2021 NCAA Outdoor Men’s 800/1500 Preview: Two LOADED Races Headlined by Nuguse v Hocker

By Jonathan Gault
June 7, 2021

The men’s middle distance races at the 2021 NCAA Outdoor Championships are as good as they have been in a long, long time. The depth is incredible — in the 1500, half the field has run 3:37 or faster this year — and the competition for the title is fierce. In the men’s 800, no fewer than five men have a legitimate shot at the title. The 1500, meanwhile, features one of the most anticipated NCAA showdowns in years, between young American superstars Yared Nuguse of Notre Dame and Cole Hocker of Oregon. Below, a preview of two of the most exciting races of the entire meet.

*Schedule, entries, & results *TV/streaming information *All LRC coverage

Men’s 800: A Sixth-Year Senior, a Freshman Phenom, & a Few International Talents Walk Into an 800…

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(prelims Wednesday 9:44 p.m. ET, final Friday 9:14 p.m. ET)

Athlete Year School PB SB Note
Isaiah Jewett SR USC 1:45.16 1:45.16 5th at USAs in ’19; has 45.96 400 speed & hasn’t lost an 800 final in ’21; NCAA leader
Kameron Jones SR Clemson 1:45.47 1:45.47 ACC champ has also run 46.17 for 400
Brandon Miller FR Texas A&M 1:45.57 1:45.57 Age-group phenom didn’t make NCAA indoors but won SECs indoors/out and PR’d at regionals
Charlie Hunter SR Oregon 1:45.59i 1:45.59i NCAA indoor champ was beaten convincingly by Jewett at Pac-12s
Finley McLear SO Miami (OH) 1:45.91i 1:45.91i Brit came .01 shy of winning the NCAA title indoors; undefeated outdoors
Festus Lagat SR Iowa State 1:45.05 1:46.09 3rd at ’19 NCAAs; would have been Big 12 runner-up but DQ’d for shoving
Luis Peralta FR Oregon 1:46.13 1:46.13 4th at Pac-12s; went out in NCAA semis indoors
Shane Streich SR Lipscomb 1:46.78 1:46.78 Atlantic Sun champ is undefeated in ’21 at 800
Yusuf Bizimana FR Texas 1:46.84 1:46.84 Brit swept 800/1500 at Big 12s; 8th in NCAA mile indoors
Samuel Voelz JR Notre Dame 1:46.86 1:46.86 ACC runner-up was 4th at NCAA indoors
Baylor Franklin SO Ole Miss 1:47.55 1:47.55 Didn’t make SEC final; went out in NCAA semis indoors
Crayton Carrozza FR Texas 1:47.56 1:47.56 4th at Big 12s in 800 and 1500.
Devin Dixon SR Texas A&M 1:44.76 1:47.65 ’19 NCAA runner-up was only 8th at SECs
Jason Gomez SO Iowa State 1:47.65i 1:47.65i 5th at NCAA indoors, then ran 1:57 in his only outdoor individual race before Big 12s where he ran 2:20 in the final.
Adam Swanson FR Eastern Illinois 1:47.66 1:47.66 Incredible improvement. 1:56 in HS in 2019. 1:52 last year. Now 1:47.
Alexander Lomong JR Iowa State 1:47.43 1:47.69 Lopez’s brother was 2nd at Big 12s
Abdullahi Hassan FR Wisconsin 1:47.59 1:47.90 3rd at Big 10s; went out in NCAA semis indoors
Eric Brown SR Auburn 1:48.06 1:48.06
Parker Raymond FR Indiana 1:48.07 1:48.07 Didn’t even make Big 10 final but now heading to NCAAs
John Rivera JR Ole Miss 1:48.12 1:48.12 Indoor SEC runnerup didn’t score outdoors.
Abbas Abbkar SR NC A&T 1:48.22 1:48.22 MEAC champ.
Jonathan Schwind JR Lipscomb 1:48.24 1:48.24 Props to Lipscomb for getting two guys to NCAAs
Alex Kay FR Tennessee 1:48.75 1:48.75 Didn’t make final at SECs, 5th at SEC indoors.
Evan Dorenkamp FR Penn State 1:49.11 1:49.11 4th at Big 10s in 800 and 1500.

No one has waited longer for his shot at an NCAA title than USC’s Isaiah Jewett. The top seed heading into the 2020 NCAA Indoor Championships, Jewett — along with everyone else — had his opportunity yanked away due to COVID. Jewett didn’t compete indoors this year, which meant that the 24-year-old sixth-year senior had to wait until the 2021 outdoor season to finally race again.

Jewett took down NCAA indoor champ Hunter to win Pac-12s (Kirby Lee-Image of Sport/Pac-12 Conference)

So far, Jewett has made it count. With his 1:45.16 victory at Pac-12s — where he dominated NCAA indoor champ Charlie Hunter of Oregon — Jewett is the NCAA leader and has not lost a final against collegiate competition since July 2019 (did I mention he was also 5th at USAs that year?). He’s also got serious speed — 45.96 in the open 400 — making him a strong candidate for the win.

But with five sub-1:46 men, the 800 is deep in 2021. Jewett hasn’t lost a final in 2021, but he has lost a race as he was only second in his quarterfinal at the West regional. Regional results aren’t everything, of course, but watch the video of the final 100 and tell me Jewett wasn’t going all-out. The man who dove to beat him? Texas A&M’s Brandon Miller, who is all of 19 years old. An early teen phenom (he ran 1:51 at 14 and 1:49 at age 15), Miller’s progress slowed toward the end of high school as he could only improve his freshman pb by .52, to 1:49.35 as a senior. But his progress has ramped back up in College Station, winning SECs indoors and out and outdueling Jewett with a 1:45.57 pb at regionals. Can he follow in the footsteps of former Aggies Donavan Brazier and Sammy Watson and win the NCAA 800 as a true freshman?

Then there’s the guy, Kameron Jones of Clemson, who had to spend the early portion of the season wondering whether his team would even exist next year. Thankfully, Clemson restored its men’s track program after cutting it in November, and Jones’ performances is proof of why it should remain: Jones, a converted 400 runner and grad transfer from Maryland, has dropped his pb from 1:49.79 to 1:45.47 this year to win the ACC title.

And we shouldn’t forget about the two men who battled it out for the NCAA indoor title three months ago. Oregon’s Hunter and Miami (Ohio)’s Finley McLear both ran sub-1:46 in that race, Hunter nipping McLear, 1:45.90 to 1:45.91, but neither has gone faster outdoors. That’s not as worrying for McLear, who has won all of his races, but it’s a little concerning for Hunter, who was convincingly beaten by Jewett at Pac-12s.

One last name to watch: Devin Dixon. At 1:44.76, he’s got the fastest pb in the field, and he was second at the ’19 NCAA meet behind Bryce Hoppel. He hasn’t been nearly as good in 2021 but has improved rapidly the last few weeks and does have the talent. He hadn’t broken 1:51 all year until SECs where he ran 1:48.97 in the prelims (8th in the final in 1:48) and he reduced that to 1:47.65 at regionals.

JG prediction: Jewett, Miller, Jones, and McLear have all been running great this year and any of them could conceivably win this race. Jewett has the single most impressive race of the season (his Pac-12 win), so I’m picking him for the win. But I’m also a bit concerned that Miller was able to outsprint him at regionals. The 1500 will get more attention at this meet, but the 800 could be special as well.

Men’s 1500: The race we’ve all been waiting for

(prelims Wednesday, 8:16 p.m. ET, final Friday, 8:11 p.m. ET)

Athlete Year School PB SB Note
Yared Nuguse JR Notre Dame 3:34.68 3:34.68 Reigning champ & collegiate record holder hasn’t lost a track final since April ’19
Sam Tanner FR Washington 3:34.72i 3:34.72i 1500 CR indoors but didn’t make NCAA final; needed time q to make NCAA outdoors
Eliud Kipsang FR Alabama 3:35.49 3:35.49 SEC champ soloed #6 time in NCAA history at regionals
Cole Hocker FR Oregon 3:35.63i 3:35.63i NCAA mile/3k champ indoors was beaten by Nuguse on May 7
Waleed Suliman JR Ole Miss 3:36.53 3:36.53 SEC runner-up was 3rd in NCAA mile indoors
Mario Garcia Romo SO Ole Miss 3:37.17 3:37.17 Spaniard was 3rd in NCAA 3k indoors
Jack Salisbury JR Georgetown 3:37.18 3:37.18 Big East champ PR’d by 3 secs at regionals
Talem Franco SR BYU 3:37.55 3:37.55 26-year-old was 11th at NCAAs in ’19
Ryan Adams SR Furman 3:37.66 3:37.66 Went out in semis in last trip to NCAAs in ’19
Lucas Bons FR BYU 3:37.68 3:37.68 9th in NCAA mile indoors
Paul Ryan SR Washington St. 3:37.73 3:37.73 Pac-12 runner-up
Casey Comber SR Villanova 3:37.76 3:37.76 2nd ’19 NCAA mile, 8th ’19 NCAA 1500; but only 5th at Big East this year
Brandon Tubby SR North Carolina 3:38.38 3:38.38 ACC indoor mile champ but only 8th at ACCs outdoors
Adam Fogg SO Drake 3:38.79 3:38.79 4th in NCAA mile indoors
James West SR Oregon 3:34.07 3:38.96 25-year-old Brit has best pb in field but was just 4th at Pac-12s
Diego Zarate SR Virginia Tech 3:39.03 3:39.03 3rd at ACCs
AJ Ernst SR Providence 3:39.14 3:39.14 Big East runnerup used to run for UVA.
Reed Brown JR Oregon 3:38.74 3:39.29 5th in NCAA mile indoors
Zach Stallings SO Washington St. 3:39.32 3:39.32 6th at Pac 12s.
Dais Malebana JR Nebraska 3:39.36 3:39.36 Just 9th at Big 10s.
Jesse Hunt SO North Carolina 3:39.47 3:39.47 5th at ACCs.
Tom Dodd JR Michigan 3:39.60 3:39.60 7th indoors. 12th at Big 10s.
Cathal Doyle JR Portland 3:39.99 3:39.99 10th in stacked Oregon twlight.
Isaac Basten SO Drake 3:40.09 3:40.09 Ran 5000 at conference meet and didn’t score. Had 3:43 pb before regionals.

How good has the men’s 1500 been this year at the NCAA level?

Prior to 2021, only six men had ever broken 3:36 for 1500 meters in a collegiate season.

Five guys have broken 3:36 this year.

That includes two collegiate records in the 1500 and one in the mile — though the guy who broke the latter mark, Cooper Teare, is only doing the 5,000 at NCAAs. The other record breakers, Sam Tanner of Washington and Yared Nuguse of Notre Dame, are entered, as is Alabama star Eliud Kipsang (who soloed a 3:35 at regionals) and Oregon superstar Cole Hocker, who completed a remarkable NCAA mile/3k double within the span of 70 minutes.

It’s not just the stars up front who are running fast. In 2019, the last time there was a collegiate outdoor season, two guys broke 3:38. In 2021, 14 men have done it. Fourteen!

As my boss Robert Johnson has pointed out, the superspike revolution certainly seems to have contributed to the overwhelming number of fast times (although some insist it’s that training has been changed by COVID). But there are also some damn good athletes running those times!

