by Rob Moseley
To the legend of Edward Cheserek, add Wednesday's final kick in the 10,000 meters of the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Hayward Field.
Oregon's fabulous freshman distance runner won his fourth national title Wednesday, running comfortably with the lead group in the 10k before exploding through the final 200 meters to win. Cheserek, one of three UO men to score in the event, crossed in 28 minutes, 30.18 seconds to the delight of a roaring home crowd, becoming the first freshman to win the event since 1979.
Cheserek added the 10k title to his cross country championship from the fall, and wins in the 3,000 and 5,000 at the NCAA Indoor Championships. He'll try for his fifth title Friday in the 5,000.
"You just don't get kids like that as freshmen who come in to be as dominant as he is," UO coach Robert Johnson said. "He's doing a fantastic job. He's done everything we've asked, and the best thing about him is, he's humble as pie."
Cheserek's win, and scoring performances by Trevor Dunbar and Parker Stinson in the same race, helped the Ducks to the first-day lead in the team race with 15 points. In qualifying, Oregon pretty much held serve, and might be in position for a pleasant surprise as Mitch Modin is poised to join Dakotah Keys as scorers in the decathlon.
From the start of the 10k, a pack of five broke away, including Cheserek and the runner he outdueled for the cross country title, Kennedy Kithuka of Texas Tech. Stinson was going to be content to let those two go, but when Shadrack Kipchirchir of Oklahoma State and Mohammed Ahmed of Wisconsin took off as well, Stinson did the same.
Cheserek seemed more than comfortable with the pace, but Stinson began to ease back after a few laps, into a second pack led at times by Dunbar. With three laps to go, Cheserek said, "Kithuka told me, 'go,'" seeming to acknowledge the UO freshman's still-full tank. Cheserek held out another 1,000 meters, before absolutely flooring it to the finish line; only Kipchirchir was game enough to try and keep up, finishing second by a little more than 2 seconds.
"I always save for the last 400," Cheserek said. "I don't run out crazy, just relax and try to run smart."
Dunbar wanted to be patient too, but with about 250 to go he heard the 9,165 fans' explosive reaction to Cheserek's finish.
"The crowd got so into it when Edward was kicking, I was like, 'All right, I've got to use this energy,'" said Dunbar, who led the second pack across in a fifth-place time of 28:53.81.
Stinson was edged at the tape and finished eighth in 29:01.23, picking up a point in the team race. He wasn't lamenting his fast start with the lead pack.
"I wasn't doing anything stupid; that was my plan, but I just wasn't good enough today to do that obviously," Stinson said. "So I tried to recover and stay within myself."
In other action on the track, senior Mike Berry qualified third in the 400 in 45.41, avoiding any repeat of last year's failure to reach the final by winning his heat.
The 800 wasn't as kind to the home team. Boru Guyota used an inspired kick over the final 20 meters to finish third in his heat, in position to advance to the final until he was edged out by finishers in the final heat.
"The crowd really lifted me up, so I just went for it," said Guyota, who ran 1:48.87 and missed advancing by three-tenths of a second. "I tried everything possible."
The first day of the decathlon went well for both UO competitors. Keys used personal bests in the 400 and shot put to compile 4,071 points, good for seventh place and just off his PR pace overall. Modin set lifetime bests in the opening two events, the 100 and long jump, to finish the day with 4,045 points, in eighth place and ahead of his PR pace.
Modin ran the 100 in 10.84 seconds, and long jumped 23-7 1/2. He had fouled on his first two attempts in the long jump, leaving just one more.
"I was a little nervous — freshman, big meet, already had fouled two," Modin said. "I knew I had to get one. I don't even think I hit the board on the third one, and still popped a PR. …
"I was stoked. I started off the day well (in the 100) and things kind of just rolled into the high jump, shot put and 400. I was happy."
Keys put the shot 45-1, and ran the 400 in 50.00 — not enough to end teasing he said he gets from teammates about not yet running under 50 seconds.
A strong performer in day two events like the javelin and 1,500, Keys maintained a positive outlook Wednesday, even after a relatively average 6-7 1/2 in the high jump.
"You know you can jump those heights, and when it doesn't happen it's frustrating," Keys said. "But that's one reason I love the decathlon. You've just got to forget the last event."
That may have been Keys' mindset, for good reason. But anyone in the stands for Wednesday's session of the NCAA Outdoor Championships won't soon forget the last event they saw, and Cheserek's stunning kick to victory.