in the season.
QT: The field tonight was short of previous NCAA final experience. In last year’s final, 11 of the 14 competitors were seniors and Rotich and Lelei were the only returning scorers. VanHalen was also in last year’s final. Next year, there are potentially seven returning finalists as only five senior ran tonight.
|Place||Athlete||Affiliation||Time||Wind||Heat (Pl)||Result (split)|
|1||Anthony Rotich||UTEP||8:21.19||1 (1)||Heat data|
|2||Henry Lelei||TAMU||8:23.16||1 (2)||Heat data|
|3||Stanley Kebenei||ARK||8:24.45||1 (3)||Heat data|
|4||Curtis Carr||BYU||8:40.87||1 (4)||Heat data|
|5||Dakota Peachee||HIGH||8:43.04||1 (5)||Heat data|
|6||Mattias Wolter||LOU||8:43.59||1 (6)||Heat data|
|7||Ole Hesselbjerg||EKY||8:43.80||1 (7)||Heat data|
|8||Aric VanHalen||COLO||8:44.50||1 (8)||Heat data|
|9||Tomas Cotter||WICH||8:45.10||1 (9)||Heat data|
|10||Jared Bassett||PORT||8:45.33||1 (10)||Heat data|
|11||Max Darrah||GTWN||8:55.86||1 (11)||Heat data|
|12||Robby Nierman||IU||8:58.18||1 (12)||Heat data|