April 1, 2015
In a surprising move, the University of Oregon announced today that star distance runners Edward Cheserek and Eric Jenkins will skip this June’s NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, which will take place at Oregon’s Hayward Field from June 10-13. Instead, the duo will compete in an old-fashioned match race — one-on-one — over 5,000 meters at the Prefontaine Classic on May 29.
“We believe this is the best decision for Edward and Eric’s development as runners,” Ducks distance coach Andy Powell said. “They clearly weren’t getting enough competition at the NCAA level. We read the LetsRun messageboards just like everyone else. After indoor NCAAs, we knew the fans wanted a real showdown between them when both of them were fresh and we decided to give it to them.”
Cheserek and Jenkins went 1-2 at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in November and powered Oregon to a dominant win at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships last month, with Cheserek winning the mile and anchoring the victorious distance medley relay and Jenkins winning the 3,000 and 5,000. Jenkins beat Cheserek in the 3,000, though Cheserek stirred some debate after the race after he said he let Jenkins take the victory.
While the race will certainly create excitement in the running community, the timing is a problem for the Oregon team. Because the Pre Classic overlaps with the NCAA West Preliminary Round (to be held May 28-30 in Austin, Texas), logistically it’s nearly impossible for Cheserek and Jenkins to run both meets (the 10,000 prelims are on May 28, the 5,000 on May 30). Therefore Powell said that his two star runners will only race at Pre, leaving Oregon’s chances at a repeat title up to the rest of the team.
“It’s become too easy recently to just load up in the distance events and win NCAAs,” Powell said. “We felt it was necessary to challenge the rest of the guys on the roster rather than relying solely on Eric and Edward.”
Indeed, Cheserek and Jenkins combined for 38 individual points at NCAA indoors (plus 10 more if you give Cheserek credit for the DMR; third place-Arkansas only had 39 points total). Oregon scored 74 total, tied for the highest score since 1994 and 24 points ahead of runners-up Florida. Outdoors last year, the Ducks scored 88 points, the highest total since 1984.
It will be up to runners like Johnny Gregorek (fourth in the mile indoors), Daniel Winn (sixth in the mile indoors) and Will Geoghegan (third in the 3,000 indoors) to carry the load for the UO distance squad. The Ducks return talent in other events, such as javelin champ Sam Crouser and 110 hurdles champ Devon Allen (who will hopefully be ready after suffering a knee injury playing for Oregon’s football team in the Rose Bowl). But the distance squad has been the strength of the team and winning the title will be a tough task, especially against a strong Florida squad that scored 70 points at NCAA outdoors last year, a total that would have won every year from 2001-2013.
The absence of the Ducks’ big stars will be a welcome sight to NCAA distance runners as Oregon has monopolized NCAA titles in recent years. Starting with the 2013 NCAA XC meet, Oregon runners have claimed 9 of the 12 distance titles (1500 and up) on offer between NCAA XC, indoors and outdoors.
“To be honest, I’m sick and tired of losing to these guys,” said Arkansas’ Kemoy Campbell, who was second behind Jenkins in the 5,000 at the 2015 NCAA indoor meet and fourth behind a trio of Ducks in the 3,000. “I’m glad they’re giving somebody else a chance.”
The choice of a match race — where the field will consist solely of Cheserek and Jenkins — is odd. Match races in running are almost unheard of these days, even at the amateur level, so to see one between the NCAAs two biggest stars will be quite a treat. How will the race play out? Will one of them try to make it honest or will it devolve into a sit-and-kick?
“I haven’t thought about strategy or anything like that yet,” Jenkins said. “But I think the winning time will be under 14:00. We don’t want to waste the fans’ time.”