Habtom Samuel Wins 2024 NCAA 10K Title Despite Fall With 900m To Go

The New Mexico freshman overcame a late tumble to win in 28:07.82

EUGENE, Ore. (05-Jun) — If there is one event where you can overcome a fall, it is the 10,000 meters. Six-point-two miles of racing is a lot of time to make up ground, particularly if you go down in the early laps. Lasse Viren in 1972 and Mo Farah in 2016 both won Olympic 10,000-meter titles after falling.

But what if that fall comes with just over two laps to go?

If your name is Habtom Samuel, who won the NCAA 10,000-meter final on Wednesday night at Hayward Field despite a late tumble, it’s no problem at all. The New Mexico freshman from Eritrea even had time to celebrate before crossing the finish line in 28:07.82, barely two minutes after he had been on all fours.

(Rest of the meet recap: 2024 NCAAs Day 1: Big names advance in 1500, Leo Neugebauer rocks 1st five (4685) & Caleb Dean blasts 400H heats)

Things looked bleak for Samuel (obscured by Kipngetich) with 900m to go…

Things looked bleak when Arkansas’ Patrick Kiprop and North Carolina’s Alex Phillip went down in front of Samuel with 900 meters remaining. Samuel tried to hurdle both men, but the carnage was unavoidable and he, too, began to stumble. But no sooner had Samuel’s right knee hit the track than he was picking himself up and focusing on the men ahead of him. He had gone from 5th to 10th, and was breathing more heavily than he would have liked at that stage in the race. His legs, after nearly 23 laps of running and the shock of a fall in them, felt heavy. Crucially, however, Samuel had limited the gap to the leader to a manageable 10 meters.

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By the bell, Samuel had moved up to 3rd, which is where he stayed until 160 meters remaining, at which point Samuel surged past Texas Tech’s Ernest Cheruiyot and Oklahoma State’s Denis Kipngetich to seize the lead. Though Alabama’s Victor Kiprop would follow into second and try to catch Samuel in the home straight, Kiprop was never able to mount a serious challenge and Samuel took the victory thanks to a 58.16 last lap, Kiprop second, .77 behind in 28:08.59.

“[When I fell], a lot of things come to my mind,” Samuel said. “Should I close the gap? Or wait until the bell lap?…I’m so proud. God saved me today.”

...but he would recover to take his first NCAA titleSamuel, whose 26:53.84 season’s best (#2 NCAA all-time) made him the top seed by more than a minute, entered the race determined not just to win, but to break the championship record of 27:41.87 set by Tulsa’s Patrick Dever three years ago. After leading the field through a 4:26 opening 1600, Samuel was very close to record pace on a nice night for running (temps in the 60s), but decided he did not want to do it on his own. When he moved aside just before 3200 (8:56.60) to see if anyone else wanted to keep the pace going, he found no takers and the field slowed, hitting halfway in 14:10.

The race got going when Phillip, the NCAA DIII 10,000 record holder, took the lead with six laps to go and dropped a 65.76, but by the time of the fall with 900 to go, there were still 12 men in the lead group. By the bell, Cheruiyot, Kipngetich, Samuel, and Victor Kiprop had separated, and those four would duke it out for the title over the final 400.

You can watch the final 200 and then a replay of the fall here

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Pl Athlete Time
1 Habtom SAMUEL
New Mexico [FR]
28:07.82  PB 
2 Victor KIPROP
Alabama [JR]
Oklahoma State [FR]
28:10.25  PB 
Texas Tech [FR]
5 Chandler GIBBENS
Kansas [SR]
28:10.87  PB 
Louisville [SR]
28:11.65  PB 
7 Sanele MASONDO
Iowa State [JR]
28:13.29  PB 
8 Patrick KIPROP
Arkansas [SR]
28:13.99  SB 
9 Alex MAIER
Oklahoma State [SR]
28:14.81  SB 
10 Kirami YEGO
Arkansas [SR]
28:17.53  PB 
11 Aaron LAS HERAS
Northern Arizona [SR]
28:19.14  PB 
North Carolina [SR]
13 Tyler BERG
Notre Dame [JR]
28:23.59  PB 
Northern Arizona [JR]
28:31.64  PB 
15 Tom BRADY
Michigan [SR]
16 Valentin SOCA
Syracuse [JR]
Virginia [FR]
19 Florian LEPALLEC
Butler [SR]
20 Nikodem DWORCZAK
Eastern Kentucky [SR]
Tulane [JR]
22 Adisu GUADIA
Oklahoma State [FR]
23 Skylar STIDAM
Indiana [SR]
Alabama [FR]

Quick Take: Samuel showed impressive poise to get up and win

It’s easy to panic when you fall late in a race — one second, you’re trotting along, and suddenly your race has turned upside-down. But Samuel responded as well as anyone possible could, getting up from the fall immediately and patiently working his way towards the front. On paper, Samuel was much better than the rest of the field, but the fall served to level the playing field — the other two guys who went down, Patrick Kiprop and Alex Phillip, finished 8th and 12th (granted, they hit the ground harder, making it more difficult to pick themselves up immediately). Samuel did not let the adversity affect him and was a deserving champion.

Overall it has been a very successful freshman season for the 20-year-old Samuel. Though Samuel was one of the most accomplished international runners ever to enter the NCAA when he enrolled at New Mexico last summer — pbs of 13:13/27:20 and World U20 5,000 bronze for Eritrea in 2022 — there are challenges to adapting to a new country and culture, not to mention learning a new language. But Samuel has not missed a beat, finishing 2nd at NCAA XC, 4th in the NCAA 5,000 indoors, and now 1st in the 10,000 outdoors.

Samuel is New Mexico’s first NCAA track champ since another Eritrea native, Weini Kelati, won the same event on the women’s side at the 2019 NCAA meet. It’s also the first NCAA champ for New Mexico in the Darren Gauson era after he took over for departed coach Joe Franklin last summer.

Samuel has the Olympic standard thanks to his 26:53 at The TEN in March and plans on representing Eritrea in Paris in August.

Quick Take: It’s surprising the last lap was not faster

Usually, you cannot win an NCAA 10,000-meter title by closing in just 58.16 seconds. Consider last year’s final, where the winning time was nearly the same and Stanford’s Ky Robinson closed nearly four seconds faster in 54.19 — and that was in significantly hotter conditions in Austin.

Robinson is a big kicker, so maybe that comparison is a little unfair. But Dylan Jacobs closed in 55.45 in a 28:12 race to win in 2022. And even when Patrick Dever set the meet record of 27:41 in 2021, he still closed in 57.37.

Year Winner School Winning time Final lap
2019 Clayton Young BYU 29:16.60 55.88
2021 Patrick Dever Tulsa 27:41.87 57.37
2022 Dylan Jacobs Notre Dame 28:12.32 55.45
2023 Ky Robinson Stanford 28:10.96 54.19
2024 Habtom Samuel New Mexico 28:07.82 58.16

The fact is, this NCAA final was missing some star power. Robinson and Nico Young, the NCAA indoor 3k/5k champ, are running the 5,000 only in Eugene. Either of those men likely would have won this race handily. A fully-healthy Graham Blanks (also in the 5,000 only) might have been favored too, though it remains to be seen whether Blanks is back to 100%.

Quick Take: Africans dominated this race

This was the first victory by an African man in the NCAA 10,000 since Edward Cheserek won in 2016. Which is surpising, considering that before that, African runners claimed 10 of the 12 titles on offer from 2005-16.

Tonight it was African domination though, as seven of the top eight finishers were African. Kansas’ Chandler Gibbens (5th in 28:10.87) was the lone American in the top eight.

Quick Take:  Oklahoma State’s Denis Kipngetich was happy to finish on the podium with his highest NCAA finish yet

Kipngetich made some puzzling racing decisions over the final 800 meters. He found himself at the front with two laps to go, and though he did pick up the pace to a 65, he did not push it hard enough to capitalize on Samuel’s fall. Midway through the lap, he had inside position on the turn but gave up the lead to Texas Tech’s Ernest Cheruiyot, only to move to Cheruiyot’s outside and make a half-hearted push for the lead. He could have retaken the lead and secured the inside lane with just over 400m to go, but backed off until finally mounting a challenge on the back straight.

But Kipngetich said afterwards he was pleased by how he raced because his main aim was to reach the podium. He noted that over the final lap, he did not have much left in his legs — he closed in 60.85, more than two seconds slower than Samuel — and was just trying to hang on.

“The pace was so hard but I was just maintaining my best so I could be in a podium position,” Kipngetich said.

Like Samuel, Kipngetich has had a great rookie year in the NCAA after coming over from Kenya last summer. In November, he finished as OK State’s top man at NCAA XC (4th) to power the Cowboys to a dominant team title, and after finishing just 13th in the NCAA 5,000 final in March, he was much better over the longer 10k distance outdoors, earning his best NCAA finish yet: 3rd place.

Talk about the race and the day 1 action on our world-famous fan forum/ messageboard:

Rest of Day 1 Action: NCAA Day 1 Recap: Big names advance in 1500, Leo Neugebauer rocks 1st five (4685) & Caleb Dean blasts 400H heats An NCAA 1500 final for the ages is all set. We can’t wait. In the 800, there four 1:45 men were eliminated.

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