Joe Waskom Has That Dawg in Him, Shane Cohen Channels Robby Andrews, & More Thoughts from 2024 NCAAs

Waskom's win on Friday made him just the third man since 1998 to win two NCAA 1500 titles

EUGENE, Ore. — The NCAA is the best track & field talent development system in the world, and as a result the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships tends to mint stars on an annual basis. And while the performances were good on the final day of the men’s competition on Saturday, highlighted by a 47.23 victory by Texas Tech’s Caleb Dean in the 400 hurdles (#2 in NCAA history behind Rai Benjamin‘s 47.02), there were not as many transcendent individual performances as usual despite warm and sunny conditions (high-70s/80s) ideal for sprinting.

But the distance finals were as thrilling as ever, with the outcome of all four races (800, 1500, 5k, steeple) still in doubt in the final straight and a pair of instant classics in the 800 (won by Virginia’s Shane Cohen) and 1500 (won by Washington’s Joe Waskom). Here are four final thoughts on a terrific day at the races at Hayward Field.

If you want detailed recaps of all the races, you can find them here: LRC 1500, 5000, rest of meet.

Joe Waskom has that dawg in him

Waskom’s plan had been to take the lead with 400 meters remaining in Friday’s 1500m final, and he put himself in position to do just that midway down the home straight. But Waskom’s race instincts have served him well in his career and as he saw NAU’s Colin Sahlman and South Carolina’s Anass Essayi also surging toward the front, something told him the time was not right to go. He felt it was safer to back off and attack again over the final 80 meters.

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Eugene has belonged to Waskom in recent years

That decision ultimately paid off, and even though Waskom found himself shuffled back to 7th with 150 meters to go, he always felt he could win.

“The last thing I remember in that race was 250 to go, and I just said, This race isn’t over,” Waskom said.

Waskom’s 2024 season to this point was nothing to write home about. He was only 8th in the NCAA mile indoors. He failed to break 3:40 in three 1500s during the regular season and was only 4th at Pac-12s. Last year it was a similar story, as Waskom was 4th at NCAA indoors and 11th at Pac-12s before finishing 2nd at NCAAs and USAs. How does Waskom keep doing it?

Part of it is due to how Waskom and coach Andy Powell approach the season — they’re willing to race and get beaten in the midst of heavy training blocks with the knowledge that things will turn around by the end of the season. But Waskom also has all the traits of a big-race performer — talent, strong instincts, fearlessness, and faith in his kick — and his performances in championships could scarcely be much better. Since the turn of the century, Leo Manzano (2005, 2008), Mac Fleet (2013, 2014), and Waskom (2022, 2024) are the only men to have won multiple NCAA 1500 titles, and Waskom, who was 2nd last year, was .15 away from becoming the first three-peat champion since Marty Liquori from 1969-71.

Looking ahead, Waskom is going to be dangerous at the Olympic Trials, particularly in a slower race. Remember, Waskom actually took the lead from Yared Nuguse in last year’s USA final with 200 to go, and though Nuguse came back to win, Waskom still held on for an impressive 2nd.

Waskom will be turning pro now but the Washington native knows the time he has spent in Seattle as part of UW’s history-making trio of milers will stick with him for the rest of his life.

“I came into this program five years ago not knowing what to expect,” Waskom said. “Leaving here winning two titles and making a World team is great, but what I feel like what I’m going to remember most is the bonds I’ve made with my teammates and my coaches.”

Washington’s domination of the NCAA 1500/mile the last two years has been truly absurd

Starting with the 2022 NCAA outdoor 1500 final, a Washington Husky has won the last five NCAA men’s 1500/mile titles. That stat is ridiculous by itself, but the even crazier part is that those titles have been split among three athletes: Waskom (2), Luke Houser (2), and Nathan Green (1). Having one NCAA champion is impressive; having three at the same time in the same event is something we may not see again for a very long time. And while Green (10th) and Houser (12th) underperformed on Friday, Waskom ensured the team would not be returning to Seattle empty-handed.

Washington coach Andy Powell has now coached six different athletes to a total of nine NCAA 1500/mile titles in the last 14 years (Andy Wheating also won the 1500 in 2010 while Powell was an Oregon assistant, but Wheating worked more closely with Vin Lananna). Any doubts about his ability to succeed outside of Oregon and build his own program at Washington have long since been silenced.

Powell himself can’t quite the sucess of his current squad, which he described as a very special group of guys.

“[Five straight titles] is a hard one to get your head wrapped around,” Powell said.

While Waskom, Green, and Houser all work out in the same group, towards the end of the season, Powell will separate them for their final reps of workouts. Why?

“I want them all to think that they can win,” Powell said.

Andy Powell’s NCAA 1500/mile champions

Season Athlete
2011 outdoor Matthew Centrowitz
2013 outdoor Mac Fleet
2014 outdoor Mac Fleet
2015 indoor Edward Cheserek
2022 outdoor Joe Waskom
2023 indoor Luke Houser
2023 outdoor Nathan Green
2024 indoor Luke Houser
2024 outdoor Joe Waskom

Ultimate underdog Shane Cohen is now a force to be reckoned with and is looking like a modern-day Nick Symmonds/Robby Andrews

The most fun race on men’s final day on Friday was the 800 meters, where Virginia’s Shane Cohen went from last to first over the final 100 meters to win in a pb of 1:44.97 (race video). The race was incredible especially because while Cohen was working his magic on the outside, Texas A&M’s Sam Whitmarsh, 7th with 100 to go, was doing the same on the inside.

Cohen’s worst-to-first finish mirrors his personal backstory. One year ago, barely anyone knew Cohen, who never ran faster than 1:53 in six 800s for Division II University of Tampa last spring (Cohen’s pb was 1:48 but he struggled to regain his form last year after a stress fracture in his femur in the fall of 2022). Those results made it difficult for Cohen to draw Division I interest for his fifth year in 2023-24, but UVA coaches Vin Lananna and Trevord Dunbar saw video of Cohen’s now-famous kick in action and decided it was worth taking a flier on him.

Cohen gradually improved throughout the 2024 season, running 1:47 on April 19, 1:46 to finish 3rd at ACCs on May 11, then 1:45 at regionals on May 24. Still, he was largely overlooked heading into NCAAs.

That changed during Wednesday’s prelims, when Cohen showed an insane burst of speed in going from last to first in the final straight. Afterwards, Cohen said he would have to change his tactics as he expected the final to be faster. But Cohen basically ran the same exact race, just slightly faster. In the prelims, he went 53.28-53.67 for a 1:46.94. In the final, he again ran close to even splits of 52.18-52.79 for a 1:44.97. It’s a racing style very similar to that of six-time US 800 champ Nick Symmonds, who used to liken his racing style to spreading peanut butter as evenly as possible across two pieces of bread. When others were tying up in the final straight, Symmonds made up a lot of ground by running a similar pace the entire race.

But the name that came up most this week around Cohen was Robby Andrews, who won the 2011 NCAA 800 title in near-identical fashion for the same school. Cohen was only 10 years old at the time of Andrews race (writing that makes me feel ancient) and because he was a grad transfer to UVA, he was not familiar with Andrews until recently when his racing style engendered obvious comparisons.

“Obviously this week and regionals, his name was definitely getting brought up a lot,” Cohen says. “I definitely want to reach out to him and get some more techniques from him.”


Could Shane Cohen be the Olympic Trials dark horse?

Six Americans have run faster than Cohen’s 1:44.97 this year, but the way he can close means he could be a force to be reckoned with come the Olympic Trials two weeks from now. No one is going to want to see that guy on their shoulder with 100 meters to run.

More often than not, there is a one college kid on Team USA in the 800 for Worlds or the Olympics, and that trend could continue this year — though that does not necessarily mean it will be Cohen. Remember, back in 2011 Andrews won USAs but it was actually NCAA runner-up Charles Jock who wound up representing the USA at Worlds that year. It would not be a shock to see Sam Whitmarsh (whose 1:44.46 sb is #4 in the US this year) play a similar role in 2024.

Going back to Andy Wheating in 2008, eight of the last 12 US 800m teams have featured a collegian. Here’s the full list.

2008: Andy Wheating
Charles Jock
Clayton Murphy*
Clayton Murphy
Isaiah Harris
Bryce Hoppel
Isaiah Jewett
Brandon Miller

*finished 4th, elevated to team when Nick Symmonds declined to run Worlds

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