NCAA Track & Field championships: Oregon grabs lead on Day 1
EUGENE, Ore. -- Nobody from the Oregon track and field men’s team dramatically busted the form chart during Wednesday’s opening session of the NCAA Outdoor championship meet at Hayward Field.
That was just fine with UO coach Robert Johnson, on a day when some other contenders for the team title weren’t able to meet expectations.
“We talked last night in our team meeting about just doing what we did to get here,” Johnson said Wednesday, after his Ducks took the first-day lead in the team race with 19 points. “And that would be special, if we could do those things.”
There was no way junior Edward Cheserek could outperform the form chart, but he still managed to put on a show. Cheserek won his third straight 10,000-meter title, in 29 minutes, 9.57 seconds, leading the last kilometer and gapping the competition in the final 200 for his 14th NCAA title, one shy of the national record.
The Ducks also got a second consecutive third-place finish from senior Greg Skipper, the only man to score in the event the last four years in a row. They added points in two other field events, with Cody Danielson taking seventh in the javelin and Cole Walsh tying for seventh in the pole vault.
Skipper finished fourth in the NCAA Outdoor meet in 2013 and 2014, then third each of the last two years. His longest throw Wednesday was his fifth, a personal best of 234 feet, 2 inches.
“Coming out here with this kind of field that we had today and being able to PR in this meet is just amazing, and I just can’t thank everybody at the University of Oregon enough,” Skipper said. “It’s been a great year.”
Oregon’s 19 points are three more than second-place Arkansas, and eight more than third-place Purdue. LSU positioned itself to pick up big points in the sprints finals Friday, but the nation’s top-ranked team entering the meet, Texas A&M, dropped the baton in the 4x100 and didn’t get a point from any of its three pole vaulters, signifiant setbacks.
Favorite status didn’t faze Cheserek a bit. He settled on the rail at the start of his race, just off the leaders. About 2,000 meters in, Shaun Thompson of Duke looked to separate from the pack, but Cheserek jumped to an outside position to keep pace.
With 2,000 to go, Futsum Zienasellassie looked to open up a lead, but Cheserek again responded and stayed on the leader’s shoulder. Then, with a kilometer to go, Cheserek eased in front. He roared through the back stretch on the final lap and then pulled away through the Bowerman Curve before easing up over the last 30 meters as cheers rained down from the grandstand.
“It feels good to come out here and run at home, and to defend the title was great,” said Cheserek, who will run the 5,000 on Friday. “… I always focus one race at a time, so I’ll go back, talk to my coaches and get ready for the next one.”
While Cheserek and Skipper matched their finishes from the 2015 championships, the transfer Danielson and the sophomore Walsh were new contributors for the Ducks this week. Danielson threw the javelin 239-3 and Walsh vaulted 17 feet, 4 1/2 inches to pick up valuable points in the team race.
“Once we get to the meet it’s anybody’s competition, so I went in hoping to place top-three, hoping to win, and that didn’t happen,” Walsh said. “But I think, all things considered, it was a good jump day.”
Those points helped defray other UO entries who didn’t advance from preliminaries Wednesday, including the 4x100 relay — despite running the No. 2 time in UO history, 39.41 — and Devon Allen in the 200 meters. But Allen still can look forward to his signature event, the 110 hurdles in which he won the 2014 NCAA Outdoor title, after being Wednesday’s top qualifier in 13.38.
The Ducks also qualified two entries to the 1,500 final, Blake Haney and Sam Prakel, and Marcus Chambers into the 400 final.
Haney finished fifth in his 1,500 heat and was the last qualifier into the final. Prakel took third in his heat, following his race plan of settling into third and then going wide in the last turn to avoid traffic and risk falling out of the top five.
“It’s a change from practice,” Prakel said. “Practice we just kind of zone in, follow the guy in front of you on the rail. Here, you can’t get boxed in; you’ve got to stay wide on the last turn. I think running more indoors this year helped me with that. Positioning’s even more important indoors, so that translates to outdoors and helps me in prelims.”
Chambers also avoided having to qualify on time, pushing into the second and last automatic qualifying spot in his 400 heat, in 45.28.
“I’m back,” said Chambers, who didn’t qualify for the NCAA Indoor championships over the winter. “Like I’ve always said, when the time comes I know coach Johnson is going to make sure I’m ready to run. So I think I can race with anyone right now, and we’ll see what happens Friday.”