I feel for a guy like Ole Miss’ Waleed Suliman. In any other year, an American collegian running 3:36 would be a massive deal. In 2021, he is, at best, the fourth-most interesting guy in the race. This field is so deep that it’s not hard to imagine someone running 3:37 and getting left out of the final…particularly because Kipsang, the 24-year-old freshman from Kenya serves as a de facto rabbit in every race (he ran 3:37 in his SEC prelim and 3:37 and 3:35 in his two rounds at regionals).

Embed from Getty Images

The race for the NCAA title will likely come down to Nuguse vs. Hocker. And man, what a race it should be. This is easily the most excited I’ve been for an NCAA 1500 since I started following the sport, and I can’t imagine there have been many more-anticipated 1500 matchups in the 101-year history of the meet (Jim Ryun vs. Marty Liquori in 1969 would be one. Any others? Let me know.)

It’s the NCAA outdoor champ vs. the NCAA indoor champ. The guy who ran 3:34 in a prelim at ACCs vs. the guy who makes closing in 25.x look routine. An early installment of a rivalry that will continue two weeks later at the Olympic Trials and, if all goes well, could stretch across the next decade of American distance running.

But enough bloviating. Who’s gonna win the thing?

The two men have already raced each other this year, with Nuguse taking down Hocker on his own track at the Oregon Twilight on May 8, 3:35.96 to 3:36.47 (Hocker’s teammate Cooper Teare snuck between them for second). That race was paced with the aim of hitting the 3:35.00 Olympic standard, and usually I’d be wary of projecting results of a time trial-style race into a championship event like the NCAA meet. But the presence of Eliud Kipsang changes the calculus. If Kipsang runs like he did at SECs and regionals, NCAAs could turn into a re-run of the Oregon Twilight (though it’s worth noting that Kipsang did not try to go wire-to-wire at NCAA indoors).

That would seem to favor Nuguse. But it’s simply not true that Hocker can’t succeed in a fast race. Indoors, he broke the NCAA meet record in the mile (3:53.71) and almost broke it in the 3k (7:46.15), yet closed in 25.x in both of those races. Hocker’s closing speed is unreal. Yet it’s also not fair to say he should be favored in a kick over Nuguse because…well, find me a race where Nuguse has been outkicked. Whether it’s the NCAA 1500 or DMR in 2019 or the Oregon Twilight this year against Teare, Nuguse always seems to come out on top. As one NCAA coach said to us, he’s got a nose for the finish line.

John McGillen/Pac-12 Conference

The truth is, Hocker and Nuguse are very close in ability. Rewatch their race at Oregon Twilight. Their kicks were almost identical (55.63 last lap for Nuguse, 55.67 for Hocker); the difference was that Nuguse had better position at the bell, which he used to his advantage on the last lap. All the evidence points to a close race in Eugene and a classic NCAA final.

Could anyone else win it? It seems unlikely. Hocker totally blasted most of these guys in the mile at NCAA indoors, and while Tanner’s pb suggests he could contend, he couldn’t even make the NCAA final indoors and needed a time qualifier to advance to nationals outdoors.

One other note: Hocker is also entered in the 5k. We’ll get into that in more detail in our 5k preview (the race comes after both rounds of the 1500), but it’s worth noting that no man has ever won both events at the same NCAA meet.

JG prediction: Hocker and Nuguse should go 1-2 in some order, and you could convince me of either outcome. I’ll go with Nuguse, because he’s been unbeatable in close races and I expect this one to be close.

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It’s 2021 NCAA T&F Week. Official 800 and 1500 Discussion Thread. Who you got – Nuguse or Hocker?

Women’s Preview: 2021 NCAA Outdoor Women’s 800/1500 Preview: No Athing Mu, But Plenty of Talent As Aaliyah Miller & Sage Hurta Look to Back Up Indoor Titles Miller of Baylor and Hurta of Colorado were both dominant winners at NCAA Indoors and have looked great this outdoor season, but they face plenty of competition — 11 women in the NCAA field have broken 2:02 this year and six have broken 4:10.