5 Things to Watch at 2024 NCAAs: All-Time 1500/5K Matchups, Which Heavy Favorite Will Lose, & Learn These Sprint Names

Christopher Morales-Williams & Ja'Kobe Tharp are among the sprint stars in the making who will be in Eugene this weekend

We’re into June of an Olympic year, which means we are getting into the juicy part of the track & field season. Over the next three weeks, Hayward Field in Eugene will play host to two of the greatest track meets in the world: the NCAA championships (June 5-8) and the US Olympic Trials (June 21-30). In many ways, those two meets set the stage for the big one in Paris in August. And while the US trials is about the here and now, the NCAA meet is equal parts present and future. Some of the winners crowned in Eugene this week will have a chance to land on the Olympic podium as soon as this summer. Others may have to wait until LA 2028 or even Brisbane 2032 to fully emerge.

But make no mistake, stars will be born this weekend. What do Sha’Carri RichardsonJosh KerrMondo Duplantis, Grant Holloway, and Ryan Crouser have in common? They are all 2023 world champions, and they are all former NCAA champions.

After a one-year sojourn in Austin, the NCAA meet is back in Eugene this year, which is nothing new. The next four NCAA meets will be held there, which means that 12 of the 14 NCAAs held between 2013 and 2027 will have been in Eugene. While it would be great to see the meet move around a bit more, there’s no doubt that Track Town USA knows how to put on a great meet, and I’m excited to head out to Oregon on Tuesday to provide boots-on-the-ground coverage for LetsRun.com.

Our interns Joseph Carroll and Harper Clark have already done a good job previewing the men’s and women’s distance action. Below, I’ve got a few more big-picture thoughts before the action kicks off Wednesday night.

But before we get to that, make sure you enter our free prediction contest: $20,024 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Prediction Contest. Then tell a friend as you can compete in groups.

1) The men’s 1500 could be an all-timer

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As distance fans, we at LetsRun.com are always going to be partial to the men’s 1500, but this year there is extra reason to be excited because the event is abnormally stacked with top-end talent.

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When is a last time an NCAA 1500 final featured three NCAA champions…and none of them was the favorite? As good as the Washington trio of Luke Houser (2023/2024 NCAA mile champ), Nathan Green (2023 NCAA 1500 champ), and Joe Waskom (2022 NCAA 1500 champ) have been throughout their careers in Seattle, the favorite has to be indoor runner-up Adam Spencer of Wisconsin, who owns a 3:31 pb and has gone undefeated this outdoor season, including a win at the Australian championships over the likes of Ollie Hoare and Cameron Myers.

Then there’s Oregon’s Elliott Cook, who pulled off the Pac-12 800/1500 double this year (defeating the UW trio in the process) and Florida’s big-kicking chain chomper, Parvej Khan (SEC champ).

And I haven’t even mentioned NAU’s Colin Sahlman, who has been tearing it up at NAU this spring. Between his 1:45.63 at Desert Heat and his 3:33.96 at Bryan Clay, Sahlman is the first American since Jim Ryun in 1967 to break 1:46 and 3:34 before his 21st birthday.

LRC Colin Sahlman Podcast: “Don’t Put Limits on Yourself” – Olympic Trials, NCAAs on Tap for NAU Star

A few things to keep in mind…

  • Don’t overlook the UW men. This seems a silly point to make given a Washington Husky has won each of the last four NCAA 1500/mile titles. But aside from Green’s 3:34 at Bryan Clay (where he was nearly a second behind Sahlman), none of them have been all that impressive this outdoor season. Don’t let that fool you. UW coach Andy Powell loves to give his guys a big six-week training block of hard workouts that coincides with the middle of the outdoor season. The athletes’ results suffer in the short term, but the approach usually pays off at the championships. Just look at last year, when Waskom was 11th at Pac-12s but then finished 2nd at NCAAs and 2nd at USAs to punch his ticket to Worlds for Team USA.
  • Heat 2 is going to be absolutely brutal. Because of the way the regional results went, 11 of the 12 qualifiers from the West Region ended up in heat 2. That means that almost all of the big dogs — Houser, Waskom, Green, Sahlman, Spencer, and Cook — are in heat 2, which may be the most stacked semifinal heat in NCAA history. All six of those guys can still make the final — the qualifying format is top five in each heat plus the next two fastest times — but they may have to work harder than they’d like to get there. If they’re smart, someone will take up the pace early to give them a shot at the time qualifiers.
  • This meet will have Olympic Trials implications. The last time the US sent a 1500-meter team to the Olympics in 2021, two of the three members were collegians. That probably won’t happen again considering those two collegians — Cole Hocker and Yared Nuguse — are still around and even better in 2024. But if an American can win this race, he will have to be viewed as a serious contender to make the US team at the Trials.
    The complicating factor? None of the US collegians have the Olympic standard, and only Waskom is even close to getting in on world ranking (Sahlman could get there with a couple more fast times). Considering the Olympic standard (3:33.50) is faster than the NCAA record (3:33.74), it’s unlikely any of them get it at NCAAs. But they could have a shot at the Portland Track Festival on Sunday night.

2) The men’s 5,000 could be an all-timer too

Just like the men’s 1500, the men’s 5,000 features three NCAA champions: NAU’s Nico Young (2024 indoor 3,000/5,000), Stanford’s Ky Robinson (2023 outdoor 5,000/10,000), and Harvard’s Graham Blanks (2023 cross country). Add in UNC’s Parker Wolfe (2nd in NCAA 3,000/5,000 indoors) and New Mexico freshman Habtom Samuel (13:13/26:53 pbs) and it should be quite a race. And what makes it even more fun is the first four of those names will all be fresh for this event — none of them are in the 10,000.

Young has been a cut above the rest of the NCAA in 2024 (Kevin Morris photo)

Based on recent form, Young is the favorite. Just three months ago, Young had never won an NCAA title and the narrative around him centered on whether he would ever have the kick to win one. Then he showed up to NCAA indoors and crushed everyone in the 3,000 and 5,000. Now the narrative around Young is quite different. Rather than “Can he win the big one?” the question is now “Can Young close out one of the greatest NCAA track campaigns of all time?” Young already has two NCAA titles and collegiate records in the 5,000 (12:57.14) and 10,000 (26:52.72). Another win on Friday would give him three NCAA titles during the same year he became the first collegian under 13:00 and the first collegian under 27:00.

But Robinson will be going for history as well. A win in Eugene would make him just the fourth man to repeat in the 5,000 in the last 30 years, joining NCAA legends Chris Solinsky (2006-07), Lawi Lalang (2013-14), and Edward Cheserek (2015-16). Young smoked Robinson in both the 5k (where Robinson was 3rd) and 3k (where Robinson was 5th) at NCAA indoors in March, so why should things be different outdoors? Well, you could have said the same thing in 2023, when Robinson was 7th in the 5k and 10th in the 3k at NCAA indoors and went on to dominate the NCAA outdoor meet thanks to his sick kick (he closed in 54.19 in his 10k win last year and 55.54 in his 5k win). If he can close like that on Saturday, he will give Young all he can handle.

(Editor’s note: After NCAA Indoors, Robinson was quite upbeat and told us he was ahead of where he was in 2023).

In between Robinson owning the NCAA and Young owning the NCAA, there was a three-month period last fall when Graham Blanks owned the NCAA. Remember when that curly-haired kid from Harvard went undefeated en route to an NCAA cross country title and ran an NCAA 5,000-meter record of 13:03? Blanks missed the rest of the indoor season due to injury, and we’ve yet to see what he is truly capable of outdoors.

When we break down these races, it’s tempting to get caught up in the most recent championship. After he swept the 5k and 10k last spring, it would not have been unreasonable to look at Robinson’s kick and say, well no one is beating that guy anymore. Yet he has been beaten. Blanks then stepped in as king of the NCAA in the fall, and now Young looks unbeatable. But someone is only unbeatable until they are beaten. Maybe Young is still the best, but if someone like Robinson or Wolfe has taken a leap outdoors, it can be hard to tell — they don’t need to go all-out at conference or regionals, so it’s only at NCAAs that we get to see them holding nothing back. Which is one of many reasons why Friday’s race is so exciting.

3) Which of the women’s distance favorites will be upset?

As Harper Clark (with a little help from Rojo) pointed out in our preview, each of the women’s distance events at NCAAs has a heavy favorite who ranks either first or second in NCAA history in their event:

800: Michaela Rose, LSU 1:58.37 (#2 all-time)
1500: Maia Ramsden, Harvard 4:02.58 (#2 all-time)
5,000: Parker Valby, Florida 14:52.79 (NCAA record)
10,000: Parker Valby, Florida 30:50.43 (NCAA record)
Steeple: Doris Lemngole, Alabama 9:22.31 (#2 all-time)

Valby has two NCAA records in 2024, but even the greats can lose at NCAAs (Kevin Morris photo)

But recent history says at least one of those women will lose. That is simply the way the NCAA meet goes. Just look at last year’s championships, where Katelyn Tuohy was chasing a 1500/5,000 double and left with a single 7th-place finish. Or this year’s indoor meet, where Rose was viewed as untouchable…until Stanford’s Juliette Whittaker took her down. Collegiate running is a bloody endeavor, with the next man or woman up ready to strike the instant the favorite shows any sign of weakness.

So let’s rank the women above in terms of how vulnerable they are to be upset, starting with the least likely.

5. Valby (10k)

Valby’s 30:50 pb is 28 seconds faster than anyone else in NCAA history and 92 seconds ahead of the next-fastest woman in the NCAA this year, Alabama’s Hilda Olemomoi. I’d say she could be vulnerable in a kick, but Valby never lets the pace go slow enough for it to come to that.

4. Ramsden (1500)

Ramsden won NCAA outdoors last year, won NCAA indoors this year (by nearly two full seconds), and has the fastest time in the NCAA this year by more than four seconds. At the East Regional, when Florida’s Flomena Asekol ran 4:07.10 in the the first quarterfinal — the fastest non-Ramsden time in 2024 — Ramsden responded by dropping a 4:05.65 to remind everyone who is boss. She has a great kick and a fast pb, which makes her nearly impossible to beat at the collegiate level.

3. Valby (5k)

If Valby were fresh in this race, I’d probably have her as a bigger lock here than Ramsden. But even for an athlete as great as Valby, 37.5 laps across three days is a lot of running, with a lot of time for something to go wrong. There’s a reason no one has completed the 5k/10k double since Dominique Scott in 2016.

Plus is there a chance Ramsden could double back from the 1500 (at 2:41 p.m. PT on Saturday) and contend in the 5,000 (4:25 p.m. PT)? It’s fun to think about, but probably not feasible, especially if Valby pushes the pace as expected. Plus Ramsden tried the same double last year after winning the 1500 and was just 18th in the 5,000.

2. Rose (800)

Rose is the reigning champ, but she lost indoors to Juliette Whittaker. Arkansas’ Sanu Jallow (1:59.29 sb) has also been in great form and gave Rose a good run at SECs.

1. Lemngole (steeple)

Lemngole beat reigning NCAA champion Olivia Markezich by 14 seconds when they raced at Wake Forest in April, but Markezich has a faster pb (9:17 vs 9:22) and has consistently come up big in NCAA championships (1st ’23 outdoors, 3rd ’23 XC, 2nd ’24 indoors). Lemngole, who has run 14:40 for 5k on the roads, is a star, but she is not as big a favorite as the other distance women and thus the most likely to be upset.

4) Learn the names Christopher Morales-Williams & Ja’Kobe Tharp

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There is A LOT of sprint talent in this meet, which we talked about at length on this week’s Track Talk podcast with ESPN announcer and Olympic gold medallist Dan O’Brien. But two guys who could totally explode this weekend are Georgia 400m man Christopher Morales-Williams and Auburn 110m hurdler Ja’Kobe Tharp.

You’ve probably already heard about Morales-Williams: indoors, the 19-year-old Canadian set a world record that wasn’t really a world record at SECs, then won the NCAA title in Boston. Outdoors, he is the world leader thanks to his 44.05 at SECs. Not only is he the NCAA favorite, but he is a legitimate Olympic gold medal threat this year.

But can Morales-Williams really keep things going all the way until Paris? Well, there is some history in the men’s 400m.

Consider Steve Lewis, who was the NCAA runner-up as a 19-year-old UCLA freshman in 1988 and kept his season going all the way to an Olympic gold in Seoul in September.

Or how about Jeremy Wariner, who was the NCAA champ as a 20-year-old sophomore at Baylor in 2004 and won Olympic gold in Athens?

Or Kirani James, who was the NCAA champ in 2011 for Alabama and won Worlds in Daegu that August, two days before his 19th birthday.

Of course, there are other runners who ran out of steam by the time the global championships came around — Fred Kerley in 2017 or Randolph Ross in 2021 come to mind — which is understandable given how long their seasons lasted. But Morales-Williams is a special talent, and his performances so far in 2024 demand he be taken seriously as an Olympic threat.

Ja’Kobe Tharp is the guy you may not be as familiar with yet. No freshman has won the NCAA 110 hurdles title since Grant Holloway, but Tharp, an 18-year-old true frosh, will be favored to do just that. And Tharp is actually much faster than Holloway was at the same age. When Holloway won his first NCAA title in 2017, his pb was 13.41. Tharp has already run 13.18 — an American U20 and tied for #7 on the NCAA all-time list as well as #7 on the 2024 world list. He’s someone who could blossom into a major star with a big performance this weekend.

5) Which other sprint stars will emerge?

When the weather is good (and sometimes even when it isn’t), the NCAA championships typically produce some of the fastest sprint times of the season. The formula is as follows:

Deep, talented field of athletes + peaking for a championship + fast track + good weather = fast fast fast

The forecast for Eugene looks pretty good for sprinting (high of at least 74 degrees on all four days), so the question is, who is going to run those fast times?

The glamour event, the men’s 100 meters, is wide open. The NCAA co-leaders are Tennessee’s T-Mars McCallum and Auburn’s Favour Ashe at 9.94, but neither of those guys won the SEC title, which instead went to last year’s NCAA runner-up, Godson Oghenebrume of LSU. But there were also some fast wind-aided times at the West Regional, led by the 9.84 (+2.5) laid down by Houston’s Louie Hinchcliffe, a former British golf prospect who has thrived this year since transferring from Washington State.

In the 200, there is a clear favorite: Alabama’s Tarsis Orogot of Uganda (yes, Uganda), who ran 19.75 (+1.0) at SECs (#3 all-time in the NCAA).

In the women’s 100m, the 2024 world leader is a collegian, Tennessee’s Jacious Sears (10.77, +1.6), but she won’t be at NCAAs after picking up an injury at SECs. That leaves SEC champ Brianna Lyston of LSU (10.91 sb) and Pac-12 champ Jadyn Mays (10.83 with a +2.3 wind at regionals) as the favorites along with Ole Miss’ McKenzie Long (also a threat in the 200).

Arkansas also has a women’s 400m crew for the ages as Nickisha Pryce (49.32), Kaylyn Brown (49.47), and Amber Anning (49.51) rank #3-#4-#5 in NCAA history (and #2-3-4 on the 2024 world outdoor list) and Rosey Effiong (50.11) was 3rd at NCAA indoors. All four are entered in the 400 this week.

One other guy to watch is Tennessee’s Clement Ducos in the men’s 400 hurdles. The Frenchman, who didn’t even make the NCAA final last year, could possibly snag a medal at his home Olympics this summer if one of the Big 3 (Warholm, dos Santos, Benjamin) falters. He ran the #4 time in NCAA history at SECs, 47.69 (47.56 got the bronze at Worlds last year), before he was DQ’d because his leg went around one of the hurdles. The talent is there if he can put it together in the final.

Want more sprint insight? Listen to this week’s version of the Track Talk podcast with Olympic gold medallist Dan O’Brien.

Talk about the meet on our messageboard: Official 2024 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Champs – Can Nico Young and Parker Valby complete legendary sesasons?


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