by Rob Moseley
Two nights after a similar strategy made him the NCAA Outdoor 10k champion, Edward Cheserek kicked into the lead of Friday's 5,000-meter final with about 200 to go.
This time, the man Cheserek passed was Arizona's Lawi Lalang, a seven-time NCAA champion himself. And Lalang was up to the task.
Lalang tracked down Cheserek coming off the final turn and pushed past the UO freshman over the final stretch to win his eighth individual title. Cheserek, denied his fifth NCAA title of the year, settled for second, with teammates Trevor Dunbar and Eric Jenkins following right behind.
The 19 points for the Ducks in the event gave Oregon a commanding lead entering the final day of competition at Hayward Field. Not since Washington State in 1976 had the same school provided three of the top four finishers in the men's 5,000 at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
"These guys are inspiring," said Jenkins, who watched Cheserek, Dunber and Parker Stinson score for the Ducks in the 10,000 before doubling in the 5k. "They're great runners, obviously, and even better teammates. Watching them do well and be successful all year, you just want to go out there and help any way you can. Definitely after watching that 10k I was itching to go."
Oregon, which also got a second-place finish Friday from Mike Berry in the 400, enters Saturday with 53 team points, 25 more than second-place Florida. The Gators will have event favorites in the 200 and triple jump, while Oregon counters with the likes of Sam Crouser in the javelin and Mac Fleet in the 1,500.
Fleet will try to beat Lalang after Cheserek was unable to do so, barely. Cheserek's stride broke during his desperate attempt to hold off Lalang, perhaps because of the strong wind, perhaps due to some jostling, and perhaps just due to fatigue after his impressive win in the 10,000.
"Coming back from the 10, it was really, really tough," Cheserek said. "… Today was kind of windy, and I was a little bit tired. I was waiting for 200 to go, and I was like, I think I've got this. But I couldn't get it."
Cheserek settled for a 20-second personal best, in 13 minutes, 18.71 seconds. That time is second all-time at Oregon and eighth in NCAA history. Lalang's 13:18.36 is fourth all-time in the NCAA, while Dunbar (13:26.90) and Jenkins (13:27.41) are now seventh and eighth in the UO top 10, respectively.
The 10k title Wednesday make Cheserek one of just five men, including Galen Rupp and three others, to win NCAA titles in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track in the same academic year. The 5,000 title would have been Cheserek's fifth as a freshman, but instead it went to Lalang, who himself won four individual titles — all in track — in 2012.
"Lalang is a super competitor," UO coach Robert Johnson said. "I thought we had him there at the end, but he's a fighter."
Dunbar also finished well, after stalking the lead runners for much of the race. He thought he was too conservative in the 10k, settling for fifth, but that didn't stop Dunbar from running a very disciplined 5,000.
"I wanted to run 65 (seconds per lap), and go through the mile in 4:20," Dunbar said. "I was still a little faster than that, but I knew if I was within myself, I could bring it home."
Berry's race played out a bit like Cheserek's, though obviously over a much shorter distance. The UO senior, who was third at the NCAA meet as a freshman and second as a sophomore, charged into the lead off the final turn before being nipped at the line by Deon Lendore of Texas A&M.
Lendore was timed in 45.02, and Berry finished in 45.07.
Berry was racing to win, and planned to make his move with 120 meters to go.
"I was anxious," he said. "I could have waited another 10 meters, but Deon's a great opponent and it was a great race. … This was my last race as a Duck, running for these home fans. I definitely wanted to go out with a bang."
Berry was initially in line to run once more, in the 4x400 relay. But Oregon's team was disqualified after a lane violation Thursday, which Johnson said was made official Friday morning.
The violation occurred when second runner Arthur Delaney stepped on the inside stripe of his lane on consecutive strides. Delaney otherwise ran a strong leg, and also looked good as a surprise finalist during the 200 preliminaries Thursday.
The 200 final is Saturday, and Johnson said he told Delaney, "let's take this disappointment and use it for the 200 tomorrow, and see if we can't make a difference and make up those points."
"He's upbeat and positive and ready to go," Johnson said.