LYNCHBURG, Va. — Competing at the Tolsma Indoor Track Center for the first time in two years, Liberty’s Sam Chelanga put on a show for his home fans Friday evening during the Liberty Open. His winning 5K time of 13:41.35 is the fastest in the world in 2011, qualifies him for the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships and sets a new facility record.
Chelanga’s performance punctuated a successful day for the Flames, which also included ECAC qualifications by Melinda Bendik (weight throw) and Christina Mitchell (pentathlon) and an IC4A qualifier by the Liberty 4 x 800 relay quartet of Joel Terry, Jordan Bright, Jarred Cornfield and Isaac Wendland.
Men’s Meet Recap
Approximately 600 spectators were on hand to see Chelanga compete, and he did not disappoint. Teammate Josh Edmonds led the race for the first 1,600 meters, taking the 10-time All-American through in 4:25.1. Liberty assistant coach Derek Scott then assumed the pacing duties, reaching the 3K mark in 8:16.8 with Chelanga in tow.
Chelanga was on his own for the final 10 laps around the 200-meter flat track, but he was able to accelerate the pace slightly. He closed in 30.7 seconds for his final lap, crossing the finish line well under the NCAA automatic qualifying standard of 13:50.80.
Chelanga is the first runner to qualify for the men’s 5K at the 2011 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships. That race will be contested on March 11 at 8:30 p.m. Eastern at Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium in College Station, Texas. Chelanga is a three-time All-American in the indoor 5K, including back-to-back national runner-up finishes in 2009 and 2010.
One of the most interested spectators in attendance Friday evening was former Liberty standout Josh McDougal, who had set the 5K facility record of 13:45.16 on Dec. 1, 2007. Chelanga finished second to McDougal in that race, but cut more than three seconds off of his former teammate’s standard this time around.
Chelanga’s effort also improved upon the 13:59.88 of Russia’s Mikhail Pitertsev, which had served as the 5K world leader for 2011 before Friday.
Liberty’s 4 x 800 relay team had its eyes on the IC4A qualifying standard of 7:53.00, heading into Friday’s race. Wendland was able to officially punch the Flames’ tickets to Boston, running a stellar 1:54.9 anchor leg to close Liberty’s 7:52.54 effort. The Flames won the race, finishing 11 seconds in front of Big South rival Winthrop.
The only other men’s events contested on Friday were the first four disciplines of the heptathlon. Liberty assistant coach Daniel Newell owns a 102-point lead thus far, after posting a day one score of 2,978 points.