By Weldon Johnson, LetsRun.com
March 9, 2018
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Even champions are human.
Josh Kerr, the reigning NCAA champion in both the mile and 1500 and the fastest NCAA miler in 2018 by over two seconds, showed that tonight in the distance medley relay, as he got the baton for New Mexico in the perfect glory spot, in fifth place, 2.68 seconds behind leaders Virginia Tech.
Kerr’s chance for glory started out well on the first lap as he went by NCAA outdoor 5000m champion Grant Fisher and set his sights on the leaders. But soon glory turned into disaster. 700m in Fisher went back by Kerr and then just after 900m Villanova anchor Casey Comber went by Kerr, and then another runner, and another runner, and another. By the end of this lap it was clear Kerr had shut it down and was saving something for the mile final on Saturday.
When it was all said and done the man we thought was the best miler in the NCAA had run a 4:20.30 split, and his New Mexico team had finished last.
What the hell happened?
Afterwards, Kerr, talking exclusively to LetsRun.com, said he wasn’t totally sure what the issue was beyond him having stomach issues, and then he vowed to do something exciting in the mile final.
“It was rough. Two laps in, I didn’t feel great. My stomach felt very tight. I’m not sure what that [stomach problem] is [caused by], eating probably, maybe a little tightness in there. It is what it is. You’ve got to move on from it. I’ve got a mile final tomorrow so I need to refocus,” he said.
Watching a race replay, the first physical signs of something not being right with Kerr occurred 550m into the race as Kerr gestured the baton sideways at his stomach.
Kerr stayed ahead of Fisher at this point, but Kerr gestured again with the baton on the next lap, and once the pack started engulfing Kerr, physical strain was evident on his face.
Kerr, who doesn’t have a lot of experience doubling on the same day, but did double last year at the Mountain West outdoor meet in the 800 and 1500, said his legs were totally fine, the only issue was his stomach.
“I think I left the eating a little bit late,” he said of eating something in between the mile prelim and the DMR final (there were just under three hours between races).
Kerr and his coach Joe Franklin indicated they did talk of Kerr not killing himself on the DMR leg if New Mexico got it totally out of contention on the anchor, but that was not what occurred tonight. Kerr was in a prime spot to do something magical.
However, once the wheels fell completely off for Kerr, his mindset changed.
“A couple of laps in, I was like this is so hard, and I wasn’t moving in the right direction, and after four or five laps I was like we’ve probably [got to shut it down],” Kerr said. Coach Franklin also said he was communicating with Kerr during the race.
“You’ve got to be smart in these things,” Kerr said of saving something for Saturday.
The biggest losers today were Kerr’s teammates on the DMR, but Kerr said they were very supportive of him.
“They were great. That’s the thing that disappointed me the most. I kind of let them down . Each one of them said to me, ‘Don’t worry about it, as long as you’re ready to go tomorrow we’re fine.’ They’ve been really awesome.”
Coach Franklin said of Kerr’s poor run, “When you put this in perspective, if this is a bad day, this is a really good day. In the whole scheme of the world, we’re at a track meet, we’re at the NCAA championships, trying to run fast. Just [now] talking to the DMR [team], [I told them] if this is a bad day, this is a good day guys.”
As for the final, Kerr said it doesn’t matter if he’s viewed as a favorite or as a dark horse like he was last year.
“I don’t mind. I go into every race the same. No one gets any head starts. People look at races on [heat] sheets like someone’s got a head start. It is what it is. You can get that (a head start) in a DMR, but you can’t get that in a mile. Everyone is standing on the same starting line tomorrow, so it’s going to be a pretty even race. I’m excited to showcase what my ability actually is.”
Then unprompted, Kerr let it be known between the lines that he’s got something special planned for the final.
Here was his final exchange with LetsRun.com as shown in the video below:
Kerr: “I was watching even the World Championships indoors, being [won] in 3:58 (for 1500m), that’s not an exciting race to watch and we’re going to try and make it exciting tomorrow.”
LRC: “So you’re just going to push it.”
Kerr (laughing): “I didn’t say that.”
LRC: “You’re going to give away the strategy beforehand?”
Kerr: “Someone can read into that. That’s cool with me. We just want to make it exciting.”
Coach Franklin was laughing as well and said the plan is “[to] have fun.”
The DMR wasn’t a lot of fun for Josh Kerr tonight, but that could change in the mile final tomorrow.
Video with Kerr and Coach Franklin